Raffles Stole Singapore

The Spectator
How Raffles stole the jewel of Singapore
Alex Colville
27 January 2018

The true founder of Singapore, the humane and diplomatic William Farquhar, has for centuries been unjustly eclipsed by his bullying, reckless superior

William Farquhar and Singapore: Stepping out from Raffles’ Shadow
Nadia H. Wright
Entrepot Publishing (Malaysia), pp.258, £27.91

Accounts of the founding of the British Empire once echoed the pages of Boy’s Own, featuring visionaries, armed with a flag, a faith and a funny hat, arriving in exotic lands untouched by civilisation. Overcoming great odds, they would kick-start the regions’ histories, show the locals the proper way to live and extend the imperial pink on the map a few inches before sailing off into the history books. Cook in Australia, Rhodes in Africa, Clive in India: in the popular imagination, the Empire was built by remarkable men, all by themselves.

Singapore was no exception — and the myth endures to this day. Stamford Raffles continues to dominate its pedestals, revered as the inspired founder who built an international trading enclave from the island swamp at the foot of the Malay peninsula where he disembarked in 1819.

Into this dusty tale Nadia Wright throws a much-needed stick of revisionist dynamite. Raffles is here portrayed as a reckless, inept opportunist, a bully and a hypocrite, who stole the crown from the man actually responsible for building the entrepot. Spare a thought for Raffles’s second-in-command, a tall, gentle Scotsman named William Farquhar.

Most versions place Farquhar at the margins of the story, presenting him as the bumbling, incompetent caretaker of Raffles’s brainchild for the first three years of the territory’s history, wandering around in military uniform with his stick and his dogs. But without him, Wright argues, Singapore would never have survived.

Although some new research has allowed Farquhar a greater role, Wright goes into unprecedented detail in this respect, having sifted through piles of East India Company documents to unearth the truth. Farquhar, it is immediately obvious, was far from incompetent. In his previous post as commandant of Malacca, he had only been expected to oversee this Dutch possession while the Netherlands were occupied by Napoleon. Yet he managed to turn around the Malay state and its capital entirely, creating substantial profits after years of losses.

The great range of merchants who traded there — Arab, Indian, Chinese, Malay and European — affectionately knew him as the ‘Rajah of Malacca’; and news that Farquhar was to run the show in Singapore in the early 1820s gave more than 5,000 of these merchants the confidence to leave their homes in Malacca and risk settling in the fledgling trading post. So concerned were the Dutch, they even blockaded the harbour to prevent a mass exodus.

Farquhar’s secret in both settlements was to cooperate closely with the local population, using his expert knowledge of Malay culture and politics developed over 25 years in the East. He promoted trading relations by networking with the different communities of south-east Asia and often acted as a cultural go-between, explaining to the British why certain actions in Malacca would upset the Malays and suggesting diplomatic alternatives. He did everything possible to make Singapore appeal to local traders, even permitting gambling and opium dens, provided a licence was paid — which ended up funding the Singapore police.

That Farquhar’s role has been neglected for so long is extraordinary. But the more remarkable part of the story is that Singapore exists at all. From the start, Raffles did not inspire confidence. Singapore was considered just one in a long line of failed settlements that he had attempted to found in the South China Sea. His superiors in the East India Company despaired of anything he touched, and refused to back the project. He had caused diplomatic headaches in the past by trying to settle in Dutch territory, and his spell as lieutenant- governor of Java between 1811 and 1816 had haemorrhaged money. To one frustrated colleague he was ‘a man who sets a house on fire, and then runs away’.

When Raffles departed Singapore a few months after his arrival in 1819, he left Farquhar understaffed, underfunded and under-stocked, having issued hopelessly impractical orders to be carried out in his absence. Farquhar was directed to obtain supplies from Raffles’s command post six weeks’ journey away, rather than from another British port only eight days’ distance, whose governor Raffles disliked. That Farquhar managed to build up Singapore from scratch in these conditions is all the more impressive.

But keen to safeguard his legacy, Raffles returned almost four years later and removed Farquhar from his post on exaggerated, misleading and hypocritical charges, about which he kept him in the dark to prevent him organising a defence. These charges, and a later glowing memoir by Raffles’s widow, resulted in the two men swapping roles in the history books. Still dotted across the island are streets, squares, statues, schools, museums, libraries, the famous hotel and even a lighthouse all stamped with the name of Raffles. But there is not a single memorial to William Farquhar.

It is a pity that Wright focuses so narrowly on Farquhar’s desk job, as the glimpses we have of his personal life are intriguing. He soon dispensed with his uniform in favour of looser garments, and his household included a pet leopard, a tame tapir (which would arrive at the dinner table hoping for cake) and even a Malay mistress. Being a keen naturalist, he also commissioned Chinese artists to paint a magnificent series of watercolours, illustrating the fauna and flora of Malacca and Singapore, now preserved as the Willliam Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings.

Clearly, he was a man devoted to the East and fascinated by its ancient, flourishing civilisations. Instead of remaining aloof, he chose to interact with the local population almost to the point of assimilation. This book, not to mention the existence of Singapore itself, is a reminder of how profitable this attitude could be. Going native didn’t always lead to the Heart of Darkness.

Raffles Stole Singapore

Yale psychologist John Bargh: ‘Politicians want us to be fearful. They’re manipulating us for their own interest’

The Guardian
Yale psychologist John Bargh: ‘Politicians want us to be fearful. They’re manipulating us for their own interest’
Decca Aitkenhead
8 December 2017

Don’t make the mistake of thinking you have free will – a book by a US academic has analysed the unconscious, evolutionary instincts driving modern society and the results are a chilling indictment on how far we are yet to come.

As the year’s end draws near, many of us look back and reflect on what we got right and got wrong during the past 12 months. For some, this will be a less agreeable experience than for others, but however you feel about your behaviour in 2017, you will almost certainly assume that the choices you made were your own.

You could not, according to John Bargh, be more wrong. The Yale psychologist has just written a book, Before You Know It, about the eye-opening extent to which our actions are dictated by forces within us to which we are almost entirely oblivious. Who knew, for example, that we feel less hostile to people different to ourselves after washing our hands? Or that the reason why you’re feeling so friendly is the cup of piping hot coffee you are holding? Or that parents who want to encourage their children to be generous will have more success by turning the room temperature up than by telling them to share? Bargh’s book, as Malcolm Gladwell puts it, “moves our understanding of the mysteries of human behaviour one giant step forward” – not least in helping make sense of some of the big stories of 2017.

The 62-year-old American is a big, smiley man, but his demeanour is at odds with the rather depressing message of his work. Human beings’ brains, it explains, are primed by prudent and rational evolutionary instincts to trust people who look like us, and to fear those who look “other” as a threat. This goes some way to explain why, despite all of modern society’s efforts to promote progressive values of openness and equality, and for all our stated intolerance of prejudice, social progress is so agonisingly slow. That’s pretty dispiriting, isn’t it?

“Yes, I hate to say it, but yes. Democracy is an advance past the tribal nature of our being, the tribal nature of society, which was there for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years. It’s very easy for us to fall back into our tribal, evolutionary nature – tribe against tribe, us against them. It’s a very powerful motivator.” Because it speaks to our most primitive self? “Yes, and we don’t realise how powerful it is.” Until we have understood its power, Bargh argues, we have no hope of overcoming it. “So that’s what we have to do.” As he writes: “Refusing to believe the evidence, just to maintain one’s belief in free will, actually reduces the amount of free will that person has.”

If unconscious racism is an ancestral legacy, it is also reinforced by contemporary culture. Bargh offers a study of popular prime-time US TV shows – Grey’s Anatomy, CSI, Bones – in which participants who had never seen the programme before were shown scenes in which the main character interacted with either a black or white character. The scenes were edited, however, to show only the main character. The audio was also removed, so that participants could see only the main character’s non-verbal communication – facial expressions, gestures, body language – towards the off-screen character. They were then asked to judge how the visible character felt towards the unseen character.

“These are shows, remember,” Bargh says, “that intentionally tried to have equal-power black and white characters. It’s not like the black people on the show are all the criminals, and the white people are all the detectives. They have the black detective and white detective; they actually have equal power.”

The findings were chilling. The main character was consistently judged to be conspicuously more positive towards the show’s white characters, and more negative towards its black characters.

“They don’t script it that way. And it’s not intended by the producers or actors of the show. There are programmes that do intend it – but we’re even talking about the ones that don’t, and it still has this massive effect. It’s conveyed so powerfully to people watching that, after they see it, they have more negative automatic attitudes towards black people. The research found that the more they see of shows like that, the more they have more of a racist attitude.”

Anyone who has ever wondered why minorities often object about what colour a doll comes in, say, might reconsider their scepticism about the importance of culture after reading Bargh’s book. He presents a study of two sets of Asian-American five-year-old girls, who were asked to perform maths tests after being “primed” with activities designed to trigger their unconscious sense of identity. One group was asked to colour in pictures of Asians eating with chopsticks; the other to colour in pictures of a girl holding a doll. The first group dramatically outperformed the second in the maths test. By the age of just five, they had absorbed the cultural stereotypes that Asians are good at maths and girls are bad.

“These Asian-American girls are not hearing at home that girls can’t do maths,” Bargh points out. “These are Harvard preschool kids; the parents are, like, tiger mums and dads. A lot of them brought the children into the study thinking that being in this Harvard study at age five would help their girl get into Harvard at age 18: that’s how motivated they are. They’re not the ones who are telling the girls they can’t do maths. It’s in the culture we soak up, without even knowing it.”

Bargh decided to test his own unconscious racial bias, using a complex system of word association and physical reflexes devised to eliminate any possibility of him consciously dictating his responses. He was dismayed to discover that his unconscious associated “white” with “good” and “black” with “bad”. However, he found he could override his bias by deploying the power of imagination. He sat the tests again, and got opposite results, “simply by really trying to feel as if I was a black person. Now obviously with no experience, it’s laughable that I could try – but I really did try to convince myself temporarily that OK, I’m a black person. And I reversed the results.”

In a fascinating study conducted by Bargh, participants were invited to imagine they had a superpower that rendered them safe from all physical harm, and were then quizzed on their social attitudes. Half the participants were liberals, and half conservatives. The imaginary superpower had no impact on liberals’ social attitudes. “Feeling physically safe,” however, “significantly changed the conservative participants’ social attitudes to being similar to those of liberals.”

This worked, he explains, because research has found that “conservatives have larger fear centres of the brain. They’re more concerned with physical safety than liberals.” Once we feel afraid, our own fear can further distort our perception of actual danger. For example, research has found that when people become new parents of a tiny, vulnerable baby, they begin to believe their local crime rate is going up, even if it is falling. “That happened to me,” Bargh admits. “After my daughter was born, suddenly we felt that the neighbourhood was getting so dangerous that we had to leave.”

Even more pertinent to current world events is Bargh’s research into sexual harassment. In the 1990s, an esteemed law professor had studied supreme court cases of sexual harassment and concluded that 75% of the accused genuinely did not realise they were doing anything wrong. Intrigued, Bargh devised a study to see if this could really be true.

Participants were asked to fill out an anonymous questionnaire devised to reveal their willingness to use power over a woman to extract sexual favours if guaranteed to get away with it. Some were asked to rate a female participant’s attractiveness. Others were first primed by a word-association technique, using words such as “boss”, “authority”, “status” and “power”, and then asked to rate her. Bargh found the power-priming made no difference whatsoever to men who had scored low on sexual harassment and aggression tendencies. Among men who had scored highly, however, it was a very different case. Without the notion of power being activated in their brains, they found her unattractive. She only became attractive to them once the idea of power was active in their minds.

This, Bargh suggests, might explain how sexual harassers can genuinely tell themselves: “‘I’m behaving like anybody does when they’re attracted to somebody else. I’m flirting. I’m asking her out. I want to date her. I’m doing everything that you do if you’re attracted to somebody.’ What they don’t realise is the reason they’re attracted to her is because of their power over her. That’s what they don’t get.”

Perhaps the single most confronting revelation of Bargh’s work is its implications for consumer capitalism. It’s not that our economic model makes us sad – although it does – so much that making us sad is good for consumer capitalism.

He describes a study by a Harvard social psychologist. “It found that sad people not only buy more, but they pay more. They’re willing to pay more because, basically, when we’re sad, we want to change state.” Someone feeling sad would rather spend £100 than £10, “because it changes the state more. And stores know this.”

Ever wondered why shops like to pipe out mournful music, or why Walmart plays Céline Dion on a loop? Well, Bargh grins – there’s your answer.

“They don’t want us to be happy; they want us to be sad. Politicians want us to be fearful. All these things are not in our own interests at all. They’re manipulating us for their own interest, and against our own, and I think that’s horrible.”

Before You Know It; The Unconscious Reasons We Do What We Do, by John Bargh, is published by Penguin Random. To order a copy for £17 (RRP £20) go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders minimum p&p of £1.99.

Yale psychologist John Bargh: ‘Politicians want us to be fearful. They’re manipulating us for their own interest’

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Trump Supporters React to Amos Yee

Trump supporters welcome Amos Yee with open arms, finds out what he said, doesn’t want him anymore
Thet Nyi Nyi
28 March 2017

Amos Yee was recently granted asylum in America.

This has prompted comments from all quarters, including a passive-aggressive statement from the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Well, one subsection of America that seemed genuinely happy to see Amos Yee in the land of the free is the subreddit, The Donald, which comprises some of President Donald Trump’s most fervent supporters.

They are also quite anti-refugee, specifically refugees from countries that Trump is pushing to put on the travel ban list.

With that in mind, a post claiming “What An Actual Refugee Looks Like” got upvoted to the top of The Donald, getting thousands of upvotes.


FYI, according to them, this is what a refugee looks like


The general consensus on the thread was that Yee shouldn’t have been persecuted for criticising Islam.


And they were glad he was out of Singapore.


Which is apparently super liberal!


Now, fervent Amos Yee scholars would realise that Islam is by no means the only religion he criticised.

The thing is, most of The Donald didn’t.

Until someone pointed out Yee’s impressive bibliography of insults.


On the same day, after the initial hoopla, another post trying to clarify the situation was put up.


Apparently, Yee had badmouthed Christianity too, among his other crusades.

Which, for some reason, changed everything.


Not all free speech is worth listening to.

Go to the original article on mothership.sg to see the screenshots for yourself.

#Sg #singapore #singapura #thelioncity #littlereddot

Trump Supporters React to Amos Yee

The Imam Issue: A Look at the Singapore Muslim Community

The Online Citizen
The Singapore Muslim Community and the Imam Issue
Kamaludeen Mohamed Nasir
6 March 2017

It is well-known that Singapore is a multi-religious society. The 2014 report by Pew named our city-state as the most religiously diverse among the 232 countries studied. What is assumed in this discourse is that all religions are the same and subjected to similar state-society relations.

The fact is, Islam is the most regulated religion in our tiny island and this has been the case for decades. From the appointment of a Minister-in-Charge of Muslim Affairs, to the creation of a statutory board called the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) where the Mufti is located, and to the Administration of Muslim Law Act that has regulatory powers over local mosques and madrasahs (Islamic schools), there is no doubt that Islam is given a unique attention by the state.

A stark under-appreciation of this social reality, especially among the non-Muslims, is apparent to me in the decade or so that I have been teaching in our local universities. I have always asked my students, that if all the Churches were made to say the exact same thing for their Sunday service with a text provided by an office of a statutory board, how would the Christian community react? The students could not even begin to imagine this! Will this then breed mistrust among the Christian community? This is but just one issue besieging the Muslim populace in Singapore.

When I had coffee with a top local social scientist of NUS a couple of weeks back, we agreed that Islam is the most hierarchical and bureaucratized religion in Singapore. Failure to understand how Islam is managed leads to a failure in understanding the reaction of its local adherents.

This distrust of the Muslim religious elites amidst the disciplining of Islam, from prescribed texts for the weekly Friday prayer sermons, to appointed instructors to “upgrade Islam” through the Asatizah Recognition Scheme that makes it mandatory for every religious teacher to be registered (even those teaching Qur’anic reading in the local neighbourhoods), impact heavily on the religious elites. Many scholars have called this age as one characterised by a crisis of religious authority. The situation can be especially dire in our local Muslim community, given the unique structures bearing upon them.

Distrust breeds distrust. It is not that Singaporean Muslims are predisposed towards being rude or as the Minister of Law put it, “kurang ajar”, towards the state-endorsed religious authority. It is the structures that have been put in place that create such an environment.

The recent issue regarding the police report made against an Imam for making alleged “incendiary” supplications against Christians and Jews that are outside the MUIS-endorsed text cannot be disentangled from the issue of the autonomy of the Muslim clerics. I have engaged the local religious elites numerous times over the last few years and have rarely met a group that is more in fear. The culture of fear among the religious class is often talked about and in one of the engagements that I had with a group of religious elites, one of them candidly lamented, “We are directed and scripted.”

It has often been mentioned that attitude reflects leadership. The angry reaction of the Muslim community in light of the Imam issue should be seen against this backdrop. The absence of the voices of the religious elites in the initial stages of the debacle created a void in the community who then went online to make sense of the matter.

Last week, Assoc Prof Khairudin Aljunied was singled out in parliament for encouraging the “vilification” of the whistle-blower, Terence Nunis. The fact is that hundreds of Muslims had begun pitching in their views on various platforms after Nunis’ pronouncements on Facebook. This was substantiated in a belated statement by the Minister-in-Charge of Muslim Affairs, Assoc Prof Yaacob Ibrahim, who mentioned that the video uploaded by Nunis had indeed “sparked a storm” and “generated many emotions both online and offline. Many in our community felt angry, because they believe that the postings could be used to cast aspersions on Islam and the asatizah in our Mosques”.

It is interesting to note that both Assoc Prof Khairudin and the Mufti appropriated a satirical and poetic style respectively, as means of social critique. However, it has been well-documented that the Singaporean brand of criticism is often manifested through humour, satire and poetics as seen in Talkingcock, Mr Brown, Yawning Bread, Jack Neo’s films and the like. Indirect criticism is characteristic of societies living under soft-authoritarian rule.

There are no differences in opinion that if the allegations against the Imam are proven to be true, his incitement has no place in our multi-religious society. But if it is not – and many among the Muslim community have come to this conclusion upon the explanations provided by numerous local religious scholars who have later gone public in discussing the meaning and context of the supplication – then sadly, the Muslim community will see this as yet another example of disciplining and an attempt to emasculate the local religious fraternity despite the state’s paradoxical pleas for Singaporean Muslims to give the local religious scholars their ears.

It remains to be seen in the aftermath of the Imam episode if the state would choose to go down the path of imposing further restrictions to ensure that the MUIS-endorsed texts be read to the letter, curtailing any creative license of preachers and punishing any dissent towards state-appointed authority. The more enlightened way must be to empower the religious scholars in the field and to give them ownership over their areas of expertise to prevent religious discourse from being co-opted, hijacked and subjected to ad hominem attacks.

The coming forward of a good number of religious elites, including its umbrella body, Singapore Islamic Scholars & Religious Teachers Association (PERGAS), with regard to this Imam issue is a good development that needs to be applauded. The social media provides a ready platform for this. These attempts to speak truth to power should also be captured in the mainstream media. PERGAS’ need to again clarify their position after feeling that they were misrepresented in the Malay mainstream media regarding their statement towards Assoc Prof Khairudin is not a good sign. The perception that the Malay mainstream media is not balanced and selective in their reporting has also led many to turn to the cyber-sphere to air their perspectives.

In fostering this development of active citizenship, we need to keep an eye on encouraging diversity and not just promoting those with a certain kind of thinking that the state can easily manage. This is in line with what the PM had recently mentioned in his interview on February 24th in Today newspaper under the title, “Leaders must be able to take criticism, acknowledge mistakes”. Only then can we move forward as a nation.

#Sg #singapore #singapura #thelioncity #littlereddot

The Imam Issue: A Look at the Singapore Muslim Community