PUBLISHED BY: AMP • VOLUME 15 ISSUE 2 • APRIL 2020 • MCI (P) NO: 029/06/2019 • ISSN NO: 0218-7434
Graduates of Institutes of Higher Learning:
SURVIVING THE FUTURE
CONTENTS APRIL 2020
FROM THE EDITOR’S DESK COVER STORY Graduates of Institutes of Higher Learning: Surviving the Future by Abdul Shariff Aboo Kassim
Hydrocarbon Exploration with Erza Aripin by Nur Diyana Jalil
SUPERVISING EDITOR Dr Md Badrun Nafis Saion EDITOR Zarina Yusof EDITORIAL TEAM Abdul Shariff Aboo Kassim Muhammad Faris Alfiq Mohd Afandi Nabilah Mohammad Nur Diyana Jalil Ruzaidah Md Rasid Winda Guntor
Changes in Community Leadership: What They Mean for the Malay/ Muslim Community by Nazri Hadi Saparin
Budget 2020: Silver Lining in the Stormy Clouds by Firdaus Hair
The Age of Memes and Movements by Amanina Hidayah
We welcome letters, comments and suggestions on the issues that appear in the magazine. Please address your correspondence to:
Rise of Religious and Ethnic Nationalism: A Singaporean Muslim Perspective by Muhammad Faris Alfiq Mohd Afandi
Editor, The Karyawan AMP Singapore 1 Pasir Ris Drive 4 #05-11 Singapore 519457
Living +ly: Persons Living with HIV among the Malay/Muslim Community by Nabilah Mohammad
T +65 6416 3966 | F +65 6583 8028 E firstname.lastname@example.org
The Feasibility of Writing: Always an Open-Ended Examination Paper by Dr Nuraliah Norasid
Book Review: Alternative Voices in Muslim Southeast Asia: Discourse and Struggles by Nur Hikmah Md Ali
The Karyawan is a publication of the AMP Singapore. The views expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect those of AMP and its subsidiaries nor its directors and The Karyawan editorial board. © AMP Singapore. 2020. All rights reserved. Permission is required for reproduction.
FROM THE EDITORâ€™S DESK
Earlier this year, it was reported that students from four local universities â€“ National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore Management University and Singapore University of Social Sciences â€“ earned a higher median starting salary in 2019 compared to the year before. Those in courses such as computer science, information security and software engineering had the highest median gross monthly pay. In addressing graduate employability through the fostering of skills and competencies, the recent Budget 2020 announced enhanced support for students pursuing higher learning. This includes increased bursaries and more overseas opportunities to help students gain cross-cultural skills. With skilling, upskilling and reskilling being the new normal for both graduates and workers alike to navigate the economic uncertainties of today, Abdul Shariff Aboo Kassim looks at the present educational and employment landscapes in Singapore and their implications on graduates. You can read more about his analysis on Page 10. Graduate talent is a key pillar in economic productivity, not just on the national but global level as well. I hope this article will generate discussions on the issues of graduate employability in the changing economy that is fraught with challenges, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic that we are currently facing. Happy reading.
DR MD BADRUN NAFIS SAION SUPERVISING EDITOR
Changes in Community Leadership: What They Mean for the Malay/Muslim Community BY NAZRI HADI SAPARIN
The first three months of 2020 have been a period of change. In those months, three Malay-Muslim organisations announced a change in leadership. AMP Singapore welcomed a new person at the helm as Executive Director (ED) with the retirement of community veteran Anuar Yusop. After 15 years as ED, Anuar, 62, made way for younger blood, with 47-year-old Zarina Yusof appointed as his replacement. Zarina, who assumed the role of Acting ED on February 1, has a strong communications background. Her former appointments include Director for Communications at the Persatuan Pemudi Islam Singapura (PPIS). She also served at the Temasek Foundation and the Health Promotion Board (HPB). Earlier in January, Yayasan MENDAKI announced a change in leadership too. The highest ranking Malay female officer in the Singapore Police Force, Senior Assistant Commissioner (SAC) Zuraidah
Abdullah returns to the self-help group as Chief Executive Officer (CEO), a post she held there from 2007 to 2009. The 57-year-old was appointed CEO-designate on March 1, before assuming the top post on April 1, taking over from Madam Rahayu Buang.
SIGNIFICANCE OF COMMUNITY LEADERSHIP CHANGES What is the significance of these changes to the Malay-Muslim community?
The leadership change in MENDAKI is not meant to be transformational. Instead, it ensures continuity and the presence of The change in MENDAKI’s leadership was an experienced and capable person at the helm to guide the organisation forward. also accompanied by the announcement of key changes in Majlis Ugama Islam The MENDAKI CEO position is traditionSingapura (MUIS). ally filled through secondments from the civil service. Rahayu herself returned to The highly respected and much loved, the Ministry of Social and Family Mufti Dr Mohamed Fatris Bakaram, handed over the amanah or responsibility Development (MSF) where she had served before being posted to MENDAKI. of being Singapore's highest Islamic Rahayu and her team had been working authority to his deputy, Dr Nazirudin hard to strengthen MENDAKI as a Mohd Nasir. key institution in the M3 initiative – a collaboration of three Malay organisaDr Nazirudin, 43, has a PhD in theology tions to improve support for the commufrom the University of Oxford, and is nity. Besides MENDAKI, the other two widely regarded as one of the brightest minds in the Singapore Muslim community. organisations making up M3 are MUIS and MESRA or the People’s Association Malay Dr Nazirudin is the fourth Mufti in the Activity Executive Committees Council. history of MUIS and is supported by two deputy muftis, Ustaz Mohd Murat Md Aris M3 is the vision of Minister-in-charge of and Ustaz Mohammad Hannan Hassan.
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Muslim Affairs, Masagos Zulkilfi Masagos abusers arrested were Malay. The Mohamad, who is also chairman of proportion of Malays among new drug MENDAKI. abusers has also increased, from 36% in 2007 to 50% in 2017. While Zuraidah is expected to execute the vision laid down by the Minister, her role With AMP growing from strength to is not merely a transactional one. She will strength, the temptation must have been be expected to provide feedback, motivate strong for Anuar to remain in his post and her staff and galvanise volunteers to for the AMP board of directors to stick further strengthen the M3 network. with the tried and tested. However, both sides must have realised the importance To achieve this, a strong leader is needed of leadership transition. While Anuar’s and Zuraidah has all the attributes departure may be a great loss to AMP, required. One just has to look at her many passing on the baton is the wise thing to professional achievements, the most do in the long run. AMP will be able to prominent of which was rising to become continue to tap on Anuar’s expertise and SAC in a male-dominated field. network as he remains a consultant to the board. Some might question why a former CEO has been brought back to MENDAKI to Dr Nazirudin’s appointment as Mufti was serve, but it must be said that it is not the expected – although the timing may have easiest of tasks to convince senior civil surprised some considering that the servants to leave their current post and previous Mufti, Dr Fatris, is relatively head a self-help group. In this case, it is young at 49 years old. Dr Nazirudin had wise to bring in someone who will give been deputising Dr Fatris since March her full commitment and energy to the 2019 after previously holding the post of cause. Zuraidah has proven that her heart MUIS' senior director for religious policy is with the community. Even after leaving and development. Dr Nazirudin is highly MENDAKI, she continued to serve as regarded among both the Muslim and chairperson to the Malay Heritage non-Muslim communities. Foundation until 2018. He studied in Al-Azhar University in Meanwhile in AMP, it is worth noting Cairo, the School of Oriental and African that in the 15 years he was ED, Anuar had Studies in London, and was conferred a transformed the organisation into a doctorate in the study of Abrahamic professional outfit. AMP’s income rose religions from University of Oxford in from $4.5 million in 2005 to more than the UK. $16.1 million in 2019, thus ensuring a steady stream of funds for the organisation’s His depth of knowledge covering both many programmes. AMP also expanded religious and non-religious fields, and from 30 staff to more than 50 staff today understanding of global developments are in the same period. outstanding, demonstrated by the fact that he is both an associate member of the Under Anuar’s stewardship, AMP also Fatwa Committee as well as a member of formed new, meaningful partnerships. the Bioethics Advisory Committee of This includes the Development and Singapore. Reintegration Programme for drug offenders – a collaboration between the In his last interview as Mufti, Dr Fatris Singapore Prison Service and AMP to revealed that the search for his successor provide support to Malay/Muslim inmates began the day he took office. Dr Fatris said in the Drug Rehabilitation Centre and the mufti before him, Shaikh Syed Isa their families. Semait, had to delay his resignation as there was a lack of potential candidates, AMP’s leadership role in the fight against even after he had reached retirement age. drugs is timely and an important one as the problem of drug abuse once again Dr Fatris added this spurred MUIS to plan rears its ugly head in the community. for his succession as soon as he was While drug abuse affects all communities, appointed. While acknowledging he still the Malay community is over-represented. has plenty to contribute, Dr Fatris, with an In 2017, more than one in two drug eye clearly on the renewal process, said he
was moved to step down because he believed that it was important to bring in new blood. In many organisations, and even countries, leadership change brings about instability and uncertainty. However, as the past few months have demonstrated, this may not always be the case. Leadership transition in AMP, MENDAKI and MUIS has been smooth and well-planned. MENDAKI has an important job ahead in strengthening the M3 network. The work has just begun and a steady, experienced hand will ensure the work is done right. AMP and MUIS have both gone with younger blood, supported by the network and wisdom of older, more experienced colleagues. Zarina can rely on Anuar to provide the much needed support in her early months at the helm while Dr Nazirudin will be able to tap on the wisdom of his two deputy muftis. These younger leaders will make up for their inexperience with agility, hunger, desire and commitment to serve and to make a difference in the community. In this fast-paced, ever-changing world, these attributes are very much needed. We need to make this forward-looking leadership transition a culture among our Malay/Muslim organisations in order for us to manage the complex challenges we will continue to face in the future and to take advantage of opportunities that will be presented to us.
itor of is Assistant to Ed Nazri Hadi Saparin Minggu. This rita Be d an n ria Berita Ha pacity. in his personal ca article is written
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Silver Lining in the Stormy Clouds BY FIRDAUS HAIR
On 17 February, the day before Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, Heng Swee Keat delivered the Budget Statement, it was reported that Singapore’s economic growth for 2020 would be revised downwards (between -0.5% and 1.5%)1. Synchronously, the number of COVID-19 cases in Singapore continued to increase as the days went by. Naturally, Singaporeans were rendered trepidatious as 2020 seemed to be a year marked by ambiguity and apprehension. On 18 February, the Finance Minister presented
Budget 2020 to Parliament. Mr Heng systematically detailed programmes to assure Singaporeans that they were not alone as the government would be there to support them every step of the way. On this note, Budget 2020 is paramount as the government sought to allay widespread fears of uncertainty amongst the citizenry. DEFYING FEAR, FOSTERING HOPE Budget 2020 is not only a sensibly generous budget, but also one that is
grounded in the urgent need to provide Singaporeans with the much-needed impetus to look forward to the future sanguinely. In spite of its formidable foundations, the Singapore economy in 2020 is projected to slow down as the world economy continues to face grave uncertainties stemming from the resurrection of trade protectionism and incessant US-China trade wrangling. As an export-reliant economy, threats of continuing commercial war between the two largest economic titans will only
OVAIS, S. AND SUE-ANN, T. SINGAPORE DOWNGRADES 2020 ECONOMIC GROWTH FORECAST TO BETWEEN -0.5 AND 1.5% ON CORONAVIRUS IMPACT. THE STRAITS TIMES, FEBRUARY 17, 2020. 2 SEE KIT, T. BUSINESSES WELCOME S$4 BILLION PACKAGE AS TIMELY RELIEF, BUT SOME SAY MORE HELP NEEDED. CNA, FEBRUARY 19, 2020. AVAILABLE AT: HTTPS://WWW.CHANNELNEWSASIA.COM/NEWS/SINGAPORE/4-BILLION-SUPPORT-PACKAGE-TIMELY-RELIEF-BUSINESSES-MORE-HELP-12447786
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serve to render growth lacklustre and undercut employment opportunities for Singaporeans. With this in mind, the Finance Minister has put forward an expansionary fiscal plan that provides financial, as well as psychological stability to both Singaporean workers and firms as they brave through this protracted phase of gripping nervousness. To demonstrate the government’s resolve to spread hope over fear, a $4 billion package2 was announced to ensure that workers across an assortment of industries would stay employed and businesses remain afloat. As part of this Stabilisation and Support Package, a temporary Jobs Support Scheme would be inaugurated to support firms in retaining local workers. This assistance scheme would be in the form of offset wages – for Singapore Citizens or Permanent Residents in the labour force, the government will offset eight per cent of their wages, up to a monthly cap of $3,600 for three months3. It is forecasted that approximately 1.9 million local employees stand to benefit from this programme and firms will get significant tax breaks as they cope with plummeting revenues given a sluggish economy4. To stress the centrality of continual skills upgrading, a one-off $500 SkillsFuture top-up will be made available for every Singaporean aged 25 and above5 as part of the government’s endeavour to support workers to learn new skills amidst a dynamic economy.
when formulating budgetary provisions. For far too long, this government has been critiqued for its neoliberal and pro-business economic policies, but this budget only serves to accentuate the government’s willingness to gravitate to the left according to the exigencies of Singapore’s socio-economic milieu. Through its ideologically malleable policies, the government underscores the dictum — ‘there is a time for everything’— depending on the context of the time. Henceforth, in times of mounting anxiety, a budget brimming with hope is undoubtedly the right antidote, as societies do not get resilient through fear, but by remaining optimistic even in the darkest hour.
A ÔBLOCKBUSTERÕ ELECTION BUDGET? Whilst commentators and economists continue to be enraptured by the details of the 2020 Budget, it is equally noteworthy to peruse the political implications that the budgetary allocations may have as the People’s Action Party (PAP) readies its political machinery for the next general election. Prior to the surge of COVID-19 cases in Singapore, pundits had prophesied that the 2020 Budget would be the last before the Parliament’s dissolution. However, since national attention was shifted to efforts battling the virus, such claims understandably waned. I argue that Budget 2020 may very well be the final one before the PAP goes to the polls. Even if it is not the ultimate Budget before the polls, its programmes will continue to Critically, I argue that Budget 2020 offers undergird and colour the PAP’s political optimism to a society overwhelmed by discourse in the next general election. fear of COVID-19, as the latter not only Essentially, Budget 2020 underlines PAP’s weakens economic prosperity but also the central role as the prime sentinel of the psychological fortitude of Singaporeans. Singaporean working class. To illustrate, In view of this, the Finance Minister a $1.6 billion Care and Support Package swiftly allocated an additional $800 for households was rolled out to help million to this Budget to support the them with expenses and the planned frontline agencies fighting to arrest the increase in goods and services tax (GST) outbreak6. The stimulus package along from 7% to 9% in 2021 was suspended7. with additional funds set aside to combat Moreover, the government will provide the permeation of the infectious virus, an assurance package when the GST rate I contend, is notable as it proves the is raised — a $6 billion package for government’s flexibility and pragmatism Singaporeans to cushion the increase.
Budget 2020 pursues to appease a litany of materialist and non-materialist needs of the people: economic steadiness, job creation, and climate change alleviation. Presented with an ample range of sustainable benefits and support programmes under a competent government, it is unlikely that Singaporeans will want to forfeit stability and progress for an uncertain future.
SINGAPORE BUDGET 2020 FULL COVERAGE: COVID-HIT SECTORS TO GET $4B AND GST HIKE MOVED TO 2025. SINGAPORE BUSINESS REVIEW. ACCESSED FEBRUARY 25, 2020. HTTPS://SBR.COM.SG/ECONOMY/IN-FOCUS/SINGAPORE-BUDGET-2020-FULL-COVERAGE-COVID-HIT-SECTORS-GET-4B-AND-GST-HIKE-MOVED-202. JOHANNES, T. BUDGET 2020: 5 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT MEASURES TO HELP SINGAPORE HOUSEHOLDS WITH LIVING COSTS. CNA, FEBRUARY 21, 2020. AVAILABLE AT: HTTPS://WWW.CHANNELNEWSASIA.COM/NEWS/SINGAPORE/BUDGET-2020-CARE-SUPPORT-PACKAGE-5-THINGS-TO-KNOW-12446486. AMELIA, T. SINGAPORE BUDGET 2020: $500 SKILLSFUTURE CREDIT TOP-UP FOR SINGAPOREANS AGED 25 AND ABOVE. THE STRAITS TIMES, FEBRUARY 18, 2020. AVAILABLE AT: HTTPS://WWW.STRAITSTIMES.COM/SINGAPORE/SINGAPORE-BUDGET-2020-SKILLSFUTURE-CREDIT-TOP-UP-OF-500-FOR-SINGAPOREANS-AGED-25-AND-ABOVE. GRACE, H. SINGAPORE'S DEEP RESERVES ALLOW IT TO QUICKLY ROLL OUT BUDGET MEASURES TO TACKLE CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK, SAYS DPM HENG SWEE KEAT. THE STRAITS TIMES, FEBRUARY 17, 2020. LINETTE, L. SINGAPORE BUDGET 2020: GST HIKE WILL NOT TAKE PLACE IN 2021; $6B ASSURANCE PACKAGE TO CUSHION IMPACT OF HIKE. THE STRAITS TIMES, FEBRUARY 18, 2020.
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THE WAY AHEAD Moving forward, the fourth generation PAP leaders must remain sensitively attuned to the morphing needs of the Singapore society. Also, people are bound to make comparisons between the present leaders and the old guard, but this should not enfeeble their doggedness By scrutinising the programmes detailed to bring Singapore to greater heights. Pivotally, the government has to under this Budget, one can plausibly approach the people with a listening surmise the discernible shift in the heart because gone are the days where government’s approach towards social the heavy-handed and iron-fisted method spending, from the customary centreof implementing policies was effective. right to the economic left. This move Singaporeans today value non-paternalistic would only have been possible if the and constructive engagement with government had been fiscally prudent political representatives where their over the past decades. Having said views are earnestly taken into that, the increase in social spending is laudable and a politically astute move as consideration before as well as after policy formulation. As the Singapore the PAP is now in a leading position to economy restructures, our workers must outmanoeuvre the bevy of centre-left be given substantial support to boost opposition parties, which recurrently their wages and help them stay employed. harp on the incumbent’s seemingly In ensuing budgets, more protection pro-business orientation. Through the should be accorded to our low-income benevolent nature of Budget 2020 and workers and those who are involved in the government’s resolve to ameliorate the gig economy as Singapore embraces economic inequalities affecting all, the the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Finally, PAP is likely to galvanise Singaporeans privileged Singaporeans must be willing from a panoply of constituencies to to contribute more in the amelioration of give it a strong mandate in the next income inequalities as the government election. Evidently, Budget 2020 pursues aims to enhance the progressive to appease a litany of materialist and workings of our taxation system. Surely, non-materialist needs of the people: Singapore will continue to prosper if economic steadiness, job creation, and only our most vulnerable are well taken climate change alleviation. Presented care of, as no society is able to enjoy with an ample range of sustainable uninterrupted stability if the governing benefits and support programmes establishment solely safeguards the under a competent government, it is parochial interests of the top one per cent. unlikely that Singaporeans will want We all must bear in mind that it is the to forfeit stability and progress for an industriousness and tenacity of uncertain future. Singaporeans which keep this nation perpetually spirited. Ultimately, Budget 2020 augurs a future teeming with optimism as Singaporeans, with the support of the government, continue to seize opportunities and persist even in the face of insuperable adversity. Majority of Singaporean households will receive an offset to cover at least 5 years’ worth of additional GST expenses incurred8. On the whole, a young family can expect to receive about $1,300 from the package, while a three-generation family may receive about $1,8009.
Firdaus Hair graduated from the National University of Singapore with a Bachelor of Social Sciences (Honou rs) in Political Science, and he is now pursuing his Masters of Science in Asi an Studies at the S. Rajaratnam Sch ool of International Studies at Nanyang Tec hnological University.
8 FIONA, L. BUDGET 2020: S$6B PACKAGE TO CUSHION IMPACT OF UPCOMING GST INCREASE. THE BUSINESS TIMES, FEBRUARY 18, 2020. 9 C. CARING FOR SINGAPOREANS, BUILDING AN INCLUSIVE HOME. SINGAPORE BUDGET 2020. ACCESSED FEBRUARY 25, 2020. HTTPS://WWW.SINGAPOREBUDGET.GOV.SG/BUDGET_2020/BUDGET-SPEECH/C-CARING-FOR-SINGAPOREANS-BUILDING-AN-INCLUSIVE-HOME.
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On Friday 7th February, droves of shoppers flocked to supermarkets to stockpile as DORSCON (Disease Outbreak Response System Condition) on COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019) in Singapore was raised from yellow to orange. Within hours, toilet paper, rice, instant noodles, canned food, masks and hand sanitisers ran out of stock. Even condoms ran out of stock.
MOVEMENTS BY AMANINA HIDAYAH
As a result, hilariously scathing online response flooded social media. Netizens on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Facebook (perhaps Tumblr too) freely created memes as a reaction to the poor behaviour of shoppers. These memes expressed exasperation at all things related to COVID-19, including the chaotic imagery of panic-buying. In March, as the pandemic spread worldwide, similar patterns of behaviour and memes were observed. But this is not just about the pandemic. This is about how digital natives have created a new norm in shaping minds and sparking movements by responding to social and political issues in this digital age. Besides being a rallying point for millennial humour around the world, memes have become a part of the internet culture. They have proven their efficiency to affect change in political, social and economic domains. And the internet, that consists of online news sites, social media and personal communication platforms, is the mainstay of people's information diet1. HOW MEMES WORK Creators create original memes, which can be in the form of an image, video, gif, or text. Meme creators are typically millennials and Gen Z. These memes are posted on social media like Facebook, or through a news media website like Mothership.sg, a meme page like 9GAG, a meme account like Singapore Laughs or through one's own social media account. In recent years, meme factories have emerged out of the increasing demand for production, submission, and collection, guided by the level of engagement of internet users. These factories utilise the art and science behind memes that relate to a variety of demographic and transform them into a saleable commodity2. In other words,
CAROL, S. COMMENTARY: FIGHTING AN INFORMATION AVALANCHE DURING THE COVID-19 OUTBREAK. TODAY, MARCH 17, 2020. AVAILABLE AT: HTTPS://WWW.TODAYONLINE.COM/COMMENTARY/FIGHTING-INFORMATION-AVALANCHE-COVID-19-OUTBREAK-FAKE-NEWS-WHATSAPP. SIMON, P. INSIDE BRITAIN’S MEME FACTORY. THE GUARDIAN, JANUARY 14, 2018. AVAILABLE AT: HTTPS://WWW.THEGUARDIAN.COM/MEDIA/2018/JAN/14/INSIDE-BRITAINS-MEME-FACTORY-SOCIAL-CHAIN.
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community meme accounts are stakeholders of the meme industry and can gain profit.
The psychological effects of emotions experienced by the public were easily amplified en masse via memes when there were no words to express the shock. The internet saw high volumes of memes and parodies being produced by netizens and influencers expressing their outrage regarding this issue and expressing their solidarity with victims. The subject of sexual harassment was popularly discussed online.
High-quality memes typically garner high and meaningful engagements or gain virality due to their shareable, relevant and emotional content that triggers feelings of joy, anger or nostalgia. These memes appear at the top of the feed thanks to the churning waves of the algorithm. Meanwhile, low-quality memes garner little and meaningless engagements given their insensitive content and banal humour. MEMES REFLECT PUBLIC OPINION Meme culture, namely the creation and distribution of memes, has become the mainstay of the millennials’ and Gen Z's online entertainment consumption and therefore, has become a significant platform for finding and disseminating information and feedback on issues of today. During the Singapore Perspectives Conference 2020 in January, Dr Crystal Abidin opened the session titled ‘New Forms and Movement’ by talking about the features of internet culture. She stated that memes have “contributed to the normalisation of ideas as young people are equipped with the vocabulary to discuss issues deemed contentious”. Indeed, we see how memes function not only as entertainment (like cute cats and baby Yoda memes), but also as a convenient means for the layman to give feedback either through their creation, or by upvoting such that they rise to the top of our feeds. Memes have become a good yardstick for popular ground-sensing on the attitudes and emotions of the public. Dr Crystal Abidin cited the #WhereIsBaey? memes that mocked MP Baey Yam Keng for his tone-deaf post regarding the Paris attacks. In some cases, memes, due to their casual nature, are more accepted by the public in commenting on sensitive social and political issues than other forms of communication. Examples of these memes include those relating to how countries are handling COVID-19 (Figure 1) and a Facebook account dubbing Roti Prata as the “Asian flat croissant”. These memes, due to their virality (and possibly digital lobbying) and informal tone, remain unregulated by authorities. The juvenile nature of these memes also allows them to fly under the radar. Yet, they reflect public opinion.
FIGURE 1: MEME ON HOW COUNTRIES ARE HANDLING COVID-19. STEVE FROM BLUE’S CLUES (IN STRIPED GREEN SHIRT) IS EDITED INTO THE PICTURE. (SOURCE: KIASU MEMES FOR SINGAPOREAN TEENS)
MEMES AFFECT CHANGE While some memes function only as a vessel for public opinion, others work as loudspeakers to call for action. These memes demand attention and trigger outrage. The wave of sexual violence cases involving voyeurism and outrage of modesty in 2019 is case in point. High profile cases include the Monica Baey incident involving voyeurism, the SG Nasi Lemak Telegram group that circulated obscene materials and promoted vice activities, and Terence Yuan, the convicted molester who received a lenient sentence (Figure 2).
FIGURE 2: A MEME ON TERRENCE YUAN'S CASE. DESPITE MOLESTING A WOMAN THREE TIMES, TERENCE YUAN RECEIVED A LENIENT SENTENCE OF 21 MONTHS’ SUPERVISED PROBATION AS HE WAS DUE TO GRADUATE AND HAD GOOD ACADEMIC RESULTS. (SOURCE: LEMUEL POH)
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This sparked an online movement on sexual assault and the law. Hashtags like #JusticeForMonicaBaey and #MeToo were used by thousands. Stories of netizens experiencing or witnessing sexual harassments that went unreported, and of unpunished sex offenders, flooded online forums. This was an incredible phenomenon in itself for two reasons. Firstly, the taboo surrounding sexual assault in a conservative society does not encourage free speech on the matter. And secondly, talking about sexual harassments in a forum may harm one's career, reputation and relationships. The ability for netizens to speak up about sexual assault may reflect towards the online community becoming a safe space to address sensitive issues. While memes appear unrefined in its pithy and terse formats, they garner great awareness of issues, successfully exposing and destigmatising uncomfortable topics. When society learns to speak up on the topic of sexual abuse, it can empower victims and protect the vulnerable. Perhaps, memes are the key to unlocking Pandora's box of all-things-hard-to-talk-about. Beyond the online space, a ripple of movement was sparked among students, universities and companies. Students signed a petition to reopen Monica Baey's case. Then, a town hall meeting in the National University of Singapore (NUS) was attended by 500 students to push for change in policies regarding sexual misconduct. NUS adopted new measures after the backlash over the Monica Baey incident that include strengthening hostel security and setting up a new unit to support sexual assault victims. Industry partners like OnHand Agragrian took action and issued a statement against the laissez faire attitudes towards sexual misconduct. Additionally, Minister for Home Affairs K Shanmugam has also
This means that memes as cultural currencies can be reduced to mere commodities for the powerful to manipulate sociopolitical discourse. Electoral campaigns in Brazil in 2014, the US in 2016, and India in 2019 were mired in propaganda memes. Memetic warfare has culminated in Brexit and anti-Muslim sentiments in India. However, these allegations remain speculations as currently, there is little transparency about the deepreaching impact of memes.
hinted that the government will look into amending the law on sexual assault. Other top universities are also rethinking their policies on sexual misconduct.
depictions through brownface that occurred in the past involving comedy channel Wah!Banana, celebrity Desmond Tan, Chief of Singapore Sports Institute Toh Boon Yi, and UOB staff for their FLAWS OF MEMES blackface photos. Reputation of compaMemes have established themselves as the nies were affected and images of these lingua franca of online communication people were then used in memes. and allowed for citizen participation and engagement across all socioeconomic lines. Individuals who are ‘meme-d’ (whose But the blind, the digitally illiterate and images turned into a meme) lose their those without internet access remain privacy. ‘Meme-d’ children especially are excluded from this global internet culture. at risk of psychological and emotional The cultural relevance, inside jokes and all, distress. These are some of the challenges unfortunately, does not permeate these that leaders have to confront in regard to groups which limits the impact of memes the proliferation of memes today. beyond the digital platform. The meme community decides which Another dubious effect of meme culture issues are subject to the court of public is whether or not memes are democratic. Is opinion, which celebrities rise to fame and every meme creator given the equal which companies succeed, or otherwise. In opportunity for his or her meme to make other words, memes can make or break it online? Or has the algorithm been rigged you. This reminds me of an eerie Black by corporate and governmental forces? Mirror episode titled ‘Hated in the Nation’ where netizens unknowingly engage in a Because memes have been a favoured sick game online to eliminate despicable format among the public, they have been members of society. While the episode is capitalised by corporations and used by an exaggeration of today's society, it is not governments. Also, many curators have a far stretch. partnered with media organisations. Meme repositories have become a digital In conclusion, memes act as a ground-sensmarketplace for parties to lobby for and ing tool. They can also be a rallying point purchase these digital assets. to operationalise actions and cause a series of serendipities to occur. Yet, this rogue This means that memes as cultural force wields a soft memetic power that can currencies can be reduced to mere potentially hurt states, brands and commodities for the powerful to manipu- individuals. So, let us be mindful of our late socio-political discourse. Electoral online participation to ensure that our campaigns in Brazil in 2014, the US in virtual actions are kind and have good 2016, and India in 2019 were mired in repercussions. propaganda memes. Memetic warfare has culminated in Brexit and anti-Muslim sentiments in India. However, these allegations remain speculations as tant in currently, there is little transparency about Amanina Hidayah is a Research Assis nt at the the deep-reaching impact of memes. the Society and Culture departme Besides the political implications, brands face difficulties in building a marketing plan around memes that can be unpredictable. The brownface saga is the epitome of the chaotic nature of memes. Not only did they involve the parties behind the advertisement like Dennis Chew and Havas Media, they also involved influencers like Preetipls and her brother, Subhas Nair, who created a rap video responding to the ad. This later involved government intervention. Also, through memes, the online community uncovered racist
research Institute of Policy Studies. She does on the ly ifical spec s, issue rity mino c on ethni as on Malay-Muslim community as well heritage and culture.
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Graduates of Institutes of Higher Learning:
SURVIVING THE FUTURE BY ABDUL SHARIFF ABOO KASSIM
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Amid news of the threat posed by The days of the COVID-19 to an already ailing global economy plagued by the US-China iron rice bowl are trade war and deglobalisation, the announcements made by Deputy Prime effectively over. Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat when he delivered the Widespread Budget 2020 speech on February 18 brought a ray of hope to workers as technological the outlook for jobs in the near future disruption in many looked bleak. Mr Heng reiterated the government’s promise that, regardless traditional industries, of one’s starting point, as long as one is willing to learn, the government will for instance, has support one’s pursuit of lifelong learning and employability. made determining Speaking of the state of global economy where one can find recently, International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Kristalina Georgieva said, job security or build “The truth is that uncertainty is becoming new normal”. By extension, this a long-term career the uncertainty applies to jobs as well – how long they will be around before a gamble. Many becoming redundant or displaced by technology and, for that matter, how jobs, including long the skills one possesses will higher-skilled ones, remain relevant so as to continue to make one employable. are now substitutable The days of the iron rice bowl are with state-of-theeffectively over. Widespread technological disruption in many art technology traditional industries, for instance, has made determining where one can such as artificial find job security or build a long-term career a gamble. Many jobs, including intelligence (AI). higher-skilled ones, are now substitutable with state-of-the-art technology such as artificial intelligence (AI). In Singapore, according to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM)’s convention, workers are classified into three broad categories: professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs); clerical, sales and service workers (CSSWs); and production and transport operators, cleaners and labourers (PTOCLs). Each of these groups faces a different set of challenges. The PMET group is represented by more of those from institutes of higher learning (IHLs)1
than others but it is possible for graduates of IHLs, especially those from Institute of Technical Education (ITE), to have significant presence in CSSW and PTOCL positions. In his Budget 2020 speech, Mr Heng shared that graduates of IHLs are enjoying high employment rates and increased starting salaries because IHLs and the industry align their distinct roles to keep learning relevant so that “students can secure good jobs”. This assertion, however, needs a little more unpacking. UNIVERSITY GRADUATES Indeed, in 2018, the proportion of university graduates from National University of Singapore (NUS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore Management University (SMU) and Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) who secured full-time permanent employment2 approximately six months after completion of final examinations stood at 81.2%. It is worth noting, however, that “full-time permanent employment” includes those on contracts of at least one year3. Channel NewsAsia reported last year (June 18, 2019) that fresh graduates are adjusting their job expectations and are embracing short-term contracts as companies became increasingly cautious in their outlook. According to MOM’s 2019 Advance Release of Labour Force in Singapore: “The proportion of resident employees on fixed-term contracts continued to increase from 7.2% in 2018 to 7.6% in 2019. This reflected increases for those on fixed-term contracts of one year (from 2.7% to 2.8%) or longer (from 2.6% to 2.8%). The increase in incidence of fixed-term contract employees was larger for PMETs (from 6.3% to 6.8%) than non-PMETs (from 8.5% to 8.7%). Among the age groups, young residents aged 25 to 29 and those in their 50s posted larger increases in incidence of fixed-term contract employees.”
THE IHLs INCLUDE THE THREE INSTITUTE OF TECHNICAL EDUCATION (ITE) COLLEGES, NANYANG POLYTECHNIC (NYP), NANYANG TECHNOLOGICAL UNIVERSITY (NTU), NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF EDUCATION (NIE), NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF SINGAPORE (NUS), NGEE ANN POLYTECHNIC (NP), REPUBLIC POLYTECHNIC (RP), SINGAPORE MANAGEMENT UNIVERSITY (SMU), SINGAPORE UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY AND DESIGN (SUTD), SINGAPORE INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY (SIT), SINGAPORE UNIVERSITY OF SOCIAL SCIENCES (SUSS), SINGAPORE POLYTECHNIC (SP) AND TEMASEK POLYTECHNIC (TP). FULL-TIME PERMANENT EMPLOYMENT REFERS TO EMPLOYMENT OF AT LEAST 35 HOURS A WEEK AND WHERE THE EMPLOYMENT IS NOT TEMPORARY. IT INCLUDES THOSE ON CONTRACTS OF ONE YEAR OR MORE. BEFORE 2009, FULL-TIME EMPLOYMENT REFERS TO EMPLOYMENT WHERE NORMAL HOURS OF WORK IS 30 HOURS OR MORE. ALL DATA ON EMPLOYMENT OF GRADUATES FROM IHLs ARE FROM THE MINISTRY OF MANPOWER’S STATISTICS ON EMPLOYMENT OUTCOME OF GRADUATES FROM HIGHER LEARNING, 2008 – 2018. RETRIEVED FROM HTTPS://STATS.MOM.GOV.SG/PAGES/GRADUATE-STARTING-SALARY-TABLES2018.ASPX.
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A possible problem with short-term contracts of at least one year is that it makes it harder to place oneself firmly on a linear career progression because there is no assurance that, given the uncertain outlook, the next job will be in a similar field. Subsequent employer hiring on contract may also not offer the applicant a salary higher than his or her last drawn one or may have worked out its own remuneration for contract work although the applicant has acquired skills and work experience. Companies do, however, offer permanent positions to those who were initially hired on contract based on their performance provided their long-term plan justifies the headcount and they are able to bear the cost of the benefits that come with a full-time permanent position. POLYTECHNIC AND ITE GRADUATES In contrast with university graduates, the figures for post-National Service (NS)4 polytechnic and ITE graduates warrant a more serious reflection. One may recall the recommendations made by the committee for Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (ASPIRE) in August 2014. The overall objective of the review was to secure better outcomes and opportunities for polytechnic and ITE graduates. Among the recommendations are the initiatives to strengthen linkages with industry; increase NITEC to Higher NITEC progression opportunities so ITE students can deepen their skills; develop sector-specific skills frameworks and career progression pathways in collaboration with industry to support progression based on industry-relevant skills; and enhance internships.
increasing scepticism over the benefits of multilateralism. Singapore’s job market mirrors that of a country in the throes of economic recession and possibly needing a major restructuring. Professor Emerita at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business Linda Lim argued that “Singapore’s For post-NS polytechnic graduates, over a 10-year period between 2008 and 2018, state-directed, multinational-led, exportoriented development model has become the figure reached its peak of 81.3% in obsolete”. Prime Minister Lee Hsien 2010 before dipping to 65.7% in 2018. Loong went the furthest in this regard The corresponding figures for post-NS ITE graduates are 80.4% (highest in 2013) when he said Singapore will never be done with economic restructuring. The and 61.7% respectively. economic gloom is further aggravated by the rapid spread of COVID-19 which Over the same 10-year period, the wiped $50 billion off global exports in proportion of those working part–time, February 2020 alone. With such an temporary or freelance for post-NS outlook, employers are more inclined polytechnic students rose from 11.8% in 2008 to 24.8% in 2018. Similar figures to roll out short-term contracts and for post-NS ITE graduates are 14.4% and outsource work to independent workers to weather the downturn. They may 25.5% respectively. Thus, a quarter of also see the benefit of continuing with them are without a permanent job in 2018 and this is compounded by the fact such an approach in the post-recession era and as the gig economy expands. If that full-time permanent positions this is the case, the proportion of those include contracts of at least one year. landing permanent jobs, excluding Lumping contract jobs with permanent contracts, within the first six months (non-contract) ones can be problematic of graduation may continue to decline because the former does not offer the well into the future. same degree of certainty as the latter. students. In the meantime, full-time permanent employment within six months of graduation has been declining for both post-NS polytechnic and ITE graduates.
IS THERE CAUSE FOR CONCERN? A number of programmes have been rolled out over the last decade to make graduates more employable by nurturing core skills and competencies – such as the Singapore-Industry Scholarship scheme, established in 2012, which Mr Heng mentioned in his Budget 2020 speech; and the recommendations made by the ASPIRE committee which Mr Heng, who incidentally was the Education Minister in 2014, said the government will accept in full albeit needing time to implement.
In the case of post-NS polytechnic and ITE graduates, the proportion of those doing part-time, temporary or freelance work rose from 11.8% to 24.8% and from 14.4% to 25.5% respectively between 2008 and 2018. Add those on contracts of at least one year to this and the picture is quite stark.
The last eight years saw freelance opportunities growing severalfold with the likes of Uber and Foodpanda first entering the ride-hailing and food delivery markets, which are appealing to many polytechnic and ITE graduates as they could potentially find a source of The declining rate of employment within six months of graduation among income relatively quickly and earn more than what they otherwise would in graduates of IHLs cannot as yet fully Industries are constantly evolving and reflect the effectiveness of the initiatives full-time permanent employment. Based it will take time to mobilise industry players, educational institutions, workers, as they will take time to come to fruition on the Singapore Census of Population 2010, there were 122,341 own account unions, students, parents and educators amid a global economy fraught with workers who usually worked at least 35 trade disputes, deepening political to work together to achieve better polarisation, inward-looking policies and hours per week5. By 2017, the figure for outcomes for polytechnic and ITE
POST-NS GRADUATES REFER TO MALE GRADUATES WHO HAD COMPLETED THEIR STUDIES ABOUT TWO YEARS EARLIER. FOR EXAMPLE, 2018 DATA REFERS TO MALE GRADUATES WHO COMPLETED THEIR FULL-TIME NS BETWEEN APRIL 2017 AND MARCH 2018 FOR POLYTECHNIC AND ITE GRADUATES. 5 WORKING 35 HOURS PER WEEK IS CONSISTENT WITH THE DEFINITION OF FULL-TIME PERMANENT EMPLOYMENT. THE SINGAPORE CENSUS OF POPULATION 2010 DOES NOT PROVIDE THE BREAKDOWN OF OWN ACCOUNT WORKERS ACCORDING TO PRIMARY AND SECONDARY ONES LIKE MOM’S REPORT ON OWN ACCOUNT WORKERS, 2017.
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Skilling, upskilling and reskilling are the only way to sustain employability in “the new normal” to negotiate the uncertain job market terrains.
primary own account workers swelled to 190,900 according to MOM’s report on Own Account Workers, 2017.
generate interest. At the same time, there are other interventions the government can look into, such as helping the IHL graduates who have been working for, say, more than a year in jobs that do not build their employability over time. Lower-skilled freelance work, for example, may attract IHL graduates, particularly ITE ones, with better pay in the immediate term but, by the time the need for a full-time job arises, they may find themselves having spent too long freelancing and are thus not eligible for many entry-level positions designed for fresh graduates.
For polytechnic and ITE graduates benefitting from the initiatives for IHLs, they will remain on course for PMET positions as they develop their careers. However, for those who have had a more ‘rocky’ start – settling for part-time work or lower-skilled freelance work – there is a risk that they may fall into and find it hard to progress beyond the CSSW or PTOCL categories. The longer they remain in these jobs, the higher the risk of remaining there in the long run. SURVIVING THE FUTURE Budget 2020 announced further opportunities for graduates of IHLs with pre-employment education and continuing education goodies. A new Asia-Ready Exposure Programme will be introduced to support local youths’ visits to cities in ASEAN, China or India so that their employment prospects will transcend cultures and countries. In addition to this, support for internships under the Global Ready Talent Programme will also be enhanced. The Government will also invest in the Next Bound of SkillsFuture for those already in the workforce. These schemes, notwithstanding, many graduates of IHLs will take longer to find their footing in a job market where economic restructuring is a constant. Settling for term contracts, part-time and freelance work will grow in prevalence. Skilling, upskilling and reskilling are the only way to sustain employability in “the new normal” to negotiate the uncertain job market terrains.
Apart from merely creating jobs, the future economy calls for nurturing an enterprising attitude in students so as to encourage them to go into entrepreneurship after graduation or while still a student. This drive should be augmented with support in linking budding entrepreneurs with a network of support and safety nets for those whose enterprise fails so that risk-taking is not shunned.
Abdul Shariff Aboo Kas sim is a Researcher/ Projects Coordinator with the Centre for Research on Islamic and Malay Affairs (RIMA), the research sub sidiary of AMP.
The government should continue to expand the range of opportunities available to IHL graduates by bringing more and diverse industry partners on board. It should also ensure the continuing education and training programmes are continuously refreshed not only to remain relevant but also to
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O T RY
O - N AT I O N A L I S T S E N T I M E N T S
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TION EMIST A N D S E P A R AT I S T I N T E N
Rise of Religious and Ethnic Nationalism: A Singaporean Muslim Perspective BY MUHAMMAD FARIS ALFIQ MOHD AFANDI
A simple scroll on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram can generate mixed reactions within a few seconds. You can see a cute GIF image of cats, and in the next post, a disheartening article shared by one of your friends. Such articles include Muslims being victimised. An ongoing example is the violence in Delhi ahead of the US President’s visit to India. Pictures and videos of the riots, which an expert opined as being a pogrom1, started to circulate on social media to ‘raise awareness’ of the crisis in India.
Only recently too, it was reported that about a million Muslim Uighurs were sent to re-education camps in Xinjiang province as the Chinese central government claimed that the group held extremist and separatist intentions2. Not too long ago, the Rohingya crisis dominated news headlines all around the world on the violence that was committed against the Muslim minority there, which caused thousands to flee to neighbouring countries seeking asylum3. These are only some of the instances of Muslim communities abroad being victimised. However, if we were to look
1 AGRAWAL, R. WHY INDIA’S MUSLIMS ARE IN GRAVE DANGER. FOREIGN POLICY, MARCH 2, 2020. AVAILABLE AT: HTTPS://FOREIGNPOLICY.COM/2020/03/02/INDIA-MUSLIMS-DELHI-RIOTS-DANGER/. CHINA PUTTING MINORITY MUSLIMS IN ‘CONCENTRATION CAMPS,’ US SAYS. CHANNEL NEWSASIA, MAY 4, 2019. AVAILABLE AT: HTTPS://WWW.CHANNELNEWSASIA.COM/NEWS/ASIA/CHINA-PUTTING-MINORITY-MUSLIMS-IN--CONCENTRATION-CAMPS---US-SAYS-11502840. 3 600,000 ROHINGYA STILL IN MYANMAR AT ‘SERIOUS RISK OF GENOCIDE’: UN. CHANNEL NEWSASIA, SEPTEMBER 16, 2019. AVAILABLE AT: HTTPS://WWW.CHANNELNEWSASIA.COM/NEWS/ASIA/600-000-ROHINGYA-STILL-IN-MYANMAR-AT-SERIOUS-RISK-OF-GENOCIDE-UN-11910582. 2
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at the other side of the coin, there have also been incidents of Muslims asserting their dominance over other religious (and racial) groups. One can see this form of intolerant dominance in the case of Indonesia during the Ahok controversy4.
However, in the course of this article, we will see that these issues faced by the global Muslim community are not inherently religious in nature, which may then require a different set of response.
As a Singaporean who enjoys a comfortable level of interreligious harmony with little to no conflict, a dilemma then arises – how does one respond to the plight of Muslims suffering elsewhere in the world? How does one react to the development of what seems like an increasing sense of ethno-religious nationalistic sentiment in the region?
A CENTRAL PROBLEM While on the surface it may look as though the issues presented are religious in nature, in reality they are not. It is often easier for one to come to the conclusion that violence caused by a particular religious (or non-religious) group towards Muslims is religious violence but it is usually not the case.
GLOBAL UMMATIC EXPERIENCE The reason why a Muslim like myself might be facing this dilemma can be traced back to one of the core concepts of the Islamic faith: ummah. This concept of ummah can be loosely defined as a “community”5. This “community” of Muslims transcends territorial boundaries or nation-states, yet there exists an emotional connection within the ummah. An attack against a Muslim community somewhere in the world is felt by millions of other Muslims on all sides of the globe.
The world is nuanced and complex, and often in times of conflict, there are two or more religious groups committing acts of violence against one another. With these acts widely covered on the news and disseminated on social media through sharing of sensationalised articles and videos, it requires an in-depth analysis in understanding the issues presented at hand.
While the ummah can be regarded as a community, in reality, it is not always as straightforward. Professors James Piscatori and Amin Saikal from the Australian National University, in their book Islam Beyond Borders: The Umma in World Politics, outlined the nuances of the notion of ummah6. These include the different opinions of who constitutes an ummah, questioning whether political leadership is needed for an ummah, or the question of what makes up the ummah. Even with a nuanced understanding of this oneness of the Muslim community or the pan-Islamic community, which transcends other identity markers, the response of Muslims towards the tragedies that are happening in Muslim communities around the world is the central focus of this commentary.
4 5 6
While religious affiliation may seem to be the common identifier of these violence incidents, if we were to study the issue deeper, we might find other underlying causes. These include unresolved historical issues, the formation of nation-states and even the rise of ethnic or religious nationalism.
What can Muslims do then? First, is to stop spreading hate and enmity. All acts of discrimination and violence should never be condoned. Secondly, building a strong interreligious social capital through dialogue and every day encounter. This is so that everyone is on the same page – no religion spreads hate of another religion.
In the case of India, the communal violence that erupted there was not entirely because of inherent hatred or ill feelings towards Muslims, but instead, a political rhetoric, Hindutva, ramped up by President Modi’s party, the Bharatiya Janata Party. India is a diverse country which is made up of more than a hundred ethnic and religious groups. India too prides itself as a very diverse, secular nation. However, of late, there is a growing intolerance towards the Muslims and other religious communities in the country.
WIJAYA, C. A. FPI HEAD URGES JUDGES TO DETAIN AHOK. THE JAKARTA POST, FEBRUARY 28, 2017. AVAILABLE AT: HTTPS://WWW.THEJAKARTAPOST.COM/NEWS/2017/02/28/FPI-HEAD-URGES-JUDGES-TO-DETAIN-AHOK.HTML. “UMMAH” IN THE OXFORD DICTIONARY OF ISLAM, EDITED BY ESPOSITO, J. L. OXFORD ISLAMIC STUDIES ONLINE. AVAILABLE AT: HTTP://WWW.OXFORDISLAMICSTUDIES.COM/ARTICLE/OPR/T125/E2427. PISCATORI, J., AND AMIN, S. ISLAM BEYOND BORDERS: THE UMMA IN WORLD POLITICS. CAMBRIDGE: CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2019.
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To read this incident simplistically, it may seem that India is not tolerant towards their Muslim citizens. However, if we study the history of Hindu-Muslim relations in India, such communal violence is long-standing. The religiousnationalist sentiment, Hindutva, believes that India should be a Hindu state. This sentiment grew from the anxieties of Hindus towards the growing number of non-Hindus in the country7.
It would then be incorrect for Muslims to simplify the situation and regard these attacks as rooted in religious identity; rather, it warrants a deeper investigation and looking at the whole issue from a broader perspective. The way Muslims respond too needs to be rechecked. Now that the main problems have been identified, it is best to then focus on the dangers of the core issues at hand.
At the same time, Muslims too need to The Rohingya crisis too was not born out understand that their reaction may of Buddhist-Muslim hatred but of a mirror what others do unto Muslims. deep-rooted historical and territorial Showing Muslim dominance over other conflict during the post-colonial period. religions within a particular nation too This is worsened by the rising religious reflects a sense of religious nationalism. It fosters a sense of arrogance over other nationalism by the majority Buddhist Burmese who were already in power. religions and, if left unchecked, could result in distrust among the different religious groups. Just by examining these two crises, one may already see the similarities. First, Thus, rather than to respond using the crisis or violence did not originate religious justifications to these issues, from religious text or authority. Both, and I believe many more of such instances, the socio-religious conditions need to be understood. Only then can Muslims were an indirect result of policies, focus on the crux of the issue, rather than historical claims and human factors. to be distracted by the religious elements Secondly, when it comes to religious of the conflict. This can be done by conflict itself, the justifications used various means. An infringement of were not scriptural nor textual in nature. human rights warrants a call of action It is the ideologies of believers, rather and solution from human rights groups. than the belief systems, which initiated Economic rifts borne out of religious the violence committed. discrimination need to be addressed. RESPONDING TO THE PROBLEM As such, violence that are seemingly religious in nature are often not actually religious at all. It is then important to know what the appropriate response is to the problem. Any form of bigotry towards any religious groups ought to be condemned as it affects the lives of others.
Every time we encounter news of Muslims being victimised, naturally, an immediate response will be filled with anger. Muslims, or any other religious groups who are being victimised, need to pause, step back, look at the bigger picture and ask ourselves whether there are any other issues at play.
To simply link the violence in Delhi as a Hindu attack against Muslims would foster hatred and enmity towards other religions when in fact, the violence was due to religio-nationalist sentiments. The same goes to the case of the Rohingyas in Myanmar. It is not a problem with Buddhism but a problem with religiously charged, nationalist tendencies.
What can Muslims do then? First is to stop spreading hate and enmity. All acts of discrimination and violence should never be condoned. Secondly, building a strong interreligious social capital through dialogue and everyday encounters. This is so that everyone is on the same page â€“ no religion spreads hate towards another religion.
CONCLUDING THOUGHTS It is never easy knowing that Muslims are being targeted, discriminated against, or killed unjustly especially since the concept of ummah is central to the Islamic faith. At the same time, being in Singapore, we treasure the religious freedom, tolerance and harmony that we currently enjoy. Nevertheless, it is important for us to identify the central cause of a particular issue, rather than pointing fingers at one particular religious group. At the same time, Muslims too, should not mirror the religio-nationalist sentiments to counter these incidents lest it create an environment of distrust and enmity. To do this is no easy feat. It requires in-depth analysis, using the faculty of thought, as well as a wide reading of issues. However difficult it may be, it is by far more effective and fair than to put the blame on a religious group simplistically. By practising this too, it elevates our understanding of our religion and the world.
Muhammad Faris Alfiq Mohd Afandi is a Research Analyst at the Centre for Research on Islamic and Malay Affa irs (RIMA). He specialises in the discour se on Islam in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, sociology of Islamic law, and pol itical Islam. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Ma lay studies from the National University of Sin gapore (NUS).
7 HINDUTVA IS AN ASSAULT ON HINDUISM: SHASHI THAROOR. ECONOMIC TIMES, SEPTEMBER 29, 2019. AVAILABLE AT: HTTPS://ECONOMICTIMES.INDIATIMES.COM/NEWS/POLITICS-AND-NATION/HINDUTVA-IS-AN-ASSAULT-ON-HINDUISM-SHASHI-THAROOR/ARTICLESHOW/71358702.CMS.
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Persons Living with HIV among the Malay/Muslim Community BY NABILAH MOHAMMAD APRIL 2020
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The shadow of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) has hung over the world for years, but a lot has changed since the first version of antiretroviral therapy (ART) was introduced in the late 1980s. To a large extent, the disease has been tamed, turning what was once a virtual death sentence into a treatable condition, thanks to medical advancements.
LIFE-ALTERING, NOT LIFE-LIMITING: BORN WITH HIV Fida (not her real name) is only 24 but she has been living with HIV since she was born. Fida, who is diagnosed with perinatally acquired HIV, lost her mother to AIDS when she was about 13 years old.
PREGNANT AND HIV-POSITIVE We also talked to Nadia (not her real name), aged 39, a PLHIV and mother of two. She found out she was HIV-positive while she was pregnant. She started her story by tracing back to how she had fallen prey to a Nigerian man more than ten years ago.
Fida shared, “I was born with HIV but I “We met at a coffee shop in Bencoolen Street only found out about it when I was 12 years and exchanged contact numbers. It wasn’t old. I had followed my parents to one of their long before we went on a date and had a medical appointments and I heard the doctor serious, intimate relationship. Subsequently, he made me sleep with other men and gave me HIV is an incurable virus that attacks the mention my parents’ HIV status. I then learned that, like my parents, I am also an allowance for doing so. I did as I was told immune system. The HIV infection HIV-positive. My parents never told me about because of my genuine feelings for him at that weakens the body’s immune defences by time. He told me that if I want to marry him destroying white blood cells known as the my condition. All I knew was that, growing CD4 (T-cell) lymphocytes that function to up, I had to take medications daily, but I never and have a better future, I had to do it for the knew what they were for. So I finally realised money. I eventually got involved in sex work,” protect the body against attacks by the pills and syrups that I’d been taking daily she shared. bacteria, viruses and other harmful were my HIV medications.” pathogens1. Consequently, the body will Nadia shared that sex work was not the no longer be able to effectively fight For Fida, adherence can be more complionly thing she became involved in then. infections, which places the infected cated for youths growing up with Her partner also made her his drug mule, person at heightened risk of serious perinatal HIV, whose lifelong experiences transporting drugs to other countries such diseases. with HIV, stigma, and medications may as China and Australia. She was eventually pose challenges to achieving viral caught in Australia and landed herself in According to Singapore’s Ministry of suppression. This is different from those prison there – that was when she learned Health (MOH), there were 313 new cases who acquire HIV later in life. about her HIV status. of HIV infections reported among Singapore residents in 2018 and 18 per “After losing my mum, I was so affected that I “I was pregnant while I was serving my jail cent of them were Malay1. The Ministry couldn’t attend school for half a year. I was term in Australia in 2005. I found out I was also reported that majority of the new infected with HIV when I had to do the cases were males, and more than half were angry initially with everything that had happened to me, so I neglected my treatments mandatory blood test for pregnant women. between 20 and 49 years old. As of end and medications. Consequently, I kept falling I am not sure when I was first infected with 2018, the total number of HIV-infected sick, got admitted into the ICU, and lost so HIV. It could have been through sex work or Singapore residents is 8,295, of whom much weight. The hospital was like my second sexual contact with my partner who also had 2,034 had passed away. home until I turned 21,” she said. multiple sex partners at that time. But thankfully, my baby wasn’t born with the Among these statistics are stories far more Today, Fida is better at dealing with the virus,” Nadia said. complex than the numbers. There are situation and does not let her condition many myths about what it means to be bother her too much. Fida refuses to let Nadia later got married to another man living with HIV. The lack of information HIV define her or limit how she lives her and had an extremely difficult pregnancy. is one of the factors that may lead to life. She enjoys bowling during her free According to her, she almost lost her life serophobia – a term that describes the time, and is currently pursuing a diploma because she had stopped her HIV irrational fear HIV-negative individuals in electrical engineering at a local medication for a period of time. have towards a person living with HIV (PLHIV). Many misconceptions about the polytechnic. She is also a mentor to other “I wasn’t receiving treatment for HIV during disease remain – from whom it affects, to HIV-positive children. my second pregnancy because I didn’t know how it is actually transmitted. Fida, who is one of the few PLHIVs in I was pregnant until I was in labour. I had stopped my medication before that because I The Karyawan team met with three Malay Singapore to have shared their story was sick and tired of swallowing so many pills PLHIVs to share their experiences as they publicly, wants more people to understand what it is like to live with HIV, daily. It was a risky move because I had revealed the untold story of PLHIVs and to educate them about the illness. She serious complications after giving birth to my among the community. added that while there are efforts to raise second son. I was in a coma for almost two awareness and educate the public about weeks. The doctor even told my family that I HIV and AIDS, the outreach is still not may not survive,” she shared. enough. 1
HEALTH HUB, MINISTRY OF HEALTH SINGAPORE. WHAT IS HIV AND HOW DOES IT AFFECT A PERSON’S HEALTH? ACCESSED FEBRUARY 26, 2020. HTTPS://WWW.HEALTHHUB.SG/A-Z/DISEASES-AND-CONDITIONS/18/TOPICS_HIV_AIDS. 2 MINISTRY OF HEALTH. UPDATE ON THE HIV/AIDS SITUATION IN SINGAPORE 2018. ACCESSED FEBRUARY 26, 2020. HTTPS://WWW.MOH.GOV.SG/RESOURCES-STATISTICS/INFECTIOUS-DISEASE-STATISTICS/HIV-STATS/UPDATE-ON-THE-HIV-AIDS-SITUATION-IN-SINGAPORE-2018-(JUNE-2019).
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Nadia, who is now a befriender for “My late wife had a fear of taking medicine, so HIV-positive females, shared that she she often skipped them and eventually stopped wants women to be more educated about treatment altogether. She was in constant pain, HIV because the virus may cause some always very weak and often vomited. In problems unique to women, including addition, her skin condition became worse, their gynaecological health and fostering which led her into depression and made her issues. give up altogether. Furthermore, there was no financial assistance last time. We had to “I had to stay in a women’s shelter after I was spend more than $1,000 each month just for discharged from the hospital because of some medication, so she stopped because of that too. issues, and my second son was sent to foster Her health deteriorated, and she eventually care. Since he was an infant with maternal succumbed to AIDS about ten years ago,” HIV infection, requiring dedicated resources Adi shared. and commitment from health, education and social work agencies, it was difficult to find a Adi emphasised the importance of HIV foster family initially. There were only two screening and shared that a HIV-infected Malay/Muslim families willing to foster him,” person looks and feels normal during the Nadia said. early stage of infection, so it is not possible to tell if a person is infected just Nadia also emphasised the importance of by looking at them. getting early detection and seeking proper treatment. She explained that proper HIV “I would like to advise anyone who is unsure to treatment, for most, lowers the viral load go and get tested for HIV. I didn’t know I had in their body to a level that renders them HIV until the test was done. Apparently, effectively non-infectious. In fact, Nadia’s many cases of HIV have no early symptoms. viral load is now undetectable, and her Get diagnosed early so you can treat it early husband and two sons are HIV-negative. too. It is also important to test for HIV so that you will not transmit the virus to others, GETTING DIAGNOSED EARLY especially your loved ones. In my case, our We met Adi (not his real name), a daughter had to bear the consequence and live 55-year-old pump attendant, living with with HIV for the rest of her life,” Adi explained. HIV, who also shared the same thoughts on the importance of early diagnosis and Indeed, 57 per cent of the newly reported adhering to medical regimes. Like Nadia, HIV cases in Singapore were detected in Adi also has an undetectable viral load. the course of medical care provision and such cases are typically at the advanced “I am not sure how long I have been living stage of HIV infection. Another 22 per with HIV but I was diagnosed about 15 years cent were detected during routine ago when my late wife fell very ill and was programmatic HIV screening and 14 per hospitalised. She had a recurrent and persistent cent were detected through self-initiated fever that did not seem to abate with the HIV screening such as voluntary screening. prescribed medication by the doctors. A blood Cases detected via voluntary screening are test was done and that was when we more likely to be at the early stage of discovered she was HIV-positive. The doctor infection3. advised me to take the same blood test and as expected, I was HIV-positive too. Unfortunately, COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS ON when we sent our daughter who was then four HIV/AIDS years old for the HIV test, the result came back According to Adi, what stops people from positive too,” Adi said. accepting PLHIVs is probably society’s own presumptions, phobias and prejudices Adi shared that he lost his wife to AIDS which consequently impede some PLHIVs’ because she stopped her treatment. Her ability to talk about their status and seek case is emblematic of the perils surround- the care and support they need. He shared ing challenges that HIV-positive patients that the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS face – in particular, the dangers of not most negatively impacts children – adhering strictly to the treatment regime. a demographic that has no control over their HIV status. It is because society
Indeed, 57 per cent of the newly reported HIV cases in Singapore were detected in the course of medical care provision and such cases are typically at the advanced stage of HIV infection. Another 22 per cent were detected during routine programmatic HIV screening and 14 per cent were detected through self-initiated HIV screening such as voluntary screening. Cases detected via voluntary screening are more likely to be at the early stage of infection.
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stigmatises HIV with such ignorance that he dreaded telling his daughter about her infection initially. “There are still great misconceptions surrounding HIV/AIDS. Every time you mention HIV, society will automatically link it to casual sex activity but that’s not always true. My daughter, for instance, was born with it. It is not fair to judge anyone with HIV. The stigma linked to HIV has led many to avoid getting themselves checked. Those who need financial assistance also tend to avoid asking for help because they fear being perceived negatively,” Adi said.
Fida’s experiences are not unique. Nadia shared other manifestations of discrimination including being isolated and forced to use separate kitchen utensils.
“Every time my extended family holds a gathering, they will tell me not to cook because they are scared to eat the food I cook. During Hari Raya, they serve me with plastic utensils and even cover the chairs that I sit on with plastic. They will also keep washing the toilet with bleach after I use them. There was once I accidentally fell asleep on my cousin’s bed and my aunt immediately removed the bedding and pillows, placed them in a plastic bag and threw them away. What’s sadder is that they don’t allow my son to play with his cousins Indeed, there is evidence on how stigma and discrimination create barriers to HIV despite me reminding them that he is prevention, testing and treatment, which HIV-negative. I am hurt by how they treat us so now I don’t attend family functions unless can reduce the impact of the AIDS it’s my immediate family,” Nadia shared. response. For instance, according to a report by the Joint United Nations Such inaccurate beliefs about HIV Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), when people living with, or at risk of, HIV transmission can lead to more fear and discrimination, which can further are discriminated against in healthcare stigmatise people living with HIV. settings, they go underground4. This According to the MOH, HIV or AIDS is not seriously undermines the ability of healthcare officers to reach out to people transmitted through normal day-to-day contact with a HIV infected person5. One through HIV testing, treatment and prevention services. Often, PLHIVs avoid will not contract it through the respiratory going to clinics for fear of having their route such as coughs and sneezes, the status disclosed or of suffering further gastro-intestinal route, or casual personstigma and discrimination. Stigma and to-person contact such as handshakes and discrimination are an affront to human hugs. HIV also cannot be transmitted via rights, which puts the lives of PLHIVs and insects, food, water, or shared food. key populations in danger because when they wait until they are very ill before HIV is most commonly transmitted seeking help, they are less likely to through the act of unprotected sex with, respond well to antiretroviral therapy. sharing injection needles or piercing instruments with, receiving infected Related to the stigma faced by PLHIV is blood or blood products from a person the extent of equating the contraction of with HIV, or during pregnancy, childbirth the disease with the notion of being or breastfeeding. In Singapore, sexual promiscuous. intercourse remains the main mode of transmission for new cases in 2018 at 95 “People usually associate HIV with something per cent with heterosexual transmission bad. For instance, when I recently declared my accounting for 43 per cent of the cases and medical status to my school, they were homosexual transmission for 42 per cent judgmental. The officer-in-charge gave me that of them. look, you know, like I’m someone who has casual sex. She also asked if my classmates will Under the Infectious Diseases Act, it is get infected if I share my food with them. My also required for PLHIVs to inform their teacher even once told me that there are not partners about their condition before many choices available for my career path having sexual relations. Those who fail to given my condition. We still face stigma and do so can be jailed for up to 10 years and discrimination in Singapore, and this must fined up to $50,0006. change,” Fida shared.
Such inaccurate beliefs about HIV transmission can lead to more fear and discrimination, which can further stigmatise people living with HIV. According to the MOH, HIV or AIDS is not transmitted through normal day-to-day contact with a HIV infected person5. One will not contract it through the respiratory route such as coughs and sneezes, the gastrointestinal route, or casual personto-person contact such as handshakes and hugs. HIV also cannot be transmitted via insects, food, water, or shared food.
4 UNAIDS. UNAIDS WARNS THAT HIV-RELATED STIGMA AND DISCRIMINATION IS PREVENTING PEOPLE FROM ACCESSING HIV SERVICES. ACCESSED FEBRUARY 28, 2020. HTTPS://WWW.UNAIDS.ORG/EN/RESOURCES/PRESSCENTRE/PRESSRELEASEANDSTATEMENTARCHIVE/2017/OCTOBER/20171002_CONFRONTING-DISCRIMINATION. 5 MINISTRY OF HEALTH. UPDATE ON THE HIV/AIDS SITUATION IN SINGAPORE 2018. ACCESSED FEBRUARY 26, 2020. HTTPS://WWW.MOH.GOV.SG/RESOURCES-STATISTICS/INFECTIOUS-DISEASE-STATISTICS/HIV-STATS/UPDATE-ON-THE-HIV-AIDS-SITUATION-IN-SINGAPORE-2018-(JUNE-2019). 6 PART IV, CONTROL OF HIV INFECTION. SINGAPORE STATUTES ONLINE, ACCESSED ON 28 FEBRUARY, 2020. HTTPS://SSO.AGC.GOV.SG/ACT/IDA1976?PROVIDS=P1IV-.
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BREAKING THE TABOO Learning that they are HIV-positive can’t be easy for PLHIVs. They must adhere to a treatment programme with relentless precision. Disclosing their condition to others is even harder for some because they are also forced to disclose sensitive information such as their intravenous drug use or their sexual orientation. Quality of life post HIV-diagnosis is, of course, complex, especially on the personal and social fronts as seen in the cases shared. Even though it is known that HIV can affect anyone regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation or nationality, the negative social attitudes towards PLHIVs remain. “The Malay community likes to say that this is “sakit dosa” (disease contracted due to the person’s transgression). You don’t have to say that. How about those born with it? And how about the promiscuous husbands who transmit it to their wife? Are the wives also to be blamed?” Nadia said. The immediate infusion of the disease with negative connotations prevents individuals from accessing accurate information on preventive behaviour early. The lack of knowledge not only drives stigma and discrimination but also impedes effective HIV control and perpetuates the number of transmissions. Therefore, it is high time for a shift in attitude within the community. “I'm hoping that in future, we won't have to hide any more, and that learning of our status will be the same as telling people I've got any other manageable disease,” Adi shared.
arch Nabilah Mohammad is a Senior Rese on Analyst at the Centre for Research She holds Islamic and Malay Affairs (RIMA). y and a a Bachelor of Science in Psycholog Data Specialist Diploma in Statistics and Mining.
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THE FEASIBILITY OF WRITING:
Always an Open-ended Examination Paper BY DR NURALIAH NORASID
Study your personal, social, economic, and educational contexts carefully, and then answer all the questions. 1. How did you come by this profession? Why not be a doctor, or a wife? [5 m] As a disclaimer, I am a doctor. Though not the kind who would be able to help you if you have a heart attack in a coffee house. I might be able to make an astute observation about your expression, the tension in your shoulders as you clutch at your chest, your life, your every regret, and the sudden resurgence of faith in God as those moments flash before your eyes. And I will be able to write about it. Well. I hope. Wifehood had never been in my books growing up – mainly because my parents were not for the idea and because everyone seemed to have come to the common conclusion as they held my face and stared into my mouth that with my buck teeth, this was not to be a reality for me. Familial opinions aside, writing was the profession I kept returning to, in between dreaming of being a soldier, police officer, princess, archaeologist, nurse, veterinarian, and astronaut. However, “writer” was not acceptable. “Writer” makes up stories and sells untruths. “Writer” will not put food on the table. “Writer” is what you are in English class, to do well in a core academic subject and win small presents in schoolwide composition-writing competitions. “Writer”, in this time when the community needs more scientists, doctors, lawyers, and businessmen, is just another artist it can do without.
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2. To what extent does a writer need to be good academically in order to pursue the craft? [13 m] Part of my job scope at one point was slicing open envelopes filled with submissions for a creative writing competition. The motion had become memory; the Swiss army knife quickcutting through paper, my ears regaled by a long interview posted on YouTube, in which Hilary Mantel, who is one of my favourite authors, spoke about the research and thinking that went into her Man Booker Prize (2009) winning historical novel, Wolf Hall.
literature has this narrow path, because it is a written form of a certain kind. It needs good schools and good universities. There is always the outsider writer. But the truth is, it’s one in a million. You need an education to write. And at least in Britain, the educational system is rigged. So, if you are expecting working class Black British writers to appear, where do you think they’re going to come from? From what universities are they going to appear? I was one of like three Black girls in Cambridge. Where are these writers going to spring out from the air? It’s not going to happen. But they continue, despite all odds, to be incredible musicians, incredible hip-hop artists. And every form where you don’t need money or a degree, their creativity will be clear. But it’s not gonna spontaneously appear. The schools have to change.1
me. My father taught me to write. They sat down and practised my spelling with me. Taught me to add and subtract. Before the time started to slip out of their hands when money grew tight. I also had timing on my side. I entered university when the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, as it was known at the time, was still new. It meant that I was able to get in despite not having any English Literature background. Had the school’s prestige and the competition be what they are today, I would not have made it in on my paltry A’ Levels results.
Raffles Girls’, Tao Nan, Methodist Girls’… I never paused, until one airmail envelope with its distinct blue and red striped border, with a return address written in the precise hand of a conscientious twelve-year-old: Circuit Road. What she said particularly struck me. There is a stereotype that Malays sing The road is known for its old blocks and well. That when it comes to playing its under-served communities. Then music and being loud, we are “straight-A another envelope, again the return students”. In my alma mater, the Art class, address written precisely: Yishun. Two and not the Triple Pure Science one, saw more from madrasahs in Singapore. the biggest representation of Malay kids. Out of more than a thousand entries Ditto, the Normal streams, particularly received, only a smattering was from the Normal (Technical) one. Malay/Muslim students. The few I saw made my heart soar and sink at the same My not-so-privileged past has always time. Soar because they had sent their been hailed and celebrated in any stories in. Sink, because I knew the kind of literature surrounding my chances of them making it into the “accomplishments” – the “How did you shortlist, amongst the competition pool do it?” human library. This very same was likely to be slim. thing was asked by a panel during a job interview: “Your father is a courier and I am reminded of an interview that I have your mother, a factory worker, but you seen in which the author Zadie Smith made it to university. What is your secret?” was asked, “How does the issue of class affect who is writing what?”, to which I had good teachers. Who would give me Smith answers, money for recess so that I wouldn’t miss a school day. Teachers who did not sweat The great working-class monument is the small things. Who saw that I could music. Because music doesn’t need a write and let me be when I went off the narrow path. You don’t need to speak a beaten path in composition writing. certain way or – . The working-class Who knew when to be tough and when community has made the monument to to step back. last the ages. Hip-hop, rock, music in general. Pop music. It is absolutely I had time with my parents in my early exquisite. It is a masterpiece. But childhood years. My mother read books to
My brothers, on these accounts – in having good teachers and time with my parents in early childhood, and the right timing – were not as fortunate. But my brothers loved telling stories. They loved listening to and engaging in them. They invented games and TV series in their heads. When we were children, we had a family newsletter, where we would write articles about our neighbours and our neighbourhood. We drew comics and put up mini-plays using our double-decker bed as a stage. My brothers could have been artists. They painted beautifully. Something they taught themselves. My first brother gave up on his art because, “it doesn’t pay the bills”. So, he went on to be a machinist, where he was spat and shouted at by colleagues who thought he was the scum of the earth, a general worker, and then a pest control officer. All while teaching himself history, the political sciences and rhetoric through YouTube videos. My second brother took on visual communications in ITE. But we had no money for Photoshop and no space for him, a deeply quiet and private person, to practise and work on his assignments without someone looking over his shoulder and passing by him on the way to the kitchen every half hour. I have never seen anyone learn quicker than he does. But in the business of education
ZADIE SMITH ON CLASS & CREATIVITY. SEPTEMBER 27, 2016. AVAILABLE AT: HTTPS://WWW.YOUTUBE.COM/WATCH?V=X9LRL-YM7L8.
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today, learning quickly is not enough. You have to learn well, and more importantly you have to learn “right” (know the “right” people, be at the “right” place at the “right” time, be the “right” type). You also have to come from the “right” family. We cannot deny the leg-up of old money and financially stable, healthy parents.
Not to mention that writing brings our history to life and carves a space for it today. Writing is a means of effective and compelling communication. It is a means of inscribing and memorialising knowledge for the next generation. It has a cumulative effect. The more of our own literature that the future generations have to work with, the better they can think and express.
My heart still breaks at the thought of my brothers today. I put the submissions in a nameless, identity-less pile to divide up and be judged, in the name of equality, rather than equity.
More importantly, I feel, writing can be a form of empowerment. I recall an article I once read a long time ago for class, about a programme conducted in a girls’ home, where the girls were taught to write their own stories; their struggles, their hopes, 3. In your opinion, should we develop and aspirations. I also think of lawyer writing skills and talent in the and poet Amanda Chong’s work with community? If yes, why do you say so youth and children in the underserved and how do you think we can do so? neighbourhoods, teaching them [10 m] functional reading and writing skills, while also getting them to express their Writing is definitely a useful skill to have. views and feelings about the places they Writing, creatively, is more than just the live in; perceptions that they have about ability to conjure pretty descriptions themselves which are often shaped by about human life. It is a medium to perceptions that others have of them. showcase the collective imagination of the community. As it is in Malay/Muslim To be able to put pen effectively to paper, Singaporean literature, we have authors resources (teachers or instructors, books, writing in a range of forms, from novels lessons), opportunities, and space need to short stories, poetry to screenplays, to be made accessible to a range of dramatic forms and critical essays; individuals, not just the ones who could addressing a variety of pertinent topics – go to universities, get good tutors, have science, religion, society, history – and money for experiences that those without presenting them in a number of unique cannot afford to have. It is also about ways. Their writing projects into futures freeing up mental bandwidth. Taking we can only imagine but not be able to care of a household can be draining. put in words, make observations about Keeping a roof over our heads and putting our environments that we would food on the table can take all of the energy otherwise be blind to. Writing is a means out of a family, what more an individual. of conducting thought experiments, Spaces to think and create for the average following the through lines of complex Malay/Muslim individual can be sorely questions and communal anxieties: difficult to come by. What if Singapore was never colonised? Would the lives of Malay/Muslims on the island be better than what they are today? What if aliens arrived on Earth and told us that all our lives is a simulation? How would our beliefs change?
4. Write down your final thoughts. [2 m] This is something we can work towards, if not to produce writers, but at least to produce students and working adults who can express themselves independently, confidently, sensitively, and well. END OF PAPER
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Dr Nuraliah Norasid is a writer and literary arts educator in Singap ore. She graduated with a PhD in English Lite rature from Nanyang Technological University. Her thesis looked at the con ceptualisation of marginality through the medium of literary creation and revisionism . The creative portion of that thesis has since been published as the novel, The Gatekeeper, which won her the Epigra m Books Fiction Prize in 2016. Nur aliah is currently working on a new novel and enjoys quiet pursuits, such as reading, penma nship, and stamp-collecting.
Hydrocarbon Exploration with
Erza Aripin BY NUR DIYANA JALIL
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There has been an increasing demand for oil and gas as global economies and infrastructure continue to rely heavily on petroleum-based products. The oil and gas industry contributes around five per cent of Singapore’s gross domestic product. However, a profession in this industry is uncommon especially among the younger generations. According to a 2019 study by Abu Dhabi National Oil Co.1, millennials and Gen Z are more drawn to careers in technology-driven sectors and perceive the oil and gas industry as low-tech, blue-collar and dangerous to the environment. Similarly, Erza Aripin, 45, had no plans of joining the oil and gas industry. He was at the peak of his football career when he decided to quit and continue his studies in electrical and electronics engineering at the University of Aberdeen at the age of 27. He was later recruited by a leading energy technology company after he completed his degree. Now, with 15 years’ experience in a profession that requires teamwork, precise calculations and has no room for error, Erza shares his experiences and the challenges of his job with the Karyawan team.
ERZA WITH HIS FAMILY
Q: Could you tell us more about yourself During my free time, I like to read books on the history of the world wars, famous and your family? leaders and artists, current world affairs and Erza: I am happily married with two boys sports in general. I love to travel with my aged 9 and 14. My wife is an English teacher family, and my love for football has made me learn French, Spanish and Italian. at Victoria School. I studied electrical engineering at Ngee Ann Polytechnic from 1994 to 1997. I took the course since Q: What made you join the oil and gas Mathematics and Physics were my strong subjects. Even though I wasn’t a straight-A industry? student, I managed to complete my studies. Erza: When I continued my studies in Scotland, I didn’t know that Aberdeen was I am an active sportsman with an AFC C the oil capital of Europe. Everyone dreams License coaching certificate who loves to of getting hired by the big oil companies run, walk, swim and play tennis. I used to there such as BP, Shell and Halliburton. play football for the schools I was in, the Scotland had this scheme where internationSingapore national youth teams, Home al foreign students could extend their stay United and Tanjong Pagar United in the upon graduation and seek employment. S-League (1998-2002), the University of So upon completing my degree in July 2004, Aberdeen in the British University Games (2002-2003) and the Grampian Police Team I tried my luck at getting a job. for the Aberdeen State League (2003-2006). I applied for the Trainee Repair Maintenance I also had a training stint in Belgium for Technician position at Baker Hughes Templeuve Football Club in 2002 and Portlethen and was offered the position in represented Singapore in the Subbuteo August 2004. I stayed in the UK for another World Cup in Italia 1990.
two years before returning to Singapore to join Halliburton as an engineer in 2006, and Weatherford International in 2012. I have been with JFE Steel (Japan Iron Engineering) mainly for the oil country tubular goods (OCTG) offshore completion piping division since 2015. Q: What does your job entail? Erza: I am currently a technical representative with the JFE Technical Centre. We specialise in providing OCTG piping and connections for offshore/onshore completion process when the hydrocarbon (gas or oil) is extracted from the well as deep as 7 kilometres beneath the seabed. At the workshop (onshore), we have to ensure that the threading plant threads our connections in accordance with our product specifications. We have gauges to measure the connections and product drawings for references. The pipes are not made of common metals or steels. Some are carbon, chrome or high chromium steel,
1 FAIZA, R. 2020 ENERGY INNOVATORS: FUELING THE NEXT-GENERATION WORKFORCE. JANUARY 1, 2020. AVAILABLE AT: HTTPS://WWW.HARTENERGY.COM/EXCLUSIVES/FUELING-NEXT-GENERATION-WORKFORCE-184760.
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We must quickly adapt to new environments since we travel to different places every now and then, working with people from different countries. We can’t be fussy and expect the places we go to be up to our expectations. When it comes to halal food, some places we go can be challenging. If we work in China, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar or remote places in Australia and Texas where halal food can’t be obtained easily, I apply this policy of ‘eat what you can’.
and it all depends on the well’s contents as the pipes will be in the well for at least a 10- or 20-year cycle to extract the hydrocarbon beneath. Our main duties offshore are to ensure the pipes are connected correctly with references to the chart graph. Any misalignment or pipe slippage could damage the threads or worse, cause leakage during pressure testing. I have to certify that the pipes are connected in accordance with our specifications. Q: What is your typical work day like? Erza: If we work onshore at the workshop or thread milling plant, we have to ensure that all the equipment and piping connections are manufactured according to our specifications, discuss with vendors on work planning, perform make-up on completion assemblies and pressure test, check on quality, perform audits and attend pre-offshore meetings with clients. For offshore work, we have to ensure that our completion pipe connections are good, inspect equipment and be on standby for completion running. At times, we would have to stay on the rig site for two to three weeks before the actual job starts. The completion process would take two to five days depending on the depth of the well. We work a 12-hour shift, and at times, we would have to work longer hours due to problems on the rig floor. The job can start at any time so we have to be ready even if it is during our sleep or rest time.
meeting and radio rooms for us to make calls or send emails. If the signal is good, we can even send WhatsApp messages to our families. Food and drinks offshore are a luxury, where you can take and eat whatever you like at the galley or pantry with meals served four times a day. If we are deployed for onshore-based jobs in the jungle or desert, we stay in camp-like accommodations for two to three weeks. These areas are usually far from the nearest towns or cities and are very remote. The rig site is normally two to five kilometres away from the campsite, so transport arrangements are made to take us to and fro. Q: What are the common misconceptions people have about working on an oil rig? Is it true that it is a dangerous job? Erza: People always say that working offshore or in the oil and gas industry pays well. Yes, this is true as we are paid an allowance for our travelling and offshore duties. But it comes with hardship that we face while travelling or at work and being away from our family most of the time. We need to make a lot of sacrifices.
There are risks in any type of work. For us, we face danger even during our journey to work locations. We fly to a particular city and upon arrival at the airport, there will be transport to take us to the heliport, port or campsite. The journey sometimes takes one or two days. At times, we receive internal news about helicopter crashes or fatal accidents on rig sites. Taking a helicopter to Q: What is it like living on an offshore oil offshore platforms can be scary especially platform? when we face turbulence or strong winds while cruising. Erza: Living on an offshore platform can be good and bad, depending on the kind of On the platforms, there are many hazardous platform we are on. If it’s a jack-up rig, which situations that we need to be alert of. There is a platform with three legs embedded on are always safety briefings and steps to take the seabed, then it is normally good. It is prior to starting work. We need to be alert stable even though we can feel the whole all the time and look out for one another platform vibrating during strong winds or on the platforms. bad weather. We also have drillships, semi-submersible platforms, and tender rigs. But I treasure the work experiences – Tender rigs can be bad during turbulence travelling, meeting people and making new and strong winds since they are on a small friends from all over the world – more than ship in the middle of the open sea. the monetary gain in this line of work. We have our dormitories or cabins where we share a room with two or four others. There are leisure rooms for us to relax in, offices where we can do our paperwork, and
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Q: Working in this industry usually requires you to travel. Which countries have you worked in? Which was the most challenging, and why? Erza: I have worked in the US, Norway, UK, Russia, UAE, Oman, India, Thailand, China, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand. I have worked in the Middle Eastern deserts during summer where the temperature could be between 45 and 55 degrees Celsius. It gets really hot in the day, and if we oversleep and wake up around 10 am, there is no chance to shower as the water would be scorching hot by then. During winter in Siberia, the temperature is between -25 and -55 degrees Celsius. It is not only tough and dangerous to work outdoors in such extreme weather conditions, but also to shower, use the toilet and sleep in the camp. Q: What are the challenges of your job and working overseas? Erza: We must quickly adapt to new environments since we travel to different places every now and then, working with people from different countries. We can’t be fussy and expect the places we go to be up to our expectations. When it comes to halal food, some places we go can be challenging. If we work in China, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar or remote places in Australia and Texas where halal food can’t be obtained easily, I apply this policy of ‘eat what you can’. We also need to adapt when we share the same dormitory with other nationals like those from India, Philippines, China, Africa and others. Sometimes, there are language barriers and some don’t even want to talk to you or make eye contact with you.
ERZA WITH HIS PARENTS
are. I do update my wife from time to time when I’m offshore, but it is not the same as when we are together in person. Q: Do you have any advice for Malay/Muslim youths who want to pursue a career like yours? Would you recommend it? Erza: Yes, I would recommend our Malay/Muslim youths to pursue a career in this line. Not just for the money, but for the life experiences and networks we build along the way. Travelling has made me more adaptable to the different environments quickly and easily.
Q: How do you cope with being away from family and friends? Are you able to communicate with them often? Erza: I am thankful that my wife and two boys are supportive and understand my job. There were times when we made plans for a vacation but I had to travel for work at the last minute. Sometimes I miss birthday celebrations, family gatherings, weddings and funerals. I may not even be around for Ramadan and Hari Raya. Sometimes, we are able to communicate over the phone or through WhatsApp. We don’t talk for hours, we just say hello and ask how things 28 T H E K A R Y A W A N © A M P S IN G A P O R E . P E R M IS S IO N I S RE QU IRE D F OR RE PRODU CTION.
rently an Executive Nur Diyana Jalil is cur ch on Islamic and ear Res at the Centre for manages its Malay Affairs (RIMA) who publication. She and nts eve dia, me ial soc write occasionally. loves to read, travel and
Alternative Voices in Muslim Southeast Asia: Discourse and Struggles BY NUR HIKMAH MD ALI Alternative Voices in Muslim Southeast Asia: Discourse and Struggles (or “Alternative Voices”), edited by Dr Norshahril Saat and Dr Azhar Ibrahim, features twelve articles written by scholars, activists, and observers of social change, that present a critique of the Muslim society of Southeast Asia today, specifically in Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia. Grounded perspectives on the dynamics of religious life among Muslims in Southeast Asia reveal that there are contestations of religious orientations and implications of several dominant orientations on the social, political, and economic life of society at large in Southeast Asia. Alternative Voices challenges the many writings and observations that record Muslim life in Southeast Asia as one that adopts a relatively “moderate Islam” or a religious orientation that is accommodating to the socio-cultural life of the people in Southeast Asia1. The book presents a dynamic contestation of religious orientations in the public sphere that can coexist or be in conflict with one another, and explore its ramifications on the social, political, and economic lives and lived realities of Muslims in this part of the world. More importantly, the book offers nuances and ideas that are critical of the status quo and religious establishments by asking an oft-forgotten yet pertinent question of who and what are absent from our discourse and conversations on the religious life of Muslims in Southeast Asia. DOMINANT, EXCLUSIVIST RELIGIOUS ORIENTATIONS The issue of diverse voices also leads to the question of whether there are voices or religious orientations more dominant than others. For the writers in this book, the answer is a resounding yes. The dominant religious orientation characterised by its influence, support, and visibility in the 1
AZYUMARDI, A. 2006. INDONESIA, ISLAM, AND DEMOCRACY: DYNAMICS IN A GLOBAL CONTEXT. EQUINOX PUBLISHING, P. 124.
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public sphere, is increasingly one that is exclusivist and politicised in nature. While the writers may differ on the forms in which these orientations manifest, it is clear that the impact and ramifications of the dominant religious orientations overlap and are almost the same. From the observations of several scholars and activists alike, it is apparent that there is an increasingly dominant voice representing particular religious orientations that exhibits insularity, ethno-religious exclusivism and xenophobia towards specific groups. Regardless of how one chooses to label such exclusivist religious orientations, the relevance of this social observation is clear. In the case of Indonesia, in 2016, mass rallies protested against the Chinese-Christian Governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, also known as Ahok, for supposedly committing blasphemy towards the Muslim faith in one of his speeches, and he was sentenced to jail. In Malaysia, many Malay-Muslims protested against the ratification of the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) in 2018, which resulted in Malaysia’s withdrawal from ICERD. Even closer to home, just recently, we see the existence of xenophobic and racist religious sentiments towards the Chinese uttered by a Singapore religious leader after the recent novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak2.
critical ideas are pushed into the realm of the “alternative”. THE CASE OF SINGAPORE Alternative Voices also goes against the grain by presenting a critical evaluation of religious life and orientations of Muslims in Singapore, and their impact on other spheres of life. While there are many writings and research on Singaporean Muslims and their religious life, much of the focus has been fixated on several issues such as terrorism, wearing of tudung (veil) in the public sphere, and lived experiences as a religious minority. While these issues may stir the Singapore Muslim community once in a while, there are other overarching problems of the community that have a greater impact on their lived realities, and may even determine how the aforementioned issues are being debated, viewed, and problematised by Muslims in Singapore.
In her article on religious resurgence and its fixations and implications in Singapore, Dr Noor Aisha Abdul Rahman presents a relevant albeit long-standing phenomenon of non-violent religious resurgence in the religious life of Singaporean Muslims. The phenomenon that began in the 1970s – and which has been labeled with various terms such as ‘Islamic revivalism’, ‘dakwah movement’, or the ‘reflowering of Islam’ – is characterised by “ambivalence, dislike, opposition to or disapproval of the existing social order”, which is deemed In the context of this increased environment as “un-Islamic”, i.e. inconsistent with the teachings of Islam3. This phenomenon of bigotry and exclusivism, the relevance of this publication is even more pressing, arose in the context of several issues amidst the lack of voices in the public such as breakdown of trust in religious sphere that go against these forms of authority, moral panic arising from the non-violent extremism. There is naive increase in social ills, and disruptions in simplicity in merely describing the economic life. conditions of Muslims in Southeast Asia and this is where the book differs: it This has undeniable impact on the presents a narrative that explicates what Singapore Muslim community. On a or whom are absent from the “main” surface level, the proponents of non-vionarrative that is widely accepted as lent religious resurgence believe that there representative of Muslim religious life. are “alternative” social orders consistent By presenting a narrative whereby critical with the Islamic teachings, and seek to voices towards the current religious change their economic and social lifestyles establishments are marginalised or towards what is “Islamic”. This includes deliberately silenced, the absence of these “Islamising” almost all facets of life, voices in the public sphere reflects on the whether it is “Islamising” education that is socio-religious conditions of Muslims, perceived as “Western”, and turning and raises many questions as to why towards “Islamic banking and finance”.
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However, the changes that are made to supposedly make their lifestyles more “Islamic” are more often than not, shallow and hollow attempts. Even until today, the concept of an “Islamic lifestyle” or “Islamic education” remains ambiguous, and there is no clear cut definition or guide to prove that it is any different or better than what is already offered. Dr Noor Aisha propounds that it is this lack of direction and anti-intellectualism that not only obscures and distracts from the actual problems of the community, but it presents a barrier in understanding our current predicaments. QUESTIONING ‘ALTERNATIVE’ VOICES Relegating critical voices as “alternatives” is also critiqued. In his essay on the challenges of developing critical reformist voices in Singapore, Dr Azhar Ibrahim explains that the presence of such ideas and ideologies have always been present in the Malay Archipelago, particularly in Singapore. The cosmopolitan nature and connectedness of the Archipelago in history have inevitably brought in various ideological influences over time, and contributed to the diversity of ideologies in this region. This goes to show that reformist ideas in society are not new, and is in fact part of the cultural fabric of Muslim religious life in Southeast Asia. This hits at the very claim of several groups that deem reformist ideas as new, “liberal” or “un-Islamic”. The reality is that reformist values and ideas have always been reverberating in the community, and the process of making them foreign may be one of many ways of silencing and marginalising critical voices. This raises many questions: why are specific religious orientations silenced, and what does it tell of the Singapore Muslim community, their leadership, and their values when critical voices are marginalised? The writers of this book have presented a rich account of religious diversities and explanations as to why the majority of Muslims in Southeast Asia have chosen to adopt specific, dominant religious orientations and their implications on social life. These religious orientations are dominant in that they are used to promote and support particular political motivations and actions, dominate the public sphere
2 THE STRAITS TIMES, 7 FEBRUARY 2020. CORONAVIRUS: MHA INVESTIGATING RELIGIOUS TEACHER FOR 'XENOPHOBIC, RACIST' POSTS. NORSHAHRIL, S. AND AZHAR, I. 2019. ALTERNATIVE VOICES IN MUSLIM SOUTHEAST ASIA: DISCOURSE AND STRUGGLES. ISEAS-YUSOF ISHAK INSTITUTE, P. 35.
This goes to show that reformist ideas in society are not new, and is in fact part of the cultural fabric of Muslim religious life in Southeast Asia. This hits at the very claim of several groups that deem reformist ideas as new, “liberal” or “un-Islamic”. The reality is that reformist values and ideas have always been reverberating in the community, and the process of making them foreign may be one of many ways of silencing and marginalising critical voices. This raises many questions: why are specific religious orientations silenced, and what does it tell of the Singapore Muslim community, their leadership, and their values when critical voices are marginalised? and influence the actions of policymakers and leadership, or tend to marginalise critical voices with alternative ideas and ideologies. The phenomenon of particular dominant religious orientations and religious resurgence can be further explored to understand ethnographic, socio-historical and economic factors that explain why Muslims would embrace certain ideologies. Dr Pradana Boy’s incisive article on religious leaders or politicians who use religion as a political tool, and their political relations and dynamic with their followers reveal that there is a need to explore the phenomenon of religious resurgence in political and social life as there are other factors that influence the people’s choice to adopt particular religio-political orientations. CONCLUSION Despite Islam being the dominant religion in this region, it is naive to assume that the religious orientations of the people are one and homogeneous. In reality, there are existing strands which can coexist, support each other, or in constant contestation with other strands of religious orientations.
Above that, there are religious orientations that are more dominant than others which have been taking up the spotlight and influencing the political, cultural, economic, and socio-religious life of the Muslims in Southeast Asia. Any reader of this book would learn not to underestimate the impact of these dominant religious orientations. More importantly, it tells the narratives of voices that are marginalised or unnoticed, which makes it a must-read for anyone who intends to understand the diversity and lived religious realities of Muslims in Southeast Asia.
Nur Hikmah Md Ali is a second-year undergraduate in the Nationa l University of Sin gapore (NUS). She is curre ntly majoring in Ma lay Studies and mino ring in Sociology.
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