Singapore

No ifs or buts when it comes to racism: Pritam Singh

Public space belongs to all, no room for prejudiced views, says WP chief

There can be "no ifs or buts" when it comes to racism, said Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh, stressing that those who hold such views should reflect deeply on how these can hurt themselves and those around them.

"Bigoted views, even if privately held, have a nasty habit of showing themselves up opportunistically in day-to-day circumstances," Mr Singh added in a lengthy Facebook post last night.

The Workers' Party (WP) chief made these comments in the wake of a Facebook video showing ice cream store owner Dave Parkash, 26, and his girlfriend Jacqueline Ho, 27, a user experience designer, being harassed by Ngee Ann Polytechnic lecturer Tan Boon Lee in Orchard Road on Saturday night.

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Mr Tan, 60, who has since been suspended and is assisting the police with investigations, had berated Mr Parkash, who is of Indian and Filipino parentage, and told him it was a disgrace for a Chinese girl and an Indian man to be dating.

In his post, Mr Singh affirmed that everyone is entitled to his or her private views. But as a multiracial and increasingly multicultural secular society, the public space is a shared space for all Singaporeans to participate actively in - regardless of their race, religion, sexual orientation and so on, he added.

"Should we not as a society call out bigoted private views with a view to make the public space safer and accommodative for all?" he said, adding that the lecturer had made the "serious and fatal misjudgment" of taking his views out of the private realm and into the public one.

Calling out such views would be a learning opportunity to self-reflect, unpack preconceived notions, and determine what sort of society Singapore aspires towards, Mr Singh said.

He noted that the "determined yet restrained" response to Mr Tan's diatribe from all segments of society - including politicians as well as the general public - represents a silver lining.

This swift backlash shows that such views are not acceptable in Singapore today, Mr Singh said.

Cabinet ministers K. Shanmugam, Chan Chun Sing and Edwin Tong have condemned Mr Tan's actions, and WP MP Leon Perera added he was glad Mr Parkash had drawn attention to the altercation as such incidents can shape society's attitude towards topics such as race.

Mr Singh said "tectonic shifts" in societal norms are taking place, especially between older and younger generations of Singaporeans, adding that he and his WP colleagues appeal for greater understanding and mutual respect, even as they work to promote efforts to eradicate bigotry and racism here.

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