PUBLISHED BY: AMP SINGAPORE • VOLUME 15 ISSUE 4 • OCTOBER 2020 • MCI (P) NO: 078/07/2020 • ISSN NO: 0218-7434
Voices of Youth:
A Conversation on Employment
CONTENTS OCTOBER 2020
FROM THE EDITOR’S DESK BLM Movement Around the World and in Singapore: Reflections on Struggle and Solidarity by Nursheila Muez
SUPERVISING EDITOR Dr Md Badrun Nafis Saion
Hagia Sophia and Its Multiple Lives by Syafiqah Jaaffar
In Pursuit of Work-Life Balance with Nurul Arif by Nur Diyana Jalil
EDITORIAL TEAM Muhammad Faris Alfiq Mohd Afandi Nabilah Mohammad Nur Diyana Jalil Ruzaidah Md Rasid Winda Guntor
Book Review: Beyond Bicentennial: Perspectives on Malays by Nur Syafiqah Mohd Taufek
COVER STORY Commentary: Voices of Youth – A Conversation on Employment by Nabilah Mohammad
Leader of the Opposition and Political Evolution in Singapore by Dr Walid Jumblatt Abdullah
Narrowing the Generational Gap by Muhammad Faris Alfiq Mohd Afandi
What Sociology Says About Social Distancing by Prof Syed Farid Alatas
Seniors Living with Dementia during COVID-19 by Mohamad Rosli Abu Bakar
Circuit Breaker Couldn’t Break Us by Julianawarti Jumali
Cancel Culture in Singapore: A Critical Perspective by Syazwi Rahmad
EDITOR Zarina Yusof
We welcome letters, comments and suggestions on the issues that appear in the magazine. Please address your correspondence to: Editor, The Karyawan AMP Singapore 1 Pasir Ris Drive 4 #05-11 Singapore 519457 T +65 6416 3966 | F +65 6583 8028 E firstname.lastname@example.org
The Karyawan is a publication of the AMP Singapore. The views expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect those of AMP and its
Dealing with Negative People: Tips from the Quran for Muslim Activists by Ustaz Dr Muhammad Haniff Hassan
subsidiaries nor its directors and The Karyawan editorial board. © AMP Singapore. 2020. All rights reserved. Permission is required for reproduction.
FROM THE EDITORâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;S DESK
Every bright-eyed youth joining the workforce has hopes of securing a good paying job with good benefits and good work-life balance. However, the reality is that the job market is rife with challenges. For instance, they might find a mismatch between what they had studied and the knowledge and skills required in the workforce. The jobs available could require longer hours than they are willing to work, or pay less than what they are willing to accept. With our Malay community having the largest youth population compared to the general population, these challenges become more pronounced for our Malay youths. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, our research team at the Centre for Research on Islamic and Malay Affairs (RIMA), a subsidiary of AMP, had embarked on a qualitative perception study on youth and employment. The study details the challenges faced by our Malay youths in finding and sustaining employment, and outlines what Malay/Muslim organisations can do to help them in their employment journey, according to the youths. Lead researcher of the study, Nabilah Mohammad, shares the findings from the study, which you can read on Page 8. What we can draw from the study is that it now becomes even more critical for us to help our youths to develop their capabilities and enhance their productivity in the labour market, as we are now facing a highly uncertain global economic outlook in what are truly unprecedented times. We hope youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll find this issue a meaningful read.
DR MD BADRUN NAFIS SAION SUPERVISING EDITOR
LEADER OF THE
AND POLITICAL EVOLUTION IN SINGAPORE BY DR WALID JUMBLATT ABDULLAH
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The appointment of Pritam Singh, the Workers’ Party (WP) chief, as the formal Leader of the Opposition (LO) is undoubtedly a significant step in the maturing of the political system in Singapore. Prime Minister (PM) Lee Hsien Loong’s gesture showed a recognition of the desire of the electorate for greater opposition representation. Subsequently, details emerged on what the position entailed: more speaking time in Parliament, access to select confidential security briefings, and an increase in salary (double that of an ordinary Member of Parliament or MP). Pritam decided to publicly announce that he would donate half of the increase in salary, triggering much discussion amongst Singaporeans. Beyond the pay rise, what exactly does the LO position mean for Singapore?
toward the formalisation of the LO post; the loss of an additional GRC to the WP; the increase in vote share in the opposition parties in the West, which has long thought to be impenetrable; the failure of harsh tactics deployed against the opposition, prompting Minister Shanmugam to declare that the PAP needed to engage in “soul-searching”; and of course, the nationwide drop in support for the ruling party. All of those are true, of course. However, to say that there has been a transformation in the political scene in Singapore would be hyperbolic. The PAP still holds almost 90% of the elected seats in Parliament; the opposition is nowhere near denying the PAP’s super-majority; all the major institutions in the country are dominated by the ruling party; and so on. Thus, while GE2020 was significant in many ways, in A POLITICAL MOVE others, it represented continuity. To use It is strange that many Singaporeans were the term ‘transformation’ would thus be debating as to whether Pritam’s donation a misnomer. Even the LO position, while was ‘political’ in nature. Of course it new in its formalisation, had been mooted was: Pritam is, after all, a politician, and before by PM Lee: he had wanted to anything he does is obviously ‘political’. So recognise Low Thia Khiang, the previous was PM Lee’s decision to institute a formal WP chief, as the informal LO, but LO position. To be sure, putting in place Low declined. the LO is not merely a gesture of goodwill from the PM to his political adversary; it A better way of interpreting the events was a decidedly political move which was that had transpired since GE2020 is partly meant to assuage voters that the the evolution of the political system in government recognised their aspirations Singapore. Just like any evolution, it is to be represented by a variety of voices a gradual, and can be a painfully slow in Parliament, and partly meant to apply process; yet when analysed in the longue more pressure on the opposition. Already, durée, we can see changes which have People’s Action Party (PAP) leaders have happened. The opposition has slowly repeatedly said that now the WP needs become more mainstream in the psyches to not just critique government policies, of Singaporean, even if not fully so. but give constructive suggestions too. The premise of the call is tenuous of A word of caution is due, however. course, since the WP and other opposition One must never assume that the parties have always provided alternative democratisation process is unidirectional, policy proposals. But evidently, what the and that the opposition will only go from government intends to achieve is that strength to strength henceforth. Many the public imposes higher expectations analysts made that mistake in 2011, on the WP. when the PAP suffered its worst electoral showing in the post-independence history And rightly so. The public should demand of Singapore, projecting that there was more from our elected representatives, a ‘new normal’ in the country. In 2015, from the government or the opposition. those expectations were overturned, as the PAP recovered strongly and the WP TRANSFORMATION OR EVOLUTION? barely held on to six of its seven seats, As is typically the case, the results of and lost one. There is no reason that the the 2020 General Election (GE2020) PAP cannot recover from the results of have gotten people excited, and the GE2020. Of course, for it to do so, it would phrase ‘new normal’ is bandied about have to follow through on its promises of rather liberally. Commentators point rethinking its views and approach toward
politics, which many today, especially the young, are uncomfortable with. If it does, and the opposition does not continue to improve, the party can definitely come back stronger. For the opposition, what it needs to do is to continue attracting credible candidates, which for the WP, would be considerably easier now since success attracts people; perform well in Parliament; manage their constituencies well; and for Pritam, continue to be a national leader and show that he can rise above petty politics. The other opposition parties can take a leaf out of WP’s book and slowly build their credibility, and perhaps concentrate their resources on winning one single member constituency seat first, and then move forward from there. Electoral success requires a long and arduous journey. THE ROAD AHEAD GE2020 has thrown up lots of questions for Singapore society, which need to be confronted. How should race and religion be navigated with a younger generation which demands more open discussions? Should punitive actions be the first recourse for the government when it deems that its political opponents have crossed the line? What should the fourth generation PAP leaders do to reconnect with the ground, and regain the support that their predecessors had from the public? How do we handle the candidates who grew up in a social media environment, like Raeesah Khan, and their previous posts on social media? As anyone who has used social media before would know, everyone must have said something silly on those platforms. Should what someone wrote many years ago be disqualifying? These are the questions all of us have to reckon with. Crucial to the process of discovering the answers to these questions is the LO, and his party. Pritam should be an important player – together with the PAP leaders – in finding the answers to existential questions which the country has to face. The LO is not meant to represent just the people of Aljunied, who voted him in, but all Singaporeans, as a responsible and constructive voice in Parliament, being a counter-weight to the PAP when required, and supporting the government when it is the right thing to do.
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For the opposition, what it needs to do is to continue attracting credible candidates, which for the WP, would be considerably easier now since success attracts people; perform well in Parliament; manage their constituencies well; and for Pritam, continue to be a national leader and show that he can rise above petty politics. The other opposition parties can take a leaf out of WPâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s book and slowly build their credibility, and perhaps concentrate their resources on winning one single member constituency seat first, and then move forward from there. Electoral success requires a long and arduous journey.
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Expectations on the LO should be realistic too. Calls for a shadow cabinet in the vein of the opposition in the UK or Australia seem rather premature at the moment, with only 10 elected WP MPs. It does not make much sense to have a shadow cabinet when the opposition does not even have enough numbers to do so. What is more realistic is to expect the LO to help shape the national narrative, and be a check and balance against the PAP, articulating opinions which represent segments of Singapore society. An interesting dynamic to witness is the relationship between the opposition parties. Already, we see some positive rapprochement between WP and the Progress Singapore Party (PSP), the only other opposition party which has parliamentary representation (the party has two Non-Constituency MPs). How WP manages its relationships with other parties, especially the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), will be fascinating. A formal coalition between WP and other opposition parties is extremely unlikely at the moment; as it stands, the WP does not stand to gain from formalising relations with the others, and just on a purely cost-benefit analysis, it does not seem like the WP would want or need an opposition alliance. Informal cooperation, however, is likely to continue, in the form of coordinating to avoid three-cornered fights in electoral constituencies, and in critiquing government policies in Parliament. The instituting of the LO position is most definitely, overall, something which should be celebrated. It also should tell Singaporeans something which should have been obvious all along: elections have consequences. Voters sent a message to the PAP through their votes, and judging from what we have heard from its senior leaders, and the formalisation of the LO, it seems that the message was well-received.
Dr Walid Jumblatt Abd ullah is an Assistant Professor at the Public Policy and Global Affairs Progra m at Nanyang Technological University . He works on state-Islam relations, and political parties and elections, with par ticular focus on Singapore and Malaysia.
Narrowing The Generation Gap
BY MUHAMMAD FARIS ALFIQ MOHD AFANDI OCTOBER 2020
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One of the most discussed topics in school while I was growing up was the ‘generation gap’. It used to be about communicating with parents or those older than us, or on new technologies used by us versus those used by older folks, the youngsters back then and the experiences of our parents.
medical costs as well as the People’s Action generation based on a recent Institute of Party’s new generation of leaders2. Policy Studies (IPS) working paper on religion, morality and conservatism in As for the younger generation, they were Singapore. more concerned with matters pertaining to climate change, gay rights, inequality, and interestingly, jobs and unemployment3. If we were to take a look into the deeper history of the Malay world, the generational At one point in time, I wondered if I would The younger generation of Singaporeans divide had existed and caused a major split were also more interested in discussing better understand those older than me within the Malay community in the late issues that are deemed to be sensitive, in when I eventually became an adult, and 19th and early 20th century during an open manner, one of which includes that the gap might not be as wide as I pre-independence Malaya. race and religious relations. This can be imagined it to be. observed when most of the younger voters William Roff, in his book The Origins of were in support of Raeesah Khan when a Now that I am an adult, I can see that I Malay Nationalism, described at length the police report was filed against her for race- seemingly generational split among the was wrong. and religion-related comments she had younger and older generations, here made on her social media account4. Terms like “boomer”, “strawberry referred to as Kaum Muda and Kaum Tua generation”, “snowflakes” and the likes of respectively5. them, often a condescending description While the generational gap may not be the of a group of people from a particular only influencing factor in the outcome of The Kaum Muda, or the Younger Generageneration, started to be thrown at one tion, were reformist in nature when it the GE this year, the indicators of the another. came to ideas concerning the Malay existence of a generational divide in the monarchy and religion. Some of the more political scene in Singapore over the So, not only was I wrong, in fact, I believe course of the GE campaigning period and prominent reformers include Syed Syeikh that the gap has gotten even wider. Al-Hady who, at one time, opened a shortly after the results were announced signal that it is worth taking a look at and madrasah (religious school) in Singapore But the question remains: Is this gap in 1908 named Madrasah Al-Iqbal6. studying any possible trends. actually a result of a generational divide? Or are there some other underlying, more NOT SO GENERATIONAL The Kaum Tua on the other hand, were critical factors which have widened seen to be more traditionalistic and If one is not critical enough in one’s the gap even further, and causing it to analysis, one might easily see that there is conservative in their worldview. While continue doing so. How does this the Kaum Muda fought to use thought and indeed a divide simply based on the generational gap affect the larger opinions of those of the older generation rationality in understanding religion in Malay/Muslim society, specifically in and the younger ones. the Malay world, the Kaum Tua resisted Singapore? this change (islah) and renewal (tajdid), I argue that it is more important for us to and were adamant in holding on to the (GE)NERATION GAP? understand other variables that shape the traditionalistic beliefs and ways in which The recent Singapore General Election opinions and attitudes of the different Islam was being practised7. (GE), if anything, amplified the youngergenerations. This is due to the fact that older generation dichotomy in Singapore collectively assuming a particular Again, it is easy to assume that the when it comes to issues they are more younger generation was more pro-reform generation holds a specific trait may lead concerned with. while the older generation was more to generalising and stereotyping. conservative when it came to religious A Blackbox poll indicated that there is a practices due to their age. But if we were to The variables for the differing opinions difference in the concerns that first-time look at it deeper, this was not the case. and attitudes include education and the voters, described as Gen Z aged 21 to 24 access to information in making informed years, had, as compared to baby boomers, The Kaum Muda held reformist ideas not choices and decisions that could affect aged 50 and above1. because they were younger, but their their vote. experiences and access to information For instance, generally, baby boomers Hence, in doing so, I shall look at some of differed back then. Roff explained how the were more concerned with issues such as the data which point towards a diverse, or transference of reformist ideas by increases in cost of living, healthcare and Muhammad Abduh and Jamaladdin rather, fragmented nature of each 1
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BLACKBOX. GE2020: FIRST TIME VOTERS. 2020, JULY 24. RETRIEVED FROM HTTPS://BLACKBOX.COM.SG/EVERYONE/2020/07/24/GE2020-FIRST-TIME-VOTERS 2 IBID 3 IBID 4 DEVADAS, D. YOUNGER VOTERS: WARMING MORE THAN THE COCKLES OF THEIR HEARTS BEYOND GE2020. IPS COMMONS. 2020, JULY 21. RETRIEVED FROM HTTPS://IPSCOMMONS.SG/YOUNGER-VOTERS-WARMING-MORE-THAN-THE-COCKLES-OF-THEIR-HEARTS-BEYOND-GE2020/ 5 ROFF, W. R. THE ORIGINS OF MALAY NATIONALISM. 1995, JANUARY. OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS; 2ND EDITION. 6 HISTORY SG. MADRASAH AL-IQBAL AL-ISLAMIAH IS OFFICIALLY OPENED. ACCESSED 2020, SEPTEMBER 22: HTTPS://ERESOURCES.NLB.GOV.SG/HISTORY/EVENTS/42AA5F1C-EA77-4A6E-82C3-0D7DB30E5FE3 7 ALJUNIED, S. M. K. AND HUSSIN, D. I. ESTRANGED FROM THE IDEAL PAST: HISTORICAL EVOLUTION OF MADRASSAHS IN SINGAPORE. 2005, AUGUST. JOURNAL OF MUSLIM MINORITY AFFAIRS, 25(2), 252.
Al-Afghani in Egypt had influenced the Malay students, who were studying there and brought their ideas back to Malaya. It was this access to information that caused the split in attitudes towards religion, not generational differences. The same can be applied to the modern-day generation gap as we can see in the following data. DIFFERENCES IN ATTITUDES8 When it comes to social issues, according to the survey conducted by IPS, 54.2 percent of the respondents who consider themselves as Muslims, aged 18 to 35, are of the view that premarital sex is always wrong whereas only 8.4 percent believe that it is not wrong at all. In comparison, 78.1 percent of the respondents who profess Islam as their religion, aged 55 and above, believe that premarital sex is always wrong. Based on this data alone, it is easy to generalise that the younger generation of Muslims have a more ‘liberal’ attitude towards premarital sex compared to the older generation. However, there is a difference in attitudes if we take into consideration their educational background as well. If we compare the data against educational attainment, the higher the respondents’ educational qualifications, the less likely they are to be as conservative as those with lower educational attainment. For instance, according the same survey, more than 65.4 percent of Muslims who hold a degree believe that premarital sex is always wrong, compared to 71.7 percent of Muslims with secondary school qualification or below.
gender, or socio-economic status and class, for example. Perhaps, with more research, we can then point out that the liberalconservative divide is not just dependent on age, but a multitude of reasons. FRAGMENTED GAPS I mentioned earlier that I argue not to frame differences in opinions from the perspective of age. Taking that view is, for a lack of a better term, ageist in nature. It may lead to stereotypes, which are often untrue and unfair if blanketed onto a whole generation. This view is also echoed by Dr Walid Jumblatt Abdullah, an assistant professor at the Nanyang Technological University, who looks at the differences from “the elite-masses, powerful-powerless, just-unjust angles”9. Even so, the views of these groups are not monolithic and they are fragmented even further through intersections. Two people of the same educational background may have different opinions from the other, perhaps in view of their differing experiences.
from each generation rather than seeing the differences as hindrances. We are not looking for ways to push mountains together in order to close the valley. What we are trying to achieve is to understand the natural forces which pull the mountains apart, acknowledge the depth of the valley, and build bridges so that the inhabitants of one mountainous area can cross over and meet with the other without much of a hassle. Right now, as a society, we are building that bridge, slowly.
Mohd Afandi is a Muhammad Faris Alfiq Centre for the at lyst Ana ch Resear Malay Affairs and mic Isla on Research the discourse on in ises cial (RIMA). He spe ia and lays Ma , Islam in Singapore Islamic law, and Indonesia, sociology of a Bachelor of Arts political Islam. He holds National the from dies Stu in Malay S). (NU ore gap Sin of University
Differences of opinions will always stay with us. It is how we manage and deal with these differences. This will surely keep us busy as a nation in ensuring that everyone has a voice and that our concerns are being heard. Surely, each generation faces different sets of challenges to overcome. But if we are to take into account the many other intersections that come with the experiences the generation faces, we can actually empathise and come to a middle path of understanding.
The generational gap is likely here to stay, and in fact, may widen over time. These differences in how the generations While the numbers based on educational perceive issues are likely to continue background are slightly higher if we are to influencing how they make decisions compare them based on age, the trend throughout their lifetime, including how seems to be similar across – those with they will vote, as the results of the recent higher educational background are less GE have shown. However, whether or not conservative than those with lower. these differences will lead to a fractured society will depend on how the government Hence, the difference here is not just in age and other stakeholders can play a role but also other factors. The study did not to bridge these differences and help explore other possible factors such as Singaporeans find opportunities to learn
8 9 8
ALL THE DATA PRESENTED HERE WERE EXTRACTED FROM MATHEWS, M., LIM, L., AND SELVARAJAN, S. RELIGION, MORALITY AND CONSERVATISM IN SINGAPORE. 2019. INSTITUTE OF POLICY STUDIES. OH, T., AND LEE, K. THE BIG READ: WHAT 'OK BOOMER' REVEALS ABOUT THE DIVIDE BETWEEN SINGAPORE MILLENNIALS AND THEIR ELDERS. ACCESSED 2020, SEPTEMBER 22: HTTPS://WWW.CHANNELNEWSASIA.COM/NEWS/SINGAPORE/OK-BOOMER-GENERATION-DIVIDE-BETWEEN-SINGAPORE-MILLENNIALS-ELDERS-12163386
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Voices of Youth: A Conversation on Employment BY NABILAH MOHAMMAD
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THE CHANGING LANDSCAPE Today’s young people are the most educated generation ever. They often enter the working world with considerably more years of schooling than their parents or grandparents. In Singapore today, more than 95 percent of each cohort of students progress to post-secondary education as compared to only 22 percent of those born in the 1940s1.
In addition, globalisation and technological advancements are disrupting jobs and industries that were once assumed safe and stable. The accelerating pace of technological advancements and socio-economic disruptions are altering industries and business models on a significant scale. Most notably, such disruptions saw the transformation of skills in demand and decrease in the shelf-life of current skill However, the overall increase in education sets. In banks for example, technology can standards also means youth today face a now do a huge part of what analysts do, new set of challenges and greater pressure such as carrying out online research, to remain competitive and employable. analysing and crunching data, and There are greater expectations to do organising charts and graphs. well academically and it is even more difficult for one to stand out amongst a sea Singapore’s youths are now growing up in of graduating students. Moreover, the a different world, characterised by influx of foreign talent in recent years has unprecedented changes fuelled by the raised the bar for many job seekers, proliferation of technology and digital making it more competitive in finding or innovation, which has significantly altered sustaining jobs2. the nature of work. The rise of the gig economy, for instance, which is powered
by the proliferation of smartphones and the Internet, has birthed an entirely new category of employment that continues to grow in depth and breadth. Gig workers can independently seek employment on an ad hoc basis, without being confined within the structures of a company or organisation. A growing proportion of Singapore’s workforce, including the young graduates, is now gravitating towards freelance jobs offered by the gig economy. Against this backdrop, it is critical for us to ensure that Malay/Muslim youths are positioned to navigate this disruption and remain relevant in the employment landscape. YOUTH BULGE IN THE MALAY POPULATION If we look at the 2019 population pyramid of the Malay community, you would notice that it has a very youthful population
2019 MALAY POPULATION PYRAMID 85 Years & Over 80-84 Years 70-74 Years
35-39 Years 30-34 Years
65-69 Years 55-59 Years
% Female Residents % Male Residents
25-29 Years 4.45% 20-24 Years
5 - 9 Years
0 - 4 Years
SOURCE: SINGAPORE DEPARTMENT OF STATISTICS 1
PRIME MINISTER'S OFFICE SINGAPORE. SPEECH BY DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER AND MINISTER FOR FINANCE HENG SWEE KEAT AT THE SINGAPORE YOUTH AWARD 2019 PRESENTATION CEREMONY ON 3 NOVEMBER 2019. RETRIEVED FROM HTTPS://WWW.PMO.GOV.SG/NEWSROOM/DPM-HENG-SWEE-KEAT-AT-THE-SINGAPORE-YOUTH-AWARD-2019-PRESENTATION-CEREMONY PANG, E. F., AND DE MEYER, A. WITHIN & WITHOUT: SINGAPORE IN THE WORLD; THE WORLD IN SINGAPORE. SINGAPORE MANAGEMENT UNIVERSITY, 2015. RETRIEVED FROM HTTPS://INK.LIBRARY.SMU.EDU.SG/CGI/VIEWCONTENT.CGI?ARTICLE=6604&CONTEXT=LKCSB_RESEARCH
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structure. Social scientists label this demographic profile the youth bulge, which is defined as young people making up the highest proportion of the population.
According to the qualitative study, youth participants are broadly concerned that there are few opportunities for decent work. The clear message among many of the study participants is that when they do obtain jobs, it involves poor wages as well Being born into a large youth cohort as poor working conditions, including usually means heightened competition heavy workload, long hours, having few or and fewer employment opportunities. no prospects for advancement, and a lack With a younger age profile than the of benefits. Youth participants found general population, the share of themselves crowded out in the job market employment of Malay youths is expected and the type of jobs they wanted, and to increase. A youthful population having to accept a lower-paying job, which structure is a demographic edge and may mean a lower likelihood of them advantage – but only if these young people moving on to a better job in the future. are being employed in decent jobs. Moreover, certain segments of the youth Former World Bank Chief Economist population see their prospects limited by Justin Yifu Lin, explains that the additional constraints. For instance, conventional approach to managing a majority of participants with a Higher youth bulge is to make young people Nitec qualification or below highlighted job-ready through investment in human that it is hard to get a response from capital to enhance productivity in the employers in their job search, unless their labour market3. Hence, recognising this salary expectation is lowered because of their academic qualification. demographic trend and effectively addressing the needs of youth are pivotal For youths with a higher educational for the future. attainment, academic success alone has proven to be an insufficient means of CONSTRAINTS TO YOUTH ensuring a smooth transition into decent EMPLOYMENT employment. For participants with at least The Centre for Research on Islamic and a diploma qualification, inadequate skills Malay Affairs (RIMA) conducted a qualitative perception study to understand and mismatch between education and the nature of barriers to employment faced skills have emerged as chief concerns. Majority of them from this group shared by Malay/Muslim youths. The study, sentiments where their educational plans titled Voices of Youth: A Conversation on are out of kilter with their job expectations. Employment, also briefly reviews the These participants shared about not demographic situation in the Malay/ receiving sufficient employment Muslim community and its impact on information and career guidance which employment. In addition, the study sometimes led to ill-informed career addresses how Malay/Muslim organisations (MMOs) can play a key role choices or unnecessarily long periods of in combatting the problems and providing job search after graduation. solutions. In a survey conducted by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and Ong Teng In the youth perception study, Cheong Labour Leadership Institute in participants shared common key 2017, about 4.31 percent of the employment concerns such as battling with mismatched jobs, low salary, poor respondents were severely underemployed. These were degree holders earning less working conditions, unfavourable than $2,000 a month despite holding treatments and relations at work, and a full-time jobs4. In another survey, findings lack of community support. suggest that about one in four fresh graduates from private education institutes were either unemployed and
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still looking for a job, or in involuntary part-time or temporary employment5. An interesting point discovered in the RIMA study is the attitude towards employment among the group of respondents. For instance, participants with a Higher Nitec qualification or below shared that they would rather be active than “sit around” and be unemployed. Meanwhile, participants with at least a diploma qualification and above shared that they prefer to remain unemployed than accept what they consider undesirable jobs which most of them defined as having a “lousy” pay or heavy workload. The youth study also found that most of the participants did not have any network of contacts or referrals when looking for jobs. For majority of them, their network constitutes mainly people of similar occupational, educational and income background. This left them with limited resources at their disposal, and hence, insufficient information on available decent jobs. The data from the study also shed light on the lack of awareness among the youth participants about the opportunities that are available in Singapore’s labour market. For instance, when asked about the existence of job assistance platforms, majority shared that they had heard about the schemes or at least had come across them, but none of them had used the services of these platforms nor did they explore opportunities when they encountered difficulties in looking for jobs. They cited the complexity of the system when asked about the reason for not doing so. Most of the participants also asserted that the more common experience they had was witnessing discriminatory behaviour among hirers, employers, colleagues or clients. Such episodes include managers being critical of them while lenient to others. Participants shared instances where they perceived hirers and employers being discriminative towards them, making their employment experience difficult.
3 LIN, J. Y. YOUTH BULGE: A DEMOGRAPHIC DIVIDEND OR A DEMOGRAPHIC BOMB IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES? WORLD BANK. 2012, JANUARY 5. RETRIEVED FROM HTTPS://BLOGS.WORLDBANK.ORG/DEVELOPMENTTALK/YOUTH-BULGE-ADEMOGRAPHIC-DIVIDEND-OR-A-DEMOGRAPHIC-BOMB-INDEVELOPING-COUNTRIES CHENG, K. SURVEY FINDINGS ON UNDEREMPLOYMENT SHOW S’PORE’S ‘GRADUATE POOR’ EARN LESS THAN $2,000 A MONTH. TODAY. 2018, APRIL 10. RETRIEVED FROM HTTPS://WWW.TODAYONLINE.COM/SINGAPORE/SURVEY-FINDINGS-UNDEREMPLOYMENT-SHOW-SPORES-GRADUATE-POOR-EARN-LESS-2000-MONTH TANG, L. 1 IN 4 PRIVATE SCHOOL GRADS UNEMPLOYED, INVOLUNTARILY WORKING PART-TIME 6 MONTHS AFTER GRADUATION. TODAY. 2019, APRIL 10. RETRIEVED FROM HTTPS://WWW.TODAYONLINE.COM/SINGAPORE/1-4-PRIVATE-SCHOOL-GRADS-UNEMPLOYED-INVOLUNTARILY-WORKING-PART-TIME-6-MONTHS-AFTER
Similar sentiments were shared in the findings of a survey conducted by the Institute of Policy Studies and OnePeople.sg on racial and religious harmony. Almost 60 percent of Malay/Muslim respondents perceived discriminatory treatment at work; a slight increase from the 58.7 percent in their previous study6. Minority groups also reported that they felt discriminated against when applying for jobs or seeking a promotion. When asked, majority of the youth participants expressed hope that MMOs can do more to help them in areas such as career guidance and counselling. Indeed, with young people staying in education longer than ever and facing increasingly difficult decisions about how to prepare for the labour market, it is more important than ever to get career guidance right. In addition, participants also shared that they hope MMOs can provide youth-friendly, tailored job-matching services, advice on actions to take when employers or colleagues are discriminative, organise resume writing and interview training for job seekers, as well as introduce top-up schemes for individuals who are keen to sign up for courses but cannot afford the fees despite government subsidies.
improve their chances of employment. Ideally, support should begin even while our youths are in school.
should continue towards ensuring that our youth maximise their economic potential.
Strengthening a youthâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s ability to take advantage of job opportunities starts with ensuring they are equipped with the relevant skills for emerging industries. Most of the youths that were interviewed in the study started work early in their lives and hence, lost out on the opportunity to be adequately trained. Empowering them to be trained requires enhancing access to network and information.
The youth bulge in the Malay population structure constitutes potential. If a large youth cohort is unable to find employment, the youth bulge will become a demographic bomb. However, if we can ensure that youths are put to work as productive citizens, the youth bulge can be a demographic dividend.
Ensuring that our youth is equipped with the right skills to complete their schooling, access further education or training, or gain employment is critical to a successful school-to-work transition. For all young people to successfully navigate this process and meet the inevitable challenges they face as they mature is critical. Young people need to nurture their aspirations. Coupled with foundational employability skills and career exposure, this will place all young people in a healthy position for a productive future.
Nabilah Mohammad is a Senior Research Analyst at the Centre for Research on Islamic and Malay Affairs (RIMA). She holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and a Specialist Diploma in Statistics and Data Mining.
In preparing the workforce for the future, it is important that young workers get a good start in their careers with suitable workplace conditions, and BRIDGE TO BETTER EMPLOYMENT the recognition of the OPPORTUNITIES It is important to recognise that all young inter-relational dynamics between their education, age, culture, people will experience a variety of employment issues at some point in their and the nature of the job market. Despite the best of lives, which will lead to different future intentions and measures in outcomes. Not everyone will enjoy the place, there are ways a same opportunities to develop their academic ability and personal skills or rise young person can still fall through the ranks to secure a more senior through the cracks. The community needs to have position, which commensurates with continuous dialogues and remuneration. conversations with youths. This means According to the RIMA youth perception pointing them in the right study, while younger workers may face disadvantages in the labour market, some direction as much as are more vulnerable to poor employment showing them the options, where available. Much prospects. They include at-risk cohorts remains to be done to such as youths with lower academic qualifications, as their career is more likely support a young person to experience stagnancy or even a downward in their personal and capability development trajectory. Hence, support for at-risk for the job market. youths, given the likely challenges they Efforts in this area will face in the job market, is critical to 6
LIM, A. RACIAL, RELIGIOUS HARMONY IN S'PORE IMPROVING, BUT MINORITY GROUPS FEEL DISCRIMINATED AT WORK: IPS-ONEPEOPLE.SG SURVEY. THE STRAITS TIMES. 2019, 30 JULY. RETRIEVED FROM HTTPS://WWW.STRAITSTIMES.COM/POLITICS/RACIAL-RELIGIOUS-HARMONY-IN-SPORE-IMPROVING-BUT-MINORITY-GROUPS-FEEL-DISCRIMINATED-AT-WORK
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What Sociology Says About
SOCIAL DISTANCING BY PROF SYED FARID ALATAS
The topic is an excuse or pretext to introduce the reader to sociology. However, as a reward for indulging me, I will eventually address the topic of social distancing, only to claim, however, that it is a misnomer. But, we need to know what sociology is about in order to understand that point. WHAT IS SOCIOLOGY? We may begin with the founder of this discipline, Abd al-Rahman Ibn Khaldun (AD 1332-1406). Ibn Khaldun was one of the most remarkable Muslim scholars of the pre-modern period. He founded an entirely new science that he called the science of human society (‘ilm al-ijtima’ al-insani)1. In today’s terms this would be called sociology, that is, the study of society. Society itself refers to the
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different forms of the living together of humans. These forms include social contacts, social distance, isolation, individualisation, co-operation, competition, division of labour and social integration2. It is all of these forms that allow human beings to come together, live and interact in various types of associations and groups that form societies. It is important to understand the nature of society and group life if we are to understand how our society functions. Ibn Khaldun, in showing how it was necessary to know about the nature of society in order to distinguish between fact and fiction in history, gave the example of discussions in historical works concerning the descent of the
Moroccan ruler, Idris bin Idris (AD 803-828) of the Idrisid dynasty. Gossip mongers claimed that the younger Idris was the product of an adulterous relationship and was the biological son of Rashid, a client of the Idrisids, accusing Idris’ mother of having an extramarital affair with Rashid. The fact, however, was that Idris’ father was married into the Berber tribes and lived among them in the desert. Ibn Khaldun’s sociological point is that the nature of desert life was such that it was not possible for such things as extramarital affairs to happen without the entire community knowing about them. There were no hiding places where such things could be done in secrecy. For Ibn Khaldun, the fact that Idris’ parents lived among the Berber nomads made it practically impossible
SEE IBN KHALDUN, THE MUQADDIMA: AN INTRODUCTION TO HISTORY, TRANSLATED FROM THE ARABIC BY FRANZ ROSENTHAL, LONDON & HENLEY: ROUTLEDGE AND KEGAN PAUL, 3 VOLS., 1967. FOR AN ACCOUNT OF IBN KHALDUN’S LIFE AND THOUGHT, SEE SYED FARID ALATAS, IBN KHALDUN, NEW DELHI: OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2013. 2 KARL MANNHEIM. SYSTEMATIC SOCIOLOGY: AN INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDY OF SOCIETY. LONDON: ROUTLEDGE & KEGAN PAUL, 1957. PP. 1-2.
for the Advancement of Science on 20 resilient, tougher, braver and self-reliant December 1979, he dealt with the question in comparison with people who lived of how a society could acquire and in cities. It was the binding ties of harness virtu, that is, virtuous qualities ‘asabiyya that enabled these nomads to such as pride, bravery, skill, forcefulness, conquer cities and form new dynasties. and ruthlessness, that enabled one to Rajaratnam’s insight led him to suggest master a situation3. Drawing on that Ibn Khaldun’s ‘asabiyya was Machiavelli’s notion of virtu, Rajaratnam Machiavelli’s virtu. said that it was needed by a society in order to deal with the economic, social, About two years after Rajaratnam’s cultural, political and technological speech, in a well-known quote that was Sociology, therefore, is about understanding forces that were plunging society into the cited by, among others, former US future. The failure to act in the face of President Ronald Reagan, Ibn Khaldun the nature of the social, that is, the that his mother could have had an illicit relationship and given birth to an illegitimate son without the community knowing about it. If we knew something about desert society, the way of life of desert nomads, that is, their social conditions, and the ways in which they interact, we would conclude that it was unlikely that Idris could have been born as a result of an illicit relationship.
interaction, co-operation and association among human beings, and how social factors play a role in the development of communities, societies and civilisations. For example, it is through sociology that we could evaluate the claim about Idris being the product of an adulterous relationship. RAJARATNAM AND RONALD REAGAN ON IBN KHALDUN It is interesting that the late Mr S. Rajaratnam (1915-2006), foreign minister of Singapore (1965-1980) and deputy prime minister (1980-1985), used Ibn Khaldun’s ideas to reflect on the future of Singapore in the 21st century. In a speech that he gave at a seminar organised by the Singapore Association
these forces would result in the decline of that society. Rajaratnam was formulating his views during the days of the Iranian revolution of 1979, which also made him think of the question of the rise and decline of Islamic civilisation. This led him, on the advice of Professor Syed Hussein Alatas, the then head of the Department of Malay Studies at the University of Singapore, to read Ibn Khaldun’s Al-Muqaddima, a three volume introduction to his historical work on the history of the Arabs and Berbers, and other nations. Rajaratnam noted that Ibn Khaldun’s key concept, ‘asabiyya, the feeling of group solidarity, primarily among tribes, villages and pioneer settlements, was the stuff that made nomadic society more
says, “It should be known that at the beginning of the dynasty, taxation yields a large revenue from small assessments. At the end of the dynasty, taxation yields a small revenue from large assessments. The reason for this is that when the dynasty follows the ways (sunan) of the religion, it imposes only such taxes as are stipulated by the religious law, such as charity taxes, the land tax, and the poll tax.” 4 President Reagan, in his news conference in October 1981, cited Ibn Khaldun as an early exponent of supply-side economic theory, the doctrine on which his administration based many of its policies5. According to supply-side economics, a cut in tax rates would stimulate the economy, resulting in the generation of greater tax revenues.
RAJA TAKES A LOOK AT THE PAST AND THE FUTURE. THE STRAITS TIMES. 21 DECEMBER 1979. IBN KHALDUN. THE MUQADDIMA. VOL. 2, P. 89.
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Reagan believed that the principles of supply-side economics could be traced back as far as Ibn Khaldun. Citing Ibn Khaldun, Reagan said, “We’re trying to get down to the small assessments and the great revenues.” 6 Ibn Khaldun discussed how the pursuit of luxury within the ruling class would result in the higher rates of taxation. Over some generations they become immersed in a life of luxury. To maintain such a lifestyle there is an increase in
assessments in order to augment the tax revenue. These finally reach levels that function to decrease productive activities and tax revenues. The cycle of increased tax rates and declining revenues not only causes a downturn in the economy of the dynasty, but eventually its demise. The demand for luxuries carries within it the germs of decay and collapse7. This problem concerned Rajaratnam. He believed that as Singapore entered the 21st century and had to “steer safely through fortuna - the capricious play of world forces”, what was needed was Machiavelli’s virtu or Ibn Khaldun’s ‘asabiyya 8. DURKHEIM AND THE STUDY OF SUICIDE Centuries after Ibn Khaldun, the French scholar, Emile Durkheim (1858-1917),
wanted to show how sociology provided a perspective that differed from those of other disciplines. He said that sociology had its own subject matter, that is, social facts. Social facts should be studied as things, that is, as realities external to the individual9. To illustrate this, Durkheim took the example of the study of suicide. For Durkheim the differences in suicide rates are not due to biological or psychological factors, but the differences in social facts. The particular social facts
he used to explain different rates of suicide among different peoples are the degree of integration and the degree of regulation in a society or group. Due to the differences in the degree of integration and regulation, there are four types of suicide that occur in society, that is, egoistic suicide, altruistic suicide, anomic suicide and fatalistic suicide. Let us consider the example of one of these types of suicide. Altruistic suicide occurs when social integration is too strong. A famous example is the mass suicide of the followers of the Reverend Jim Jones in Jonestown, Guyana in 1978. The followers of the reverend willingly drank poison and gave it to their children as well, all for the sake of the cult leader, Jones. They were persuaded or forced into
As we have seen, sociology is about the social, that is, the interaction, co-operation and association among human beings, and how social factors play a role in their development. What does this tell us about social distancing?
IS IT REALLY SOCIAL DISTANCING? We started to hear the term, social distancing, during the current coronavirus pandemic. According to the World Health Organization, to practice distancing means to “[m]aintain at least 1 metre (3 feet) distance between yourself and others” 11. The reason for this is that when someone coughs, sneezes, or speaks, small droplets from their nose or mouth which may contain the virus may spread to you. Many have referred to this practice as social distancing. Social distancing refers to the practice of maintaining physical space between people outside of the home, not gathering in crowds, and avoiding mass gatherings. What is meant by social distancing is actually physical distancing. This gives
ROBERT D. MCFADDEN. REAGAN CITES ISLAMIC SCHOLAR. THE NEW YORK TIMES. 2 OCTOBER 1981. 6 IBID. 7 IBN KHALDUN. THE MUQADDIMA. VOL. 2, PP. 89-91. 8 RAJA TAKES A LOOK AT THE PAST AND THE FUTURE. THE STRAITS TIMES. 21 DECEMBER 1979. 9 EMILE DUKHEIM. THE RULES OF SOCIOLOGICAL METHOD. NEW YORK: FREE PRESS, 1964. 10 EMILE DURKHEIM. SUICIDE. NEW YORK: FREE PRESS, 1951. SEE ALSO RITZER, SOCIOLOGICAL THEORY, PP. 103-106. WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION. CORONAVIRUS DISEASE (COVID-19) ADVICE FOR THE PUBLIC. RETRIEVED FROM HTTPS://WWW.WHO.INT/EMERGENCIES/DISEASES/NOVEL-CORONAVIRUS-2019/ADVICE-FOR-PUBLIC 5
committing suicide by virtue of being part of the tightly integrated society of followers. They committed suicide because it was their duty to do so10.
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Two people may be physically distant but socially proximate or intimate, that is, having social contact. When a couple, separated by national borders due to the travel restrictions imposed to halt the spread of the coronavirus, meet each other via social media they are not practising social distancing. They have intimate social contact, despite the physical distance.
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the wrong impression that the social and physical are somehow referring to the same thing. Sociology is the study of the social. It looks at social factors to understand human societies and the myriad of problems they face, and changes they go through. Changes and problems in society can also be studied with different approaches by, say, psychologists and economists. But, for sociologists there is the primacy of the social. What does that tell us about social distancing? Social distance is a very important concept in sociology. As a term in public health, it is relatively new and seems to have been in use since the 21st century12. It certainly does not mean the same thing as physical or spatial distance. Of course, this does not mean that both social and physical distance may not coincide. Two people may be both physically and socially distant from each other. The physical distance may in some circumstances cause the social distance. In other cases, however, social distance may be unaffected by physical distance, and even decrease as a result of physical distance. Social distance refers to the lack of social contact, regardless of physical distance or proximity. In other words, social distance may mean that, for example, two people are mentally distant from each other, even though they may be physically proximate13. Social contact itself may be primary, characterised by frequent and more intimate associations, which may or may not involve face-to-face, unmediated visual and auditory engagements with people in our primary group such as family, colleagues and friends. Or, social contact may be secondary, involving less frequent and less intimate associations with people who are not in our group14. In any case, social contact is about social proximity and social relations between individuals, regardless of the degree of physical proximity.
Two people may be physically distant but socially proximate or intimate, that is, having social contact. When a couple, separated by national borders due to the travel restrictions imposed to halt the spread of the coronavirus, meet each other via social media they are not practising social distancing. They have intimate social contact, despite the physical distance. On the other hand, it is possible to be physically close without having social contact. In this case, physical proximity coexists with social distance. Take, for example, two people crossing the road at a zebra crossing. They are strangers to each other even though they may be physically close. Their actions or behaviour are not oriented towards each other and there is no social contact between them. Another example would be purchasing an item in the grocery store. There is physical proximity but the social contact is limited to a short period of monetary transaction. In this pandemic period, we need to encourage and enforce physical, not social distancing. It is the physical distancing that is needed to limit the spread of the coronavirus. It is precisely because of the physical distancing and the lack of possibilities for physically proximate socialising that we need to encourage other forms of social contact, not social distancing.
Professor Syed Farid Ala tas is Professor of Sociology at the Nation al University of Singapore.
SOCIAL DISTANCING. MERRIAM-WEBSTER. RETRIEVED FROM HTTPS://WWW.MERRIAM-WEBSTER.COM/DICTIONARY/SOCIAL%20DISTANCING KARL MANNHEIM. SYSTEMATIC SOCIOLOGY: AN INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDY OF SOCIETY. LONDON: ROUTLEDGE & KEGAN PAUL, 1957. P. 47. IBID, P. 43.
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SENIORS LIVING WITH DEMENTIA DURING COVID-19 BY MOHAMAD ROSLI ABU BAKAR 16 T H E K A R Y A W A N Â© ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IS REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.
Seniors living with dementia can often feel isolated. Over time, the ability of a person with dementia to communicate becomes worse and interactions that once seemed so easy may be more difficult. This can be frustrating for everyone involved. Humans are very social creatures. We need healthy interactions with others to maintain our health. This does not exclude persons living with dementia. Loneliness will cause changes to the brain and psychosis also causes changes to behaviour. Therefore, the intervention of caregivers is paramount to the sustainability of persons with dementia.
behaviour to care for our loved ones who are suffering from dementia. We do not need to correct persons with dementia when they say or do something wrong. Just listen and agree, but if what they are saying will cause embarrassment, we can divert the situation. It is of utmost importance that we do this. Correcting the person with dementia may cause more stress and also sour the relationship.
Next, do not argue with your loved one who has dementia. If you argue, it will create tension, suspicion and maybe aggression towards the caregiver. What the caregiver can do is acknowledge what the Depression, hallucinations, delusions, person with dementia has said, respond in aggression, agitation, wandering and a short, calm way, and then redirect him to sundowning are some hallmark behaviours something else. In addition, do not reason and psychotic symptoms of dementia. with him. When the caregiver attempts to Persons suffering from dementia can have reason with the person with dementia, it sleep disorders, rapid eye movement sleep can lead to extreme frustration on the behaviour disorder, rigid muscles and caregiver’s part and make it more likely bones, and many other hidden symptoms. for the person with dementia to act out. If there is no intervention by their Persons with dementia are not able to caregivers on their psychotic symptoms, reason the way we normally do as their especially depression and delusion, it can brains are impaired. The goal is to try to cause trauma. People with dementia can come up with a response that calms and also have suicidal thoughts that may affect reassures them. Caregivers must come up their well-being. with sentences that make sense to the person with dementia, which may not be CARING FOR PERSONS WITH so to the caregiver. DEMENTIA By having appropriate training and Lastly, a person with dementia should information, caregivers can provide not be challenged with questions such as, successful intervention to persons with “What day is it today?” or “What did you dementia at the earliest opportunity. eat for lunch yesterday?” and so on. These Establishing a trusting, interpersonal may seem like easy questions for us, relationship is the key to sustain persons but for them, the questions can be with dementia. Do not reason, argue or embarrassing. They may then get challenge the person with dementia. defensive, causing them to disengage. Caregivers must give assurance that the Always remember to interact in a calm person with dementia is safe and no harm and assuring manner so that the person will come to him, otherwise it will create with dementia wants to be engaged. mistrust. Evidence suggests that bad, psychotic episodes can occur in moderate BENEFITS OF A LOW-STRESS to late-stage dementia, which are always ENVIRONMENT triggered by stress. Confusion and the Why am I advocating for a good and inability to remember certain people or low-stress relationship between persons objects can be stressful for persons with with dementia and their caregivers? The dementia. If the caregiver is not equipped caregiver’s health is essential to a person with the right skills and knowledge to with dementia especially in this trying handle the situation, it can become time of COVID-19. If the caregiver has frustrating and stressful for both caregiver good knowledge and skills in caring for his and person with dementia. person with dementia, the latter will give in to him. When the caregiver is less The hardest part about this disease is that stressed, it shows in his facial and body we cannot ask persons with dementia to expressions. In turn, the person with change their behaviour. As caregivers, we dementia will benefit from a less stressful are the ones who will have to change our environment.
Allow those with dementia to engage in activities, and turn them into routines. If they love to sing and listen to music, let them do so. Music is a tool for a person with dementia to improve his brain impairment. Create routines for the person with dementia, with good affirmative meditation especially when he wakes up and when he goes to bed. Meditation, prayers and supplication are vital for the subconscious mind of a person with dementia to accept positivity and shift his paradigm to have less stress and be calmer.
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Staying healthy during the pandemic is important for those with dementia. People with dementia have trouble forming new memories and learning new information. As such, having routines and repetitions are critical for them to sustain and function. A good routine includes consistent sleep and wake up times, good hygiene, meal times, and key activities. Unfortunately, the pandemic has disrupted much of this. Disrupting routines for these individuals creates a lot of stress for those who are unable to track information. This may lead to an increase in confusion and memory issues.
stakeholder in the constituency must be educated on dementia: from the businesses to the infrastructure of the community. There needs to be an audit of the infrastructure to make sure it is safe for persons with dementia. We also need to educate members of the constituency to have compassion towards those with dementia. The police would also need to undergo training to recognise persons with dementia. There should be greater awareness of dementia in schools too. The efforts should involve all of the people in the constituency.
I am an advisor to the Kebun Bahru Dementia-Friendly Community. I am an advocate for dementia and volunteer for the Alzheimer’s Disease Association (ADA). But I find that there is still a long way to go in terms of building a community that is dementia-friendly because of the reluctance of some of the community members. The outreach to the Malay community can also be improved. Many in the Malay community with dementia Instead, encourage them with positive suffer in silence. It seems the stigma of thoughts. People with dementia will only dementia within the community is very trust their caregivers. If the caregivers are strong. The Malay community has only not equipped with the necessary skills and one day care centre for persons with knowledge, it will create an unstable dementia run by Club HEAL in Bukit relationship during the pandemic and can Batok, which was officially opened in July lead to more stress, anxiety and fear for this year. While the ADA has many day those with dementia. care centres, they do not see many Malay clients. I have since set up a Community Allow those with dementia to engage in Volunteer Leaders Malay Team, which activities, and turn them into routines. aims to do outreach and provide support If they love to sing and listen to music, in the training of caregivers. let them do so. Music is a tool for a person with dementia to improve his brain The society in Singapore still has a long impairment. Create routines for the person way to go in caring for persons with with dementia, with good affirmative dementia as compared to other countries meditation especially when he wakes up like Australia, Indonesia, New Zealand and and when he goes to bed. Meditation, Europe. However, I believe that someday, prayers and supplication are vital for the we will achieve our objective of having a subconscious mind of a person with dementia-inclusive society for Singapore. dementia to accept positivity and shift his paradigm to have less stress and be calmer. Do not expose people with dementia to many negative thoughts from the environment such as watching too much television during this period. While they might not remember the details, they hold on to the emotional information. As a result, they may feel increased fear, anxiety and stress, but do not understand why they feel so.
BUILDING A DEMENTIA-INCLUSIVE SOCIETY In Singapore, a few constituencies have been declared Dementia-Friendly Communities. However, if these constituencies do not involve those with dementia, then they will not achieve the objective. There is much work to be done. This includes educating the members of the constituency on what constitutes a dementia-friendly community. Every 18 T H E K A R Y A W A N © ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IS REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.
cate and ar is an advo sli Abu Bak se ea is D 's Mohamad Ro er m r the Alzhei d The volunteer fo e. He founde in Singapor n , which io ity at ci un so m m As Dementia Co ay al nteer M lu vo al Chap munity s seven com from youngrs currently ha ffe su e H s s team. d Parkinson’ leaders in hi lewy body an st ith pa w e tia th r en fo onset dem unemployed , he d has been disease, an itions. Hence nd co s hi to e du cy s ca ar vo ye ad ur fo entia . time to dem community devotes his Malay/Muslim e th to ly al especi
CIRCUIT BREAKER COULDN’T BREAK US BY JULIANAWARTI JUMALI
At the start of every new year, my husband and I would set some common goals for the family. Unlike resolutions which can feel big and often fade as the year progresses, goals seem more achievable and set the tone and intention for the plans we intend to carry out throughout the year. This year was no different. For the first time in many years, our focus was not on Aydan Ziqry, 9, our eldest who is on the spectrum and in Primary 2 at Pathlight School. Instead we wanted to pay more attention on Aadil Haris who is in Kindergarten 2 and our baby girl, due to arrive in February. Then, COVID-19 happened. AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH I was about three weeks away from my estimated date of delivery when the first case was confirmed in Singapore. From then on, instead of arriving just in time for our appointments, we had to give a buffer of at least half an hour to accommodate the temperature checks and filling in declaration forms before we could enter the maternity clinic. It was an inconvenience, nothing more. When our nation's Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (DORSCON) level was raised from yellow to orange, the hospital informed us that visitors were not allowed at the maternity wards.
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Unlike Aydan and Aadil, Amelie Sofia Hannah’s birth was a very quiet affair at the hospital. It was also the most restful hospital stay I had. THE START OF OUR BREAK To contain the spread of COVID-19 in Singapore, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced a nationwide partial lockdown known as a circuit breaker in April. Instead of just lasting for three weeks, it was extended to 1 June. Throughout this period only essential workplaces were opened while non-essential services were limited. Schools, places of worship, recreation centres and attractions remained closed. Social gatherings such as private parties and get-togethers with friends and family not within the same household were prohibited, wearing of masks was compulsory and safe management measures were put in place in premises that were operational. I quickly realised my maternity leave would no longer be just about staying home to recuperate and spending time with the baby. Instead, it would be about starting new routines. OUR NEW ROUTINES My mornings of blissful solitude with Amelie ended abruptly as we prepared for the older boys to stay home. We created spaces to accommodate learning and working from home. Schools transitioned to home-based learning (HBL) from 8 April. Prior to that, Pathlight had already prepared its students for HBL with verbal and visual reminders on the changes to expect. Teachers shared the various strategies on managing the academic load. Parents were expected to guide their children and ensure work is submitted daily on these online platforms. To prepare the boys, I created a new timetable which included ‘Homeschool with Ibu’ (the term we used for HBL at home) in the morning. We printed this main schedule and pasted it in the living 20 T H E K A R Y A W A N © ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IS REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.
room, a space where Aydan spends the movies or taken from something someone most time at. Days leading up to HBL, we else has said. We call this his ‘TV talk’. would often make him refer to the schedule and quiz him about ‘homeschool’. His stimming usually happens when he gets tired or anxious. Sometimes, schoolAydan’s teachers shared with us some work can be rather overwhelming, causing visual cues, like the ones in class, to Aydan much distress. On those days, remind him of appropriate behaviours Aydan’s mood would escalate quickly into during learning. a meltdown which was not only loud but can be rather violent. Even with all the verbal and visual reminders, Aydan remained unsettled and To manage his anxiety, I printed a anxious. breakdown of his tasks so that he can check off the things he had completed. We Aadil, on the other hand, was excited as he also used a kitchen timer for him to imagined fun days ahead of staying home. manage his time better. The first week was a complete nightmare.
Right after that first week, I realised there was no way Aydan could complete his HOME-BASED LEARNING daily HBL independently. It would also be Although we had prepped Aydan about impossible to manage both Aydan and the changes in routine, I did not anticipate Aadil’s HBL together. the amount of planning that was required before the start of every lesson. Aydan’s stimming was too loud and disruptive for Aadil, whose HBL consisted Pathlight provides a unique blend of of daily Zoom sessions with his teachers mainstream academic lessons and life and classmates. His frustrated cries and readiness skills for students on the autism violent outbursts affected both Aadil and spectrum and related conditions. All Amelie. lessons are taught using autism-friendly pedagogy. Thus, over the weeks, I adjusted the original schedule and academically, things Aydan is in a class of six children to three got better, which helped diminish Aydan’s teachers. He is in the category of students aggression and anxiety. that require a lot more support and attention. I relied on my helper to care for Amelie in the mornings and completed Aadil’s HBL For students like Aydan with socialisation first before starting on Aydan’s. By then, deficits, Pathlight provides them Aadil finally realised that ‘Homeschool scaffolded and guided practice in interact- with Ibu’ was more tiring, because ing with peers, learning to identify and everything at home presents a learning manage emotions, playing collaboratively opportunity to spell and count. and sharing resources. Then, there was the cabin fever. It was only during HBL that I fully understood the amount of scaffolding THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM required to make him understand a new Although we live on our own, our home is concept or revise an old one. I had to constantly filled with family and friends re-learn all the mathematical concepts and every weekend. We would host regular language rules and guide Aydan in a way makan sessions or schedule playdates with that he could understand. friends who have children. And like any family with a newborn, family and friends Aydan needed to be regularly redirected to were even more excited to visit. the task at hand and reminded to stay calm as he did his work. Often, our lessons In tandem with the circuit breaker, a new would be disrupted by his stimming – he law – the COVID-19 (Temporary would often break out in ‘scripting’ which Measures) Act 2020 – was passed in is the repetition of phrases or sounds of the Parliament on 7 April. This new law bans speech of others usually taken from all gatherings at home, public spaces (like
HDB void decks and parks) with family or friends who do not live together. Thus, when Singapore went into circuit breaker mode, we had to put a stop to all the boys’ enrichment classes and therapy sessions. Playing outdoors was out of the question. Family and friends stopped visiting too.
THE DANGLING CARROT Motivating Aydan is an essential but difficult challenge. He has a restricted repertoire of interest and skills.
While most children his age would have progressed to competitive sports or movies on superheroes, Aydan still watches cartoons and only buys toys from the Disney Pixar Cars collection. In fact, wherever he goes, Aydan will bring along I researched online materials that could explain what this virus was about and why his Pocoyo doll, a cartoon character which he started watching when he was one. the safest place to be is home. We conducted and recorded experiments, read One of Aydan’s main incentives are fries articles, and watched the news. We showed the boys videos on safety manage- and chicken nuggets from McDonald’s. This has not changed since he was three. ment measures and wore our masks at home, just so they could get used to it His other regular incentives – outdoor play when and if they are out. and visits to his favourite places – had to Although the boys understood the severity be stopped by then. Thus, we had to quickly get creative. of this virus, they could not accept the changes that had to be made. We broke the news to him and presented our options. Aydan immediately rejected Earlier in the year, Aydan had planned when he wanted certain things to happen – some of our suggestions. With no baby being home in February, Ramadan in incentives in sight, it got very challenging to motivate him to do things or to make April, celebrate Eid with family in May and no Pathlight in June. He made requests him recover from meltdowns quickly. to take the airplane and go on a cruise ship OUR NEW NORMAL during the mid-year school holidays too. The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted daily life for most people around the world. His wish list is still on our 2020 calendar. However, it has completely upended it for people with autism and their families. Unfortunately, being cooped up at home 24/7 became overwhelming for the For parents of children with special needs children, especially Aydan. Without the reliability of a routine coupled with unmet like us, who often carry an extra heavy load in the best of times, the burden while demands, Aydan started showing on the circuit breaker is intensified when regressive behaviours. our vital support structures typically available are not accessible, and interacInstead of using words to convey his tion with family and friends is not possible. frustrations, he hit himself repeatedly on the face. At times, he would bite into his While it has been mostly challenging for toy cars and iPad. His teeth hurt and the us, there have also been blessings. iPad screen cracked, which worsened the meltdowns. The circuit breaker has given me the time On 19 April, McDonald’s announced that to pause, reflect, press the reset button and make changes to better our family. it would suspend all its restaurant operations in Singapore, including I was a TV producer and director for 15 delivery and drive-through services, after years before I decided to make a career several employees tested positive for switch. To honour my years of working COVID-19. experience I decided to start our family’s This was the straw that broke the camel’s YouTube channel. back. Not only does this fulfill Aadil’s aspiration to be a YouTuber, it has also created a new way for us to connect as a family.
After my maternity leave, I transitioned into working from home. Mothers who nurse would understand when I say I truly appreciate the time I get to spend with Amelie. I have always prided myself on knowing my children’s quirks. But the time spent with them during this circuit breaker gave me fresh insights. I now understand their learning styles and have a deeper appreciation for their teachers. This circuit breaker has also made me realise how much they have grown. They are highly perceptive and have a large dose of empathy. Upon realising this, I am now more self-aware of how my actions and emotions can affect them. It has made me a better parent and a more supportive partner. While the COVID-19 situation has been under control, resulting in the easing of several measures and the progressive opening of the economy, the threat of this virus is real and there is always the likelihood of a second wave. The initial weeks of the circuit breaker have caused tears and frustration for us, but they have also brought unexpected joys and triumphs as we learnt how resilient and capable our children can be.
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CANCEL CULTURE IN SINGAPORE:
A CRITICAL PERSPECTIVE BY SYAZWI RAHMAD
There are many things in life you have probably cancelled on before – from a doctor’s appointment to an order from GrabFood, or even as simple as your plans so that you can relax in bed all day long. But, do you know that you can ‘cancel’ people or brands too? In recent months, many high-profile individuals in Singapore – from the candidates of the recent General Election, or GE2020, to social media influencers – have been ineluctably plagued by the cancel culture. When Ivan Lim was introduced as a new People’s Action Party (PAP) candidate in GE2020, he was immediately belaboured by angry netizens, particularly his peers and ex-colleagues, who characterised him as “elitist” and “arrogant”, amongst others1. These allegations and sustained
attacks, including an online petition to remove Ivan Lim from candidacy, eventually necessitated his withdrawal from GE2020. Nonetheless, the successful act of ‘cancelling’ Ivan Lim set a precedent whereby police reports were even lodged against Workers’ Party’s (WP) Raeesah Khan over her alleged online posts on race and religion made in 20182. It turns out that one of the whistleblowers deliberately dug out old posts in order to incriminate Raeesah3. Adding fuel to the fire, the PAP released a statement which called for the WP to state its stand and questioned the suitability of Raeesah as a Member of Parliament4. This created a polarising online discourse. Many supporters of Raeesah viewed this as a form of gutter politics – an attempt to ‘cancel’ Raeesah by undermining her
credibility. On the other hand, some netizens felt troubled by Raeesah’s old Facebook and Twitter posts. Nevertheless, GE2020 was where we witnessed the intensification of the cancel culture so far. The attacks on Raeesah triggered a backlash. The hashtag #IStandWithRaeesah started trending. Police reports were lodged against the PAP’s statement5 and Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat’s old comments6 as they were perceived as wounding racial feelings or promoting enmity between different races, albeit no offence was found in both reports. In addition, Xiaxue, a social media influencer, fell afoul of the cancel culture when she labelled Raeesah a “radical feminist/leftist” and a “poison infecting our politics”. Within minutes, the #PunishXiaxue hashtag became trending
HOW, MANDY. THE WHO WHAT WHERE WHEN OF PAP'S IVAN LIM DRAMA SO FAR, SUMMARISED IN 4 KEY DEVELOPMENTS. MOTHERSHIP. 2020, 27 JUNE. RETRIEVED FROM HTTPS://MOTHERSHIP.SG/2020/06/IVAN-LIM-WHAT-HAPPENED/ 2 LAY, BELMONT. 2 POLICE REPORTS MADE AGAINST WP'S RAEESAH KHAN OVER ALLEGED COMMENTS ON RACE. MOTHERSHIP. 2020, 5 JULY. RETRIEVED FROM HTTPS://MOTHERSHIP.SG/2020/07/WORKERS-PARTY-RAEESAH-KHAN-SENGKANG-GRC/ 3 NETIZENS DIG OUT ABOUT PAP SUPPORTER AFTER HE PUBLICLY ADMITS HE WAS AMONG THE FIRST TO LEAK WP'S RAEESAH KHAN'S COMMENTS. THE ONLINE CITIZEN. 2020, 6 JULY. RETRIEVED FROM HTTPS://WWW.ONLINECITIZENASIA.COM/2020/07/06/NETIZENS-DIG-OUT-ABOUT-PAP-SUPPORTER-AFTER-HE-PUBLICLY-ADMITS-HE-WAS-AMONG-THE-FIRST-TO-LEAK-WPS-RAEESAH-KHANS-COMMENTS/ 4 THE WORKERS' PARTY'S POSITION ON SENGKANG CANDIDATE MS RAEESAH KHAN. PEOPLE'S ACTION PARTY. 2020, 6 JULY. RETRIEVED FROM HTTPS://WWW.PAP.ORG.SG/NEWS/THE-WORKERS-PARTYS-POSITION-ON-SENGKANG-CANDIDATE-MS-RAEESAH-KHAN/ 5 LAIU, DARRYL. POLICE: PAP PRESS STATEMENT ON RAEESAH KHAN DISCLOSE 'NO OFFENCE'. MOTHERSHIP. 2020, 8 JULY. RETRIEVED FROM HTTPS://MOTHERSHIP.SG/2020/07/POLICE-PAP-PRESS-STATEMENT-RAEESAH-KHAN/ 6 POLICE CONFIRM REPORTS MADE AGAINST DPM HENG OVER COMMENTS AT NTU FORUM, BUT NO OFFENCE FOUND. CNA. 2020, 7 JULY. RETRIEVED FROM HTTPS://WWW.CHANNELNEWSASIA.COM/NEWS/SINGAPORE/HENG-SWEE-KEAT-POLICE-REPORTS-NTU-FORUM-12910236
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on Twitter, police reports and online petitions were filed against Xiaxue for her old, offensive tweets, and angry netizens called on brands to end their collaboration with Xiaxue7. Now, what is the big deal behind this cancel culture? These incidents reflect that cancel culture is fast becoming prominent in topics of conversation in Singapore. WESTERN TERMINOLOGY The terminology of cancel culture is arguably derived from the US whereby there is a variation of definitions based on different levels of understanding. Online media company, Vox, generally defines cancel culture as “a trend of communal calls to boycott a celebrity whose offensive behaviour is perceived as going too far” 8. One author describes it as “largely a calculus of diminishing returns of a public figure’s goodwill to the community that they are beholden to” 9. On the other hand, another writer points out that once “you do something that others deem problematic, you automatically lose all your currency. Your voice is silenced. You’re done.” 10 Nonetheless, a common feature of cancel culture is calling out (or some would say public shaming) by the online community. It is also noted that in some cases, cancelling includes taking further actions such as boycotting, going after the employers, doxxing, or even filing police reports, particularly if the individual’s perceived offensive behaviour or action amounts to a chargeable offence under its country’s rule of law.
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Situating cancel culture in the local context, many are wary that the importation of Western ideas is detrimental to our society. In a recent interview on Instagram, former Nominated Member of Parliament Kuik Shiao-Yin contends that shame is weaponised to burn down the ‘cancelled’ individual’s platform of worth. This could result in the belief that change is impossible. For example, Tosh Zhang encountered an online backlash when his old homophobic tweets made back in 2011, were surfaced after he was announced as one of Pink Dot’s ambassadors in 201911. Tosh apologised for his tweets and affirmed that he has changed since then. He eventually stepped down from ambassadorship to stop the controversy. Tosh even decided to take a break from social media after receiving a voluminous amount of hate due to his past tweets.
tougher penalties for perpetrators of sexual violence. In short, her Instagram stories became viral and created mass public rallying to pressure NUS to change its policies and introduce more concrete measures. Her story also attracted the then-Minister for Education Ong Ye Kung who weighed in on the issue14. She acknowledged that exposing the identity of her perpetrator, Nicholas Lim, is necessary as she points out that many of the perpetrators go unnamed and manage to get away with their crimes.
Another case to illustrate is the popular podcast, OKLetsGo (OLG), by three former Malay local radio DJs. OLG became controversial due to the podcasters’ casual and rampant misogynistic remarks. This led to a public outcry and many individuals called them out on social media15. Some encouraged listeners to boycott the podcast. In fact, the defenders of OLG were insulted and threatened to the extent of doxxing them. Walid Jumblatt Abdullah, an Assistant In addition, advertiser Foodpanda Professor at the Nanyang Technological distanced themselves from OLG by University, warned that cancel culture requesting its sponsored content to be could discourage open discourses and removed16. The saga even attracted the attention of many political figures lead to self-censorship. As such, people including President Halimah Yacob, may be afraid to articulate their views who issued a statement calling them to due to political correctness12. apologise17. Due to public pressure and backlash, the podcasters released an On the other hand, proponents of cancel culture argue that it is an effective tool to episode to address the issue and later, seek accountability and justice, especially issued an apology. when the ‘cancelled’ individual has a history of being exempted or if traditional TRIAL BY INTERNET OR WEAPON OF THE WEAK? avenues are deemed to be insufficient in We indeed encounter polarising views holding them accountable. on cancel culture – one camp views it as toxic and counterproductive, while the For instance, Monica Baey shared her other sees it as an imperative to demand discontentment on Instagram about accountability. the meagre handling of the National University of Singapore (NUS) with regard to sexual violence13. She called for Here, I would say that it is both. There is more support and protection to be given a time and place for cancel culture. If an to victims of sexual assault, as well as individual intentionally causes harm
LIEW, REBECCA. SINGAPOREAN INFLUENCER XIAXUE UNDER FIRE FOR ACCUSING POLITICIAN OF STIRRING UP ‘RACIST SENTIMENTS’ AND FOR HER OWN OFFENSIVE TWEETS – BUT REFUSES TO BACK DOWN. SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST. 2020, 13 JULY. RETRIEVED FROM HTTPS://WWW.SCMP.COM/LIFESTYLE/ENTERTAINMENT/ARTICLE/3092961/SINGAPOREAN-INFLUENCER-XIAXUE-UNDER-FIRE-ACCUSING ROMANO, AJA. WHY WE CAN'T STOP FIGHTING ABOUT CANCEL CULTURE. VOX. UPDATED 2020, 25 AUGUST. RETRIEVED FROM HTTPS://WWW.VOX.COM/CULTURE/2019/12/30/20879720/WHAT-IS-CANCEL-CULTURE-EXPLAINED-HISTORY-DEBATE IBRAHIM, SHAMIRA. IN DEFENSE OF CANCEL CULTURE. VICE MEDIA GROUP. ACCESSED 2020, 20 AUGUST: HTTPS://WWW.VICE.COM/EN_US/ARTICLE/VBW9PA/WHAT-IS-CANCEL-CULTURE-TWITTER-EXTREMELY-ONLINE HAGI, SARAH. CANCEL CULTURE IS NOT REAL—AT LEAST NOT IN THE WAY PEOPLE THINK. TIME. 2019, 21 NOVEMBER. RETRIEVED FROM HTTPS://TIME.COM/5735403/CANCEL-CULTURE-IS-NOT-REAL/ ZHUO, TEE. TOSH ZHANG STEPS DOWN AS PINK DOT AMBASSADOR AFTER OUTCRY OVER DEROGATORY TWEETS. THE STRAITS TIMES. 2019, 24 MAY. RETRIEVED FROM HTTPS://WWW.STRAITSTIMES.COM/SINGAPORE/TOSH-ZHANG-STEPS-DOWN-AS-PINK-DOT-AMBASSADOR-AFTER-OUTCRY-OVER-DEROGATORY-TWEETS LIM, KIMBERLY. CANCEL CULTURE: HOW ASIA’S ‘WOKE BRIGADE’ BECAME A POLITICAL FORCE. SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST. UPDATED 2020, 24 JULY. RETRIEVED FROM HTTPS://WWW.SCMP.COM/WEEK-ASIA/LIFESTYLE-CULTURE/ARTICLE/3093736/CANCEL-CULTURE-HOW-ASIAS-WOKE-BRIGADE-BECAME-POLITICAL SIM, DEWEY. SINGAPORE STUDENT MONICA BAEY WANTS FIRM ACTION FROM NUS AFTER MAN WHO FILMED HER IN HOSTEL SHOWER GOES ‘SCOT-FREE’. SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST. UPDATED 2019, 20 APRIL. RETRIEVED FROM HTTPS://WWW.SCMP.COM/NEWS/ASIA/SOUTHEAST-ASIA/ARTICLE/3006950/SINGAPORE-STUDENT-MONICA-BAEY-LASHES-OUT-NUS-AFTER-MAN-WHO TENG, AMELIA. NUS PENALTIES FOR SEXUAL MISCONDUCT CASE 'MANIFESTLY INADEQUATE'; UNI TO REVIEW SENTENCING FRAMEWORK SWIFTLY: ONG YE KUNG. THE STRAITS TIMES. 2019, 23 APRIL. RETRIEVED FROM HTTPS://WWW.STRAITSTIMES.COM/SINGAPORE/EDUCATION/NUS-PENALTIES-FOR-SEXUAL-MISCONDUCT-CASE-MANIFESTLY-INADEQUATE-UNI-TO-REVIEW LAY, BELMONT, NAZREN, FASIHA, AND ISHAK, SYAHINDA. FAST & FURIOUS BACKLASH AGAINST OKLETSGO PODCAST IN S'PORE, EXPLAINED. MOTHERSHIP. ACCESSED 2020, 20 AUGUST: HTTPS://MOTHERSHIP.SG/2020/06/OKLETSGO/ MAHMUD, AQIL HAZIQ. POLITICIANS WHO APPEARED ON OKLETSGO PODCAST SAY REMARKS ON WOMEN WERE WRONG, SOME SPONSORS CONCERNED. CNA. 2020, 16 JUNE. RETRIEVED FROM HTTPS://WWW.CHANNELNEWSASIA.COM/NEWS/SINGAPORE/MINISTERS-RESPOND-OKLETSGO-GUESTS-PODCAST-MISOGYNY-12840824 HOW, MANDY. 'PODCAST OKLETSGO SHOULD SINCERELY & HUMBLY APOLOGISE TO ALL WOMEN': HALIMAH YACOB. MOTHERSHIP. ACCESSED 2020, 20 AUGUST: HTTPS://MOTHERSHIP.SG/2020/06/OKLETSGO-HALIMAH-YACOB/
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I would add that cancel culture is a weapon of the weak, for victims to enact change and garner support from the online community. Nevertheless, we should create a space for rehabilitation and growth once the cancelled individual acknowledges his/her mistake and is willing to accept the consequences, as well as take concrete steps for changed behaviour. We need to recognise human fallibility too. and refuses to be responsible or be held accountable for his/her actions, particularly when such individual is in a position of power or influence and repeatedly exhibits problematic behaviour, then cancel culture becomes a powerful tool for the marginalised or victims to effect change and lessen his/her influence.
fundamentals of protest actions18. Online mobilisations are more sporadic compared to physical protests which are typically more enduring and deep-rooted such as protest against the extradition bill in Hong Kong. Evidently, we witnessed how cancel culture erupts from time to time, gather a large number of followings to the cause, and then fades away within a few weeks. Bennett and Segerberg further introduce the concept of ‘the logic of connective action’ whereby individuals mobilise each other by sharing their experiences on social networks and under personalised action frames19. For instance, #PunishXiaxue is a personalised action frame in which individuals galvanised around the hashtag to call for accountability.
acknowledges his/her mistake and is willing to accept the consequences, as well as take concrete steps for changed behaviour. We need to recognise human fallibility too.
Lastly, it is a noteworthy element to acknowledge that cancel culture is not a new concept and each society has boundaries with regard to what is considered acceptable speech or However, cancel culture can be behaviour. To discuss meaningful counterproductive if the sole intention contentious issues, cancel culture is to discredit someone by digging up should not be used as a sole method ignorant remarks made years ago despite of engagement. There is a need to the individual recognising his/her have room for diversity of voices or mistakes and has genuine desire to grow. perspectives without having the fear Although some may find it essential to that one will be cancelled if one does hold the individual accountable for not articulate his/her views in a his/her present and past mistakes, politically correct fashion. Moreover, especially if such mistakes are egregious, It is important to note that cancel culture there are still contentions with regard retroactively engaging in cancel culture to how sensitive conversations should is not a social movement, but it is a for the sake of smearing the cancelled product of various movement ideologies. be carried out. individual’s reputation may thus limit Critically, actions shaped by movement opportunities for him to grow and ideology are conspicuous in institutions Nonetheless, cancel culture remains change. In addition, if one engages in controversial but it is a socio-political performative cancel culture and assumes and structures of everyday life20. Before force that is definitely here to stay. the case of Monica Baey and OLG, a mob mentality just to appear ‘woke’, one should re-evaluate his/her intention. there was a growing #MeToo feminist This is calamitous when putting someone movement that created a space for women and men to speak publicly online about on trial by internet without knowing all sexual violence, sexual harassment of the facts. Syazwi Rahmad is curren tly an honours student at the National and sexism. This ‘connective action’ University of Singapore. He is majori ng in political then turns into collective action as we Ultimately, cancel culture is a form of science. Other than rea ding and cats, witness women as well as wider society protest and a tool to seek social justice he has a profound love for tea. coalesce together to seek for social justice especially when traditional avenues are perceived to be insufficient or have failed. and accountability. Social media creates a platform for I would add that cancel culture is a marginalised voices to be heard. This is weapon of the weak, for victims to enact not only about airing grievances but change and garner support from the turning it into collective action – from online community. Nevertheless, we boycotting to filing petitions. should create a space for rehabilitation Scholars such as Jasper and Polleta and growth once the cancelled individual assert that internet has changed the
18 JASPER, JAMES M., AND POLLETTA, FRANCESCA. “THE CULTURAL CONTEXT OF SOCIAL MOVEMENTS.” THE WILEY BLACKWELL COMPANION TO SOCIAL MOVEMENTS. 14, NO. 4. (2018): 63-78. BENNETT, W. LANCE, AND SEGERBERG, ALEXANDRA. “THE LOGIC OF CONNECTIVE ACTION: DIGITAL MEDIA AND THE PERSONALIZATION OF CONTENTIOUS POLITICS.” INFORMATION, COMMUNICATION & SOCIETY. 15, NO. 5 (2012): 739-768. 20 MAYER, ZALD. “IDEOLOGICALLY STRUCTURED ACTION: AN ENLARGED AGENDA FOR SOCIAL MOVEMENT RESEARCH.” MOBILIZATION: AN INTERNATIONAL QUARTERLY. VOLUME 5, ISSUE NO. 1. (2000): 1-16.
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Dealing with Negative People: Tips from the Quran for Muslim Activists BY USTAZ DR MUHAMMAD HANIFF HASSAN
Many religious guidance and fatwas (Islamic legal opinion) that require adjustments and restrictions to Muslims’ religious duties as part of national counter-measures to the COVID-19 pandemic were issued all over the world. Examples are the closure of all mosques and accompanying restrictions such as to the number of congregants for obligatory daily and Friday prayers. In addition, there was a suspension of travel for haj (major pilgrimage) and umrah (minor pilgrimage). There seems to be a consensus among official muftis, individual scholars and religious organisations on the content of the guidance and fatwas as seen by the similarities between them.
However, some Muslims in Singapore are still apprehensive about them. They question the validity of the guidance and fatwas issued by the Office of Mufti claiming that they are issued under t he pressure to please the non-Muslim government of Singapore, although the same measures are being practised in Muslim countries.
up in just five minutes after the opening of the booking time. The response has caused the Chief Executive of the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS), Mr Esa Masood, to issue a public statement appealing for calm and understanding via MUIS’ official Facebook page on 28 July 2020.
Many activists and staff of local religious institutions have had to bear the brunt of insults and harassments while on duty and through social media platforms from these apprehensive Muslims.
Such extremely negative behaviour is not new. It has been observed in the past when sensitive issues were discussed. These reactions are shameful and do not reflect the good manners taught by Islam – the religion of the community.
The most recent incident is the overly emotional response towards the booking system for Eid Al-Adha prayer slots at all local mosques. The slots were fully taken
True, muftis and Muslim scholars could err and their opinion may not always be the best for a circumstance. Therefore, their stance can be
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When avoiding negative people is unavoidable, Muslim activists are to leave the judgement of the people’s behaviours to God and to focus instead on delivering the tasks that the activists are entrusted to fulfill as recommended in the Quran, “Not upon the Messenger is [responsibility] except [for] notification…” (The Quran, 5:99).
challenged, corrected and feedback must be allowed. However, this should not be a justification for abuse and insult towards them or Muslim activists who are merely executing the issued guidance and fatwas on the ground. Although these negative behaviours must constantly be addressed, they will not totally disappear from the community. The Quran regards them as an everlasting nature of da’wah (conveying the message of Islam) works which had been faced by all Prophets in the past and will continue in the future. Thus, knowing how to manage these negative behaviours in life is important, especially for Muslim activists at mosques and religious organisations. INSIGHTS FROM THE QURAN Many verses of the Quran contain tips on dealing with negative people for Muslim activists. Due to the space constraint, this article will focus on the two verses below: “And when you see those who engage in [offensive] discourse concerning Our verses, then turn away from them until they enter into another conversion. And if Satan should cause you to forget, then do not remain after the reminder with the wrongdoing people.” (The Quran, 6:68) “And those who fear Allah are not held accountable for the disbelievers at all, but [only for] a reminder - that perhaps they will fear Him.” (The Quran, 6:69) The verses were revealed in response to an incident of pagan Arabs who insulted and mocked Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) when he came and sat with them in their social gatherings for the purpose of building rapport and conveying Islam to them. Via the verses, Allah swt taught the Prophet (pbuh) how to deal with such behaviour and people in his da’wah work.
The reason such people should not be totally ignored and left out in da’wah work is because one should not be prejudiced to believe that this attitude will be their behaviour towards da’wah all the time. If they are totally ignored and avoided, how could the da’wah message reach them then? Furthermore, if they are members of the Muslim community, they are still in need of religious guidance and services from asatizah (religious teachers) and religious institutions in addition to access to mosques. This lesson is deduced from verse 6:68 that allows the Prophet (pbuh) to come again another time when the same people ceased showing negativity towards him. In 6:69, the Quran asserts that such people, despite their negativity, could still attain taqwa (God consciousness) – change their bad attitude and behaviour – if they were regularly given reminders. In another verse, the Quran reminds us that such a change of behaviour depends partly on divine hidayah (guidance) too, and not merely in the hand of da’wah activists (The Quran, 28:56). The wisdom behind the command to turn away when facing negative behaviour from people is to avoid escalation of negativity. Responding negatively to them would only add negativity and worsen the situation which often does not address the crux of the issue. This is the least Muslim activists could achieve if responding with kindness or being forgiving is not tenable yet.
Focus on tasks at hand When avoiding negative people is unavoidable, Muslim activists are to leave the judgement of the people’s behaviours to God and to focus instead on delivering the tasks that the activists are entrusted to fulfill as Leave them recommended in the Quran, “Not upon In these two verses, the Quran firstly the Messenger is [responsibility] except instructed the Prophet (pbuh) to turn away [for] notification…” (The Quran, 5:99). from the people in the instance they showed overtly-negative behaviour towards him. Self-introspection and improvement However, verse 6:69 concluded with an Although the Quran advises Muslim exhortation to continue the task of activists to turn away from people when admonishing the sinners. they are very negative, this does not
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Although the Quran advises Muslim activists to turn away from people when they are very negative, this does not mean that activists should close their minds from being self-introspective and reflective – that there could be better ways to communicate with them or options in dealing with the issues at hand. This is because verse 6:69 recommends that the continuous reminder of Islamic teachings be delivered to such people, especially when they are not in a state of provocation or when the right opportunity appears.
mean that activists should close their minds from being self-introspective and reflective – that there could be better ways to communicate with them or options in dealing with the issues at hand. This is because verse 6:69 recommends that the continuous reminder of Islamic teachings be delivered to such people, especially when they are not in a state of provocation or when the right opportunity appears. Self-introspection and reflection are also necessary because the negative behaviour could be the result of the activists’ own weaknesses or mistakes. Since the Quran informs us that those negative people “..might become conscious of God” (6:69), i.e. they could change for the better, Muslim activists should contemplate on how to engage them in a manner that would not invite negativity from them or cause them to be defensive. This would require knowledge and skills on good communication and, thus, it is important for the activists who are committed to da’wah work to invest their time and efforts in acquiring them in order to be effective.
through one’s personal relationship with family members or friends, in working relationships at offices and workplaces, and on social media platforms too.
Ustaz Dr Muhammad Han iff Hassan is a Fellow at S. Rajara tnam School of International Studies , Nanyang Technological University , Singapore.
Delaying good counsel The two verses discussed in this article teach us that it is permissible for Muslim activists to ignore and turn away from evil deed when it occurs before them. This is if immediate advice or counsel may not produce a positive effect at the moment, or if it may invite greater harm such as worsening the already tense situation. However, the activists at the point of time must intrinsically disagree with the act. The advice may be delayed until another opportunity arises where it may be more acceptable and effective. Although the two verses discussed in this article were originally revealed to pagan Arabs who were hostile towards the Prophet’s (pbuh) da’wah, the lessons deduced from them could be expanded and applied when encountering any negative person today, regardless whether he is Muslim or non-Muslim. It could also be applied in other contexts such as
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BLM MOVEMENT AROUND THE WORLD AND IN SINGAPORE:
Reflections on Struggle and Solidarity BY NURSHEILA MUEZ
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On 25 May 2020, George Floyd was unjustly killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis, United States. The impact of his death reverberated across the country and the globe, from Sri Lanka to Spain and South Korea to Senegal. All over the world, people took to the streets – for the most part, peacefully – to demonstrate solidarity with Floyd, and the larger Black community in the United States. They too took the chance to protest against racism, racialised violence, and instances of police brutality in their respective countries. Online, activists and concerned netizens were sharing critical information and resources to support the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. An American bookstagrammer I follow was sharing Instagram stories of protests which were happening in her neighbourhood in Minneapolis. I saw the impact of looting ‘first-hand’ but also witnessed her community cleaning up together and providing material and emotional support to one another. Meanwhile, others reposted websites where I could donate to support the BLM movement. On a particular Tuesday, Instagram was flooded with millions of black squares, intended to also show support for the BLM movement. Back home in Singapore, Floyd’s murder also sparked discussions on the treatment of marginalised minorities. I was amazed that an incident which occurred 15,000 km away from us had enabled us to have honest conversations about the lived experiences of being a racial minority (including a migrant) in Singapore. Beyond personal anecdotes, a resource bank on Singapore-specific materials on race relations was made available online for anyone who wanted to critically unpack the racial hierarchies that exist in Singapore. I was invested in reading and learning as much as I could from all the available resources. Yet at the same time, I wondered if discussing our plight distracts us from Floyd and the many other Black lives dead at the hands of an unjust system. I asked myself: what
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does the BLM movement mean to us in Singapore? How did the BLM movement evolve to include discussions on racist attitudes and xenophobic behaviour in Singapore? What does the BLM movement mean to me specifically as a Muslim and a Malay minority living in this country?
GLOCALISATION OF THE BLM MOVEMENT The manifestation of various guises of the BLM movement internationally, highlight scholar Norman Vasu, whose expertise includes issues of nationalism, multiculturalism and national identity, and analyst Yasmine Wong, is perhaps “most appropriately understood through the concept of glocalisation” 1, a process which produces something that is globally recognisable while still being embedded in context, evident from distinct local characteristics that it inherits. Glocalisation explains how discussions stemming from the BLM movement were focused on addressing racial injustices and inequalities in Singapore. It can also explain why such discussions occurred most robustly on Twitter and Instagram instead of on our streets2. (On this point, the authors pointed out that it was because protesting is not in Singapore’s “cultural DNA” and “not a norm” in Singapore, though I would contend that the primary reason Singaporeans do not protest is because it is illegal and not because it contradicts anything inherently Asian or Singaporean.) In the same vein, glocalisation of the BLM movement also took place in the Indonesian context as social media users took the opportunity to highlight injustices faced by Papuans, many of whom were students, by the Indonesian state. It resulted in the trending of the hashtag #PapuanLivesMatter. While glocalisation can explain how and why there were different responses to the BLM movement, and how the
movement has been adapted to push for anti-racism in local contexts, I reckon there could – perhaps even, should – be more to our showcase of solidarity than a by-product of globalisation. Singaporeans speaking up against racism and colourism, and Indonesians seeking justice for Papuans are not merely appropriating the BLM struggle. Rather, they recognise that racism and state violence are structures of domination that, while may manifest differently in different contexts, have one thing in common no matter where they are instituted: they have subjected numerous communities to decades of struggle against oppression and injustice. It is in the struggle that solidarity can be achieved. An excellent example of this is the relationship between Blacks and Palestinians. SOLIDARITY IN STRUGGLE Black-Palestinian solidarity can be traced back as early as 1950s but in contemporary times, 2014 was the year the Ferguson-Gaza solidarity was first organised3. In 2014, the Israeli state launched an offensive attack on the Palestinians in Gaza, killing more than 2,000 people and destroying vast acres of agricultural land. Four weeks into the onslaught, 10,000 km away in Ferguson, Missouri, a police officer shot to death an unarmed Black teenager, Michael Brown. While protesting police brutality in their country, protesters in Ferguson too held up signs declaring solidarity with the people of Palestine. In turn, Palestinians posted pictures on social media with instructions for their American counterparts on how to treat the inhalation of tear gas. This showcase of solidarity was repeated after Floyd’s murder. In explaining Black-Palestinian solidarity, Palestinian legal scholar and activist Noura Erakat argues that this relationship is shaped by “a structure of intimacy”, which she describes as a social kinship that is based not on identity but rather on the “contingency of struggle”4. A structure
VASU, NORMAN AND WONG, YASMINE. “BLM MOVEMENT: SINGAPORE AND GLOCALISATION,” RSIS COMMENTARY. 2020, 13 JULY. AVAILABLE AT: HTTPS://WWW.RSIS.EDU.SG/RSIS-PUBLICATION/CENS/BLM-MOVEMENT-SINGAPORE-AND-GLOCALISATION/#.X0SFUJURV4E IBID SEE THE BLACK-PALESTINIAN SOLIDARITY FACEBOOK PAGE. AVAILABLE AT: HTTPS://WWW.FACEBOOK.COM/BLACKPALESTINIANSOLIDARITY/?REF=PAGE_INTERNAL ERAKAT, NOURA. “GEOGRAPHIES OF INTIMACY: CONTEMPORARY RENEWALS OF BLACK-PALESTINIAN SOLIDARITY,” AMERICAN QUARTERLY. 72.2 (2020): 471-96.
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The BLM movement, though focused on a specific race, has come to represent a much larger anti-racist agenda. It signifies a call to justice, and an end to systemic violence in our societies. Similarly, as we recognise their struggle and their commitment to eradicate racism, we too can work towards dismantling the unjust structures in our society. It first starts by recognising and acknowledging our personal or systemic biases against a particular race, colour, religion or nationality. At the same time, we must not distract from the centrality of Black lives in the BLM movement.
of intimacy that is predicated on common struggle unsettles the idea that the starting point of a community is common identity. Erakat goes on to argue that such a kinship “transforms acts of witness into recognition ultimately culminating in the identification of the other’s experience as their own” 5. In this case, Blacks and Palestinians not only witness each other’s struggle; through a common language of racialised state violence, they are able to walk in each other’s shoes.
After reading politics as an undergraduate, Nursheila Muez curren tly works as a research analyst in a gov ernment think tank. She is also the fou nder and co-editor of AKAR, an independe nt magazine that features stories and hist ories of Singapore and Southeast Asia.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR US? A solidarity predicated on struggle instead of a common identity can ensure that we do not fall into the trap of merely appropriating a movement or other communities’ struggle, to advance our own causes. The BLM movement, though focused on a specific race, has come to represent a much larger anti-racist agenda. It signifies a call to justice, and an end to systemic violence in our societies. Similarly, as we recognise their struggle and their commitment to eradicate racism, we too can work towards dismantling the unjust structures in our society. It first starts by recognising and acknowledging our personal or systemic biases against a particular race, colour, religion or nationality. At the same time, we must not distract from the centrality of Black lives in the BLM movement. Black lives should not only matter to us if they were Singaporeans or Muslims. Black lives should matter because they are human.
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BY SYAFIQAH JAAFFAR
In July 2020, Turkish President Erdogan surprised nearly everyone with his decision to annul a 1934 bill converting the Hagia Sophia into a museum and instead reinstated the space as a functioning mosque. The transition was quick: the announcement to do so was done on July 10, and within two weeks, the building reopened its doors to host Friday prayers attended by Erdogan, top government officials, and around 350,000
congregants. The decision was greeted with split responses from the international community. Many expressed their disappointment and concerns over what such a move could potentially signify, while others hailed it as a victory of sorts for the Muslim community.
Constantinople in 1453, the Sultan had bought over the building – until then a functioning Eastern Orthodox church – with his personal funds and designated it as a mosque waqf1. The 1934 bill is thus considered as invalidating this precedence, and the decision to annul the bill is meant to restore the building to One of the bases presented for overturning what it was originally designated for. the 1934 bill was the claim that upon Sultan Mehmed II’s conquest of 1
A WAQF IS AN ISLAMIC ENDOWMENT OF PROPERTY TO BE USED FOR A CHARITABLE OR RELIGIOUS PURPOSE.
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But here is where the tricky part comes in: is it possible to truly pinpoint the building’s ‘original’ function, when as a site of worship it has hosted and accommodated multiple beliefs throughout its existence? The history of Hagia Sophia cannot be separated from the history of religion in Constantinople or Istanbul; in fact, these histories are embedded within the structures of the Hagia Sophia itself as its architecture morphed over the centuries each time the site was re-sacralised by different faiths. To reclaim the Hagia Sophia principally as a place of worship for a singular faith runs the risk of erasing such richness and obscures the multiple sacralities it has been long associated with. SITE OF MULTIPLE SACRALITIES The beginnings of the Hagia Sophia can be traced to 537 AD, when Emperor Justinian I of the Byzantine Empire ordered it rebuilt to replace an older church destroyed a few years earlier during a citizen revolt that had resulted in the torching of large parts of the city. For the next six centuries, the Hagia Sophia would serve as the principal and largest church for the Eastern Orthodox denomination, primarily located within the Byzantine Empire. Between 1204 and 1261, the Hagia Sophia had a brief interregnum as a Roman Catholic cathedral when Constantinople was overrun by crusaders from the Latin West, but thereafter returned to being an Eastern Orthodox church until the conquest by Mehmet II. The Ottoman Empire would in turn repurpose the church as a mosque from 1453 until its conversion to a museum by the Turkish Republic in 1935. A FACE UNCHANGED At each point of its resacralisation, it would appear that Hagia Sophia underwent architectural changes. At its inception, the Hagia Sophia might have been desired by Justinian to be the model for future Byzantine architectural sensibilities, as part of his agenda of renovatio imperii or restoration of the empire, in the face of the collapse of the
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Western half of the Roman Empire. The Byzantine half of the Roman Empire needed to present itself as able to reunite not just the empire, but the clerical schism that had started to manifest within Christianity. Hence in terms of architectural language, the Hagia Sophia drew upon classical Roman architecture as its basis, but surpassed it by adopting more naturalistic lines with modified vaulting that allowed for higher ceilings with round arches and multiple cupola domes, allowing for more light to enter the central spaces. In terms of interior, decorative illumination was key: marble and gold mosaic added to the lightness of the space, and glittering stones were often used in the Christian mosaic art around the church. The Latin interregnum saw the Hagia Sophia converted into a Roman Catholic cathedral as the Byzantine ruler fled the city when it began to be overrun by Frankish crusaders from the Latin West, causing the city to be briefly under the control of the Catholic Church. The conversion was preceded by looting of treasures contained within the Hagia Sophia, but the building itself more or less remained intact. Modifications only began to be introduced following the Ottoman conquest and conversion of the Hagia Sophia into a mosque, mainly the introduction of minarets for the call to prayers and other notifications to be announced. However, these minarets were simply that: additions. They did not fundamentally alter the building.
ICONOGRAPHY – APPRECIATION AND AMBIVALENCE The fact that the Christian mosaic art in the Hagia Sophia was left uncovered for vast parts of history when the site functioned as a mosque is something worth reflecting. One way of reading this is that the Ottoman sultans were following the Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) footsteps who had preserved a Theotokos icon when he destroyed pagan statues around the Kaabah in Mecca. It was a mark of respect to Mary and Jesus, both of whom are also revered in the Islamic faith. Another way of interpreting this is that the Ottomans did not consider these imagery akin to idolatry. At best, they were used for devotional purposes. At its most ambivalent, these imagery were works of spiritual art. In fact, the appeal of such Theotokos imagery would continue well into the 17th century, as Ottoman elites regularly collected European prints and artworks depicting the pair. Not unfrequently, the mother-son pair were also weaved in as motifs in Ottoman metalware and glassware. The ambivalence towards figurative depiction of prophets and their families would also continue in Ottoman miniature drawings such as the 17th century Siyer-i Nebi or ‘Biography of the Prophet’.
In some sense, the desacralisation of the Hagia Sophia by converting it into a museum allowed for the complex and nuanced relationship that the Ottoman Despite the looting, the heart of Hagia rulers had towards the building’s Sophia including the Christian mosaic Byzantine-Christian past to be at the art depicting Mary and the infant Jesus forefront. It also bears remembrance that (a Christian iconography known as the subsequent Ottoman mosques borrowed Theotokos) were left untouched heavily the form and architecture of the throughout until the tail end of the Hagia Sophia; it is no coincidence that the Ottoman reign. In Ottoman historical Blue Mosque, located a stone’s throw away chronicles, it is said that Sultan Mehmet from the Hagia Sophia, resembled the II himself was in awe of the mosaics upon latter greatly. Perhaps this is the greatest seeing them; he issued no order to remove strength in retaining the Hagia Sophia as or deface them even though these a museum: within itself, it tells the story mosaics would be within the vicinity of of Constantinople’s diverse past. One the main prayer hall. It would only be in needed to only step into the Hagia Sophia the 1800s onwards following repairs to to be able to access it at one sweeping the building’s structure that the mosaics glance. were plastered over, partly in response to greater discomfort amongst the religious elites towards figurative representation of the prophets, especially in the mosque.
In some sense, the desacralisation of the Hagia Sophia by converting it into a museum allowed for the complex and nuanced relationship that the Ottoman rulers had towards the building’s Byzantine-Christian past to be at the forefront. It also bears remembrance that subsequent Ottoman mosques borrowed heavily the form and architecture of the Hagia Sophia; it is no coincidence that the Blue Mosque, located a stone’s throw away from the Hagia Sophia, resembled the latter greatly.
RE-MOSQUE-ING HAGIA SOPHIA – AN ODE TO JUSTINIAN At this point I would like to once again dip into history and point out something else related to the building of the Hagia Sophia under Justinian I: his motives for doing so. The grandiose and opulence of the church were intentional. Firstly, Justinian was seeking to restore his popularity with his citizens, which had worsened after the Niko revolt of 532, which included an attempt by his senators to depose him. Justinian survived the incident, but 30,000 of the rioters did not. The building of the Hagia Sophia was part of his efforts to rebuild the city, and having an architectural marvel as the foremost Eastern Orthodox church would have been a good way to elevate his image in the eyes of his citizens.
Syafiqah Jaaffar is an Ass istant Curator with the National Museu m of Singapore. She previously gradua ted from the National University of Singapore , with a major in history.
Secondly, Justinian’s renovatio imperii agenda came along with it another ambition, which was to project himself as the only one capable of restoring peace to the Roman Empire, including mitigating the clerical (and eventually political) schism between the Catholics in the Latin West and the Eastern Orthodox in Byzantium. An extravagant church after all could only be erected by the leader of a thriving and safe empire, not by those who had to fend off tribal invasions on the regular. The seat of the church then accordingly was better suited to be within such secure and prosperous spaces. Perhaps there is merit in looking at the new fate of the Hagia Sophia away from the lens of faiths laying exclusive claim to the space, and through something much more profane: a political move meant to enhance a politician’s popularity. Over the past years, Erdogan had consistently been painting himself as a leader seeking to restore Islam’s public presence in Turkey, and pushing back against Turkey’s secularised identity, in place since Turkey was constituted as a republic under Kemal Ataturk in the 1930s. We might also recall that this turn towards a more Islam-centric agenda under Erdogan emerged following Turkey’s failed attempt to be recognised as a member of the European Union, and Erdogan has since instead opted to present himself as a potential leader of the global Muslim community. The re-conversion of the Hagia Sophia into a mosque might just be indicative of this. OCTOBER 2020
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IN PURSUIT OF WORK-LIFE BALANCE WITH NURUL ARIF BY NUR DIYANA JALIL
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In a recent study of 40 cities conducted by tech company Kisi1, Singapore was ranked second after Tokyo for the most overworked city and among the bottom ten cities for work-life balance. The study showed that employees in Singapore worked an average of 44.6 hours per week which is among the highest in the world. According to experts, working long hours and being mentally occupied with work lead to spending less quality time with your family.
Q: What motivated you to join the film industry and how long have you been a VFX coordinator? Nurul: I have always been fascinated with storytelling and film. While in university, I took a few courses in film studies and filmmaking, even though I graduated with a business degree. My stumble into the VFX industry happened by chance about 15 years ago, when Lucasfilm opened a studio in Singapore. I first started as a training programme coordinator before joining the visual effects department as a production assistant, and then as a coordinator. However, after being at Lucasfilm and DNEG in Singapore for almost seven years, I decided to venture into filmmaking through commercial work. I produced TV commercials for a couple of years before working as a project manager at an advertising firm, Ogilvy, where I did various forms of advertising work. Now I am back to being a VFX coordinator with Rising Sun Pictures after 14 years, so it has somewhat come full circle.
but not everyone has the skills to manage people, to read them and be able to positively influence them. This is where I feel being a woman, we hold the trump card in what is seemingly a maledominated industry. Q: What does your job entail and what is your typical work day during a film production?
Nurul: Film production and postproduction are quite different. Production For the sake of a more wholesome refers to the work you do on set; basically, education for her son and her work-life work related to the shooting of a film. For balance, 38-year-old Nurul Arif made a post-production work such as visual decision to move to Australia in 2019. She effects, it usually involves working on a had been working in the visual effects timeline with a team that works like a (VFX) and advertising industries where production line. Each department is she had to travel a lot for work and faced responsible for various computer graphics constant deadlines. She realised that she that transform what was captured on film had been missing out on many important to what you finally see on the movie milestones of her son’s growing years. screen. This encompasses 3D modeling and layout, effects, look development, Nurul shares her experiences working in lighting and compositing. Typically, a the VFX industry and finding work-life coordinator will work within any of these balance in Australia with the Karyawan disciplines while ensuring that the VFX team. artists are given briefs and work towards I have a total of almost eight years of their targets, while prepping the work for Q: Could you tell us more about yourself experience in VFX, yet I am still learning internal or client approval before it goes to new things every day. The industry is and your family? the next department for further constantly evolving, with new tools refinements. There is never a dull day in available today that allow for real-time Nurul: I have been living in Adelaide for the world of VFX as it straddles between computer rendering. But what remains the creativity and technology. almost a year with my 6½ -year-old son, same is the passionate people I meet along while my husband is still working and living in Singapore. Due to the COVID-19 the way. Q: How different is the working culture pandemic, he is unable to join us until in Australia compared to Singapore? Q: What are the challenges working in a Australia opens up their international male-dominated industry and how do borders. Nurul: In Singapore, I have worked in you overcome them? multinational corporations that exposed Q: Why did you choose to move to me to people from all over the world so I Nurul: There are so many similarities Australia? would say that the working culture here between the advertising and VFX doesn’t come as a shock. However, I had industries with both being very Nurul: In an attempt to get a fresh start been so used to a fast-paced environment male-dominated. I find that most of the and to allow my son to grow to his full in Singapore that I felt like I had to put on time women need to work doubly hard to the brakes here, which sometimes can be potential without the stressors of the Singapore education system, my husband prove their skills. I have seen women frustrating. But then I realised that things trying very hard to overcompensate and fit are slower here because of the work-life and I decided to apply for residency in in, which I feel is more apparent in Australia. In 2018, we were granted a balance. Basically, work will never end in a agencies that are predominantly headed skilled migration visa which allows us to day, and it will still be there tomorrow. by men. However, I realised that a woman work and live in the state of South has the upper hand when it comes to Australia. Seeing how my son has grown, and how involved and present I am now in emotional intelligence – to be able to read the room, understand the nuances that go his life more than before, I feel that we into the work, and manage people. So I use made the right choice. this to my advantage. There is only so much that hard knowledge can do for you, 1 SINGAPORE RANKS 32 OUT OF 40 FOR WORK-LIFE BALANCE, SECOND MOST OVERWORKED CITY. CNA. UPDATED 2019, 7 AUGUST. RETRIEVED FROM: HTTPS://WWW.CHANNELNEWSASIA.COM/NEWS/SINGAPORE/SINGAPORE-BOTTOM-RANKS-WORK-LIFE-BALANCE-SECOND-MOST-OVERWORKED-11789264
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Q: It isn’t easy to maintain a healthy work-life balance. How do you find the balance and how do you spend your free time?
Q: More Singaporeans, especially the younger generation, are choosing to work and live abroad. What are your thoughts on this?
Nurul: I am quite task-oriented so while at work, I try to focus 100 percent on work and be as efficient and productive as I can. So by the time the day ends, I can then shift my focus to the main purpose of why I am here in the first place – my family. Adelaide has amazing outdoors. We live right next to the Torrens River so every weekend, my son and I will cycle along the river, stopping for picnics, drawing, chatting and kicking the ball around. Occasionally, we will meet his best buddies from school and have play dates at the park. I am truly happy and blessed for being able to spend more time with him now that we are here.
Nurul: Spread your wings and see what is outside of Singapore. But the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. What makes it different is your purpose of working and living abroad. There are pros and cons – the cons are you may lose familiarity to culture, routine, and geography but the pros will be apparent when you are able to synchronise your purpose or goal to the desire to live and work abroad. That purpose or goal can be career-oriented, or a personal one (like in my case). As long as you have youth on your side and a yearning to see the world, don’t let go of an opportunity to work and live abroad.
Q: What were some of the challenges you’ve faced with living and working overseas? Have you had any experience living overseas that may have helped with settling down in Australia? Nurul: The work-life balance here in Australia makes it easier for me to juggle between working full-time and being a mom – doing the necessary school drop-offs and pick-ups, preparing meals and helping with homework. Since it is just me and my son here, I constantly worry about falling sick and who would take care of my son should that happen. But I am thankful as I have a couple of really good and reliable friends here whom I can call family. They have been helpful since the first day I arrived in Adelaide. Living overseas can sound scary with the different system and policies, but one should take it as an opportunity to learn. Read up, do your research, don’t be afraid to talk to people, ask questions no matter how silly they sound and raise your hands for help. This is how friendships are forged, with you feeling less lonely and like you are part of a larger and supportive community. I lived in Boston for five years while attending university and what I learned is to have tenacity and determination. I can’t stress enough for anyone considering to move overseas to do their research. The more you know, the more confident you will be in embarking on a new life in a different country.
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Q: What have been the highlights of your career or fulfilling achievements to date? Nurul: I think being able to see my name on the credits of a movie was quite exciting. But in all honesty, that was something I used to care about. Now I think what I would consider a fulfilling achievement is being present for my child. Q: What are your future plans? Do you plan to stay in this industry or continue working abroad?
Nurul: I would like to head back to school to learn more about machine learning and user experience. I foresee that in the future, there will be more automation that will improve the way we work. We have already started to see this in the VFX industry, but the future of content and Q: Do you have any advice for those who user experience will be customised want to pursue a career in the film in real time across many different industry? touchpoints. Hopefully, I can make the crossover to product development and Nurul: Film industry is not very lucrative work closely with developers to create in Singapore, unless you are Eric Khoo. useful products that can improve people’s There are people I know in Singapore who lives, particularly the lives of our aging ended up working in commercials to fund population and those living in poverty. In their films. The film industry in general, a nutshell, I would like to evolve my career given the current pandemic, is not doing along this path. And being here in too well. If you are considering pursuing a Australia, I do believe it provides me with career in film, pick up skills that are this opportunity. transferable. For instance, if you are interested in set or prop design, perhaps you can also channel that to working in theatre. Most importantly, depending on utive at Nur Diyana Jalil is currently an Exec what you would like to do in film, be sure Centre for Research on Islamic and the to get the proper training. While in its social Malay Affairs (RIMA) who manages loves to training or in school, make contacts as media, events and publication. She lly. siona occa write and l these people will be your peers when you trave read, join the real world. And never let go of an opportunity, be it an internship or being a runner on set. In an industry where your reputation is important, always be positive, have an inquisitive mind, be tenacious and respect the people you work with regardless of their ranks. You never know who will be interviewing you for your next job.
Perspectives on Malays BY NUR SYAFIQAH MOHD TAUFEK
When Singapore commemorated the 200th anniversary of Raffles’ arrival on the island last year, many dialogue sessions were held for the public to discuss and reflect on Singapore’s history. Through these dialogues, the public saw competing views on Singapore’s history. More critical voices emerged to challenge the dominant narrative on Raffles, the history of Singapore and the colonial construction of the Malays. These conversations were also present on social media platforms. Following the end of the bicentennial year, the recent publication of Beyond Bicentennial: Perspectives on Malays edited by Dr Norshahril Saat, Wan Hussin Zoohri and Zainul Abidin Rasheed is timely as it allows readers to follow up on conversations that had emerged last year. It is an essential book that ensures a diversity of voices continues to be present in the community. As the title of the book suggests, Beyond Bicentennial seeks to “document multiple views on the Malays” (p. xxviii) and invites readers to think about moving beyond bicentennial conversations. The book consists of a collection of articles and reflective pieces written by more than forty individuals that echoes competing narratives on the Malays. Topics written are diverse and span from the pre-colonial to post-colonial period. However, the sheer volume of the book shows that the Malay community and history have always been dynamic and filled with complexities. Even though studies on Malays have been
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quite established, contributions in this book prove that there remain many aspects of the Malays that are worth exploring. ALTERNATIVE NARRATIVE ON THE MALAYS While the book is not meant to be a compilation of critical pieces, some articles present an alternative lens on the Malay community and history. One such attempt was done by Sarafian Salleh on the topic of Orang Laut. The author posited that Orang Laut have often been misunderstood and misrepresented in our historical memory. As a society that inherited the colonial accounts of the natives, we grow up understanding Orang Laut as “pirates, barbarians and uneducated” (p. 103). However, the author challenged this dominant narrative. By doing further research and interviewing the direct descendants of Orang Laut, Sarafian found that the Orang Laut were “hospitable as a community and great warriors” (p. 103). They also played important roles in Singapore’s history. For instance, Wa Hakim was an Orang Laut who welcomed Raffles and Farquhar upon their arrival at the island, and also kept accounts on the two colonial masters. Sarafian’s findings on the Orang Laut is an important contribution to Singapore’s discourse on the natives. His findings point to an alternative narrative of Orang Laut, hence strengthening the arguments for a critical reading of Malay history.
post-independence. However, it is my opinion that critical studies on colonial narratives of the Malays should not be done for the sake of criticising and blaming the colonial masters. Instead, alternative accounts, especially from the natives, should be juxtaposed with colonial narratives to provide a more balanced perspective on the Malays. One thing that advocates for alternative narratives on the Malays might have overlooked is the need for careful selection of accounts. It is worth noting that not all sources from natives necessarily provide an alternative viewpoint. Some local records might have internalised and perpetuated colonial narratives. One such example is Munshi Abdullah’s account on the Orang Laut, which suffers from a similar distortion of the indigenous people – one that is filled with presumptions and generalisations – as he compared them with animals. Hence, being critical of local sources is important so that alternative studies on the Malays would not end up perpetuating the dominant colonial narrative.
first Malay female representative in the legislative assembly. Unlike the other pioneer generation of assemblymen, Sahorah Ahmat was less known to the present generation. She was only known for her pivotal role that saved the People’s Action Party (PAP) from a potential collapse. However, further research shows that Sahorah had also contributed in many areas including fighting for women’s rights. Such study is an essential contribution in two ways: first, it shows that the Malays play an important role in historical processes. It is through the active participation of Sahorah as an individual with agency that allowed the PAP to persist. Second, it sheds light on the contributions of a Malay woman which are often understudied. Most of the prominent figures whose contributions have been extensively studied and are widely known tend to be male. WHAT’S NEXT? The important question to ask upon reading this book is how do we move forward with the competing narratives that have recently emerged during the Singapore Bicentennial? What do we make out of the contestation of ideas, and how do we accommodate alternative discourses in our historical memory that is already occupied with the more dominant colonial narrative of the Malays and Singapore history? Is there room to include alternative discourses in our school curriculum and policy-making? It would seem redundant if these contesting views only float around within the community without affecting real change. On one hand, it would be a tedious task to undertake if we decide to tweak the official narrative to include alternative discourses that have recently emerged. At the same time, ignoring alternative viewpoints altogether, especially after studies and findings have been established, is not wise. It may impede the community’s progress in tackling issues such as inequality and the disproportionately high number of underprivileged Malays, which originated from the colonial narrative on race. The important but difficult task in moving forward is to balance between embracing alternative discourses and ensuring that it does not harm social cohesion.
MALAYS AS ACTIVE AGENTS AND CONTRIBUTORS TO SOCIETY Apart from presenting articles on alternative discourses on the Malays, Beyond Bicentennial also featured articles that showcase prominent figures in the Malay community. These figures had contributed to the development of the Malays and the wider community from the pre-colonial to post-independent Similarly, Dr Norshahril noted how the period. While some of these figures are historical narrative of the Malays often widely known, it is worth revisiting their depended heavily “on colonial sources of stories to understand how they are part of historiography, and preference for written the Malay community. In this case, they records” (p. 13) which are regarded as have used their agencies to contribute to authentic. In contrast, accounts by local society’s progress. Often, we forget that the natives that come in the form of literature, Malays have a voice of their own and were, myths and fables are not taken seriously in many ways, involved in historical because they are thought to be illogical. processes from the pre-colonial period Equally understudied are Indian and until the present day. The lack of mention Arabic records of the Malays. Dr Norshah- about their roles in the dominant narrative ril argued that exploring these sources is does not mean that the Malays were very important because the Malays have passive as portrayed by the colonials. Their had established networks with the Arabs voices have always been present, and their and South Asians which pre-date the contributions are no less important than colonial arrival at the island. other communities. It is essential then to uncover these stories and enrich the Exploring alternative sources is indeed discourse on Singapore’s history. important given how the colonial narrative has distorted the image of the One such attempt was undertaken by Dr Sher Banu Khan made an interesting Malays and remains a colonial legacy that Muhammad Suhail who presented an contribution to address this matter. In her affects the position of the Malays interesting study on Sahorah Ahmat, the article, she contends that it is possible to 38 T H E K A R Y A W A N © ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IS REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.
Such study is an essential contribution in two ways: first, it shows that the Malays play an important role in historical processes. It is through the active participation of Sahorah as an individual with agency that allowed the PAP to persist. Second, it sheds light on the contributions of a Malay woman which are often understudied. Most of the prominent figures whose contributions have been extensively studied and are widely known tend to be male.
write a history for nation-building purposes that precedes 1819 by reframing the Malay past. Not only did she argue that such a project would provide a “more inclusionary national history but could also provide the link to regional and global history” (p. 24). Her argument challenges the dominant belief that nothing in the history preceding Raffles’ arrival in Singapore provides a shared memory between all races. However, according to Dr Sher Banu, it is precisely the idea of race in the form of the Chinese-Malay-IndianOthers (CMIO) model that poses the problem. Much of the Malay history shows its interconnectedness with regional and global communities. While the Malays and other communities might not originate from the same land or share similar cultures, they “are a part of a shared history of a nation made up of various hardworking, globally connected entrepreneurial immigrants with shifting and fluid identities” (p. 25). A further study on the pre-colonial Malay community suggests that “there was not yet separate ethnic quarters but rather a mixing tending towards hybridity” (p. 24). Hence, it is possible to recreate a national history that predates 1819 that is inclusive. However, this also requires a shift away from the rigid CMIO model and existing idea on multiculturalism to a “more porous cultural boundaries which leaves space for cultural and national inclusivity” (p. 41).
The lack of academic jargons in this book allows for wider readership. It can potentially increase the public’s awareness on the contestation of discourses on the Malays and challenge them to think more critically about the dominant narrative on the Malays and Singapore history. For academicians and researchers, Beyond Bicentennial may inspire further research on the history of Malays from the lens of natives, Arab and Indian traders. For policy-makers, this book may help clarify the importance of having a balanced perspective on the Malays in the community and opens up the prospect of having such balanced perspective being translated into policy-making. However, such changes are unlikely to come soon. While a real policy change is ideal, it is also on readers to ensure that lessons learned from the Bicentennial discussions can help society move forward and overcome future challenges.
Nur Syafiqah Mohd Taufek is a graduate of the National University of Singapore and is currently working as a Research Officer at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. Her research interests include socio-religious issues and topics on gender in Southeast Asia.
By compiling a wide range of topics written by contributors, Beyond Bicentennial has managed to achieve its objective, which is to present multiple, but balanced, perspectives on the Malays held by both Malay and non-Malay writers. More importantly, the diverse topics show us the complexities of the Malay community and how the Malays are a dynamic category that is interconnected with regional and global communities. Articles that present fresh perspectives on the Malays such as the chapters on Orang Laut and Sahorah Ahmat remain useful contributions, which are hoped to encourage readers to explore various aspects of the Malays and study them from non-colonial accounts.
REFERENCE: RASHEED, Z. A., ZOOHRI, W. H, SAAT, N. BEYOND BICENTENNIAL: PERSPECTIVES ON MALAYS. WORLD SCIENTIFIC, 2020. PP. XXVIII, 13, 24-25, 41, 103.
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