Home and away

Lord, but it is good to be home at last. I landed this morning after a looooong trip over from the States and am now thoroughly enjoying a quiet day spent at home with my dear mum, before we both fly out again tonight to meet my dad. Suffice to say that after a 26-hour journey from the US, and another 5-hour journey tonight, with a total of perhaps 5-6 hours of sleep, I may not be entirely coherent tomorrow morning...

(The preparations for the trip out also explain why things have been a bit quiet over here of late. The good news, from my perspective at least, is that now that I'm on vacation for a good solid 3 weeks, I'm going to have PLENTY of time to write up various book reviews and opine on the never-ending comedy that is the Way of Man.)

The trip over always affords an interesting chance to do what my Singaporean counterpart likes to call "peering out of the box" and observe the fact that, while cultures and customs may change between continents, certain basic realities of human nature never do. I have written before about how much Singapore changes every time I come back, how different it is to the people who live there, and how mass immigration is causing serious stress fractures within Singaporean society.

As it turns out, those "stress fractures" are now becoming quite visible even to the most wilfully blind Tranzi (a neologism invented by Tom Kratman which I shamelessly rip off here, which essentially refers to the "Transnational Progressive"):
THEIR impeccable city is supposed to be so law-abiding that policemen are rarely seen on patrol. Imagine the shock, then, when Singaporeans woke up on December 9th to learn of running street battles in the city centre the night before. Singapore had not seen a riot since 1969. 
The trouble started when an apparently drunk construction worker from south India, Sakthivel Kumaravelu, was turfed off a crowded bus after making a scene. Next, the bus driver turned a corner and heard a loud thud. Mr Kumaravelu was under the wheel of his bus. He died instantly.

Riot police and a contingent of Gurkha soldiers put an end to things. Some 27 migrant workers have so far been arrested and charged over the riot, with thousands more interviewed. Those convicted could face as long as seven years in jail, as well as a caning.It happened in Little India, a city quarter where thousands of South Asian migrant workers gather every Sunday, often their only day off, before being bused back to dormitories on the fringes of the island. Very soon after the accident as many as 400 workers had massed and proceeded through the streets as a rampaging mob for about two hours. In clashes with police, 27 officers were injured, along with firefighters and paramedics. Police cars were overturned, and an ambulance was set ablaze.
If you're not actually a native Singaporean (The Observer is), or you haven't lived there for an extended period (I have), then you need to understand a few things in order to grasp the full magnitude of what happened here- and why it matters for other cosmopolitan societies around the world.

First, rioting in Singapore is literally unheard of. The city is in shock right now at the very idea that a riot could even happen here. This is a city that might best be described as "manicured"- that is in fact how it appears and how it wants to present itself to the world. One large part of the reason why I love coming back here is because it's so green- everywhere you go, you see a city where the jungle has been carefully pruned back and managed to allow people to live comfortably in air-conditioned habitats while still surrounded by trees and tropical rainforests. Foreigners joke about the fines for littering, spitting, chewing gum, and urinating in elevators- not to mention that incident nearly 20 years back involving a not-very-clever young American and a cane- but for the most part, people who come here generally understand that the government and the people of Singapore intend to present a very straight-laced, business-friendly, conservative and above all safe image to the rest of the world. In other words, causing a riot in Singapore is to these people a bit like someone going up to a true-blooded Scotsman and punching out his sainted mother.

Second, the fact that the Gurkhas were deployed should tell you how seriously this was taken by the government. The Gurkhas are Nepalese soldiers whose role in the history of war ranks right up there with legendary units like the 101st Airborne and the US Army Rangers. About the closest American-specific analogy that I can come up with would be along the lines of setting loose a platoon of Marines to deal with an out-of-control frat party. If you think this was an overreaction, just wait until similar riots start taking place in your diverse and multicultural cities and you need to call in not just the National Guard but the regular Army to kill people and break things- just so that the rioters will stop doing it.

Third, the riots laid bare racial tensions that have been brewing in this city for years. Singapore decided, years ago, to execute a growth strategy based heavily on immigration, bringing in tens of thousands of Filipinos, mainland Chinese, and Indians to settle in Singapore. This has certainly brought great wealth to the city; indeed, the city is so rich that on a per-capita basis it is richer than the US, and its government now acknowledges that there is no real point in discussing poverty in absolute terms anymore. Yet it has also brought significant racial and social tensions to a city that has done everything in its power to enforce racial harmony by just about any means necessary between its Chinese ethnic majority and its Indian and Malay minorities. It is no exaggeration to argue that in this city, the Singaporean Chinese don't really trust the Indians, the Indians don't fully trust the Malays, and nobody really trusts the Filipinos or mainland Chinese. Does any of this sound familiar?

Now consider a problem like this, but expanded on a vastly larger scale and with out-of-control illegal immigration added to the mix, and you've got the future of the USA. Think about it: rich country, below-replacement birth rate, not-necessarily-very-farseeing politicians, and a huge population of very poor people south of the border looking to get in. The difference is, Singapore is an island of maybe 5.4 million people and a rather clear policy about foreign invaders (if you try to break their laws, they break you). The United States is practically its own damn continent with 310 million people and a thoroughly porous southern border. One is rather a lot easier to deal with than the other, and the strain of dealing with the former is already proving to be quite severe. How on Earth are you people going to deal with the latter?

Singapore got away with a lot of its pro-immigration policies because the people it invited in are often pretty bright. Filipinos, for instance, are often quite well educated and speak excellent English- better, in fact, than most local Singaporeans- but work for lower wages than their local equivalents, which is why you find them to be so common as staff at travel agencies and hotels. The USA, on the other hand, not only is importing the lower rungs of Mexican society, but is completely failing to force them to integrate into American society.

There is only one logical end result of untrammelled mass immigration, and that is the death and breakup of the parent body politic. That is the inevitable outcome for both Singapore and the United States, and for the exact same reasons. And worst of all, both societies inflicted this upon themselves.


  1. Wish I could take credit but, no, I didn't invent it. The term comes from John Fonte's "Transnational progressive," which was shortened into Tranzi by a Brit lawyer, David Carr, on Samizdata. I think.


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