50 years ago, people living in Singapore did not celebrate National Day. Singapore was a British colony and many of our forefathers came here to escape the economic hardship back home to eke out a better life here and return to their countries of origin once they made their fortune. They were not here to look for a citizenship in a new country but to work as labourers in a British colony. Singapore's merger with Malaysia was favored by the PAP and it was only after separation with Malaysia that Singapore became an independent nation. In short, nationhood was not a goal or a plan or even an aspiration for many of our forefathers and leaders of that generation but an outcome of our tumultous history. At that time Singapore was a collection of different ethnic groups each with its own distinct culture and language and many had little sense of belonging to Singapore. This was the starting point of our nationhood from which we begin to build our sense identity and belonging.
As our roots grew deeper and the bonds among the people strengthened, we begin to treasure what our history has given us. The nationhood that Singaporeans inherited has blossomed with a people that evolved a distinct identity, habits, behavior and an increased sense of belonging. We began to identify with each other and consider ourselves "one people" building up a collective experience and memory of events that have special relevance only to us as Singaporeans. In recent months, there has been increase discussion on integration problems that Singaporeans have with people who have found their way here in recent years. While ugly, unfounded and sometimes irresponsible accusations of intolerance and xenophobia are tossed around, one thing is now very clear - Singaporeans of all races and religion consider themselves a distinct group from other people around the world. ...if anything, the whole integration debate shows that how far we have come to build and evolved this common identity....and this common identity and with it common values are what we seek to preserve and evolve. Without it, nationhood has less meaning...if we lose this, we would again be a collection of people with little in common.
The challenge for Singapore in this decade and coming decades is how as a small nation we want to strengthen our nationhood as the world globalizes and economic pressures mount for us to take steps in directions that weaken our nationhood. We must remember the path we took to get here to find the right path to that leads to a better future for generations of Singaporeans that come after us. We must be mindful of actions that will take us backwards to become again to a collection of immigrants without roots gathered in Singapore for purely economic purposes - we have a lot to lose if we allow things to go that way. Some believe that we can always buy strength and protection by spending more and more on defense....but if we are not integrated as one people, this country will be instantly crippled by people without roots leaving at the first sign of trouble.
Today, Singapore society is pulled apart by several polarizing forces - widening gap between rich and poor, unbalanced distribution of political power brought about by years of semi-authoritarian rule, and a sudden large influx of foreigners have caused integration issues. Loyal Singaporeans feel a need to pull our society back together to be "one people" with a common purpose. This goes beyond the "inclusive society" envisioned by our leaders that merely tries not to leave anyone out. We want our roots to grow deeper ...extend and inter-wine with that of our fellow Singaporeans...we want shared success. measured by how well we care for the weakest, poorest and sickest among us. We want a society where people will fight for others willing to defend their fellow Singaporeans not only in war but also help each other during peacetime when they are economically exploited or unjustly treated or left behind by progress. We have to create something worth defending and that something is not the skyscrapers that makes up our impressive affluent skyline but something intangible that is planted in the heart of every Singaporean...that makes Singaporeans to do something for each other because they feel they are much more than individuals because they are part of something bigger and more important...part of something that will be handed to future generationss - our common identity, our values, our ideals, our Pledge...One people, One Nation, One Singapore.