Singapore expands its paternalistic policy on race

The old way of ensuring racial harmony

ON A side street in the centre of Singapore, a Muslim-American lawyer beats his wife bloody, only to be treated to rapturous applause. The lawyer is Amir Kapoor, the central character in Ayad Akhtar’s play “Disgraced”, which recently completed a run at the Singapore Repertory Theatre (SRT). The play centres on a heated argument about identity, assimilation and stereotypes among Amir, his white wife and two friends, an African-American lawyer and a Jewish art dealer.

Though Mr Akhtar’s play has been performed around the world, it was surprising to see it in Singapore, where the government has long been touchy about race and religion. Around 74% of Singaporeans are of Chinese ethnicity, 13% Malay, 9% Indian and the rest “other”. The government sees the country’s laudably harmonious multiculturalism as fragile, to be nurtured and guarded by policies such as ethnic quotas in housing, guaranteed minority-group representation in parliament and limits on free speech.

“Wounding the religious or racial feelings of any person” and “promoting enmity between different...Continue reading

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