How was national unity forged in Singapore?
For this article, we will be examining the case study of Singapore to understand how national unity was achieved in Singapore. It will be important for students taking the H2 History A Level examinations to be familiar with various case studies found in the region of Southeast Asia so as to form effective comparisons.
Topic of Study [For H2 History Students]:
Paper 2: Search for Political Stability
Section B: Essay Writing
Theme I Chapter 2: Approaches to National Unity
History of the multicultural Singapore
To understand the approaches to national unity, we must first find out more about the history of Singapore. In particular, during the uncertain time when Singapore merged with Malaysia from 1963 to 1965, there were inter-ethnic tensions that threatened social stability. At the same time, political disagreements between the People’s Action Party (PAP) government in Singapore and the Alliance government in Malaysia (led by the United Malays National Organisation, UMNO) further exacerbated the problem.
As a result, the communal riots (also known as racial riots) broke out from 31 May to 6 June 1964. Historians have commented that the riots were the most severe and prolonged social conflict in post-war Singapore.
After Singapore attained independence on 9 August 1965, the PAP government introduced policies that emphasized heavily on ‘multiculturalism’. Learning from the lessons of the 1964 riots, it was imperative for the government to recognise racial diversity and provide state support to protect the interests of the ethnic communities.
Approach #1: Education
One such approach involved the policy of bilingualism, which involved the study of English as the official language and the study of a ‘Mother Tongue’ (based on the ethnic categorization of ‘Chinese, Malay, Indian or Others’ – CMIO). Such an approach would be beneficial as the English language acts as a common tool for inter-ethnic communication. Likewise, the preservation of ethnic-based languages would allow communities to understand their cultural heritage.
Additionally, ever since 1997, 21 July was marked as the “Racial Harmony Day”, which was celebrated by schools annually. The purpose was to remind students on the importance of racial harmony.
Approach #2: Legislation
Another important approach involves the use of legislation for the institutionalization of racial harmony. On 9 November 1990, the “Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act” was passed. Its purpose was to prohibit the politicization of religion for subversive purposes. At the same time, the Presidential Council of Religious Harmony was set up, which was responsible for the execution of this act.
Additionally, the Sedition Act was enforced to prevent the spread of ill will by any individuals or organizations with malicious intent to cause racial and religious divisions in Singapore.
Therefore, these approaches have proven to be effective in ensuring the maintenance of national unity in Singapore, as observed by the absence of serious inter-ethnic tensions and conflicts from independence to 2000.
What can we learn from this article?
Consider the following question:
– How far do you agree that education is the most important approach to forge national unity in Singapore? [to be discussed in class]
Now that you have examined the approaches of the Singapore government in forging national unity, it is important you apply them to JC History essays. Join our JC History Tuition to find out how you can organise your answers and form persuasive arguments effectively. We also provide summary notes and essay outlines for effective revision. Get started to ace your GCE A Level History examinations!
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