Biases And Ignorance Of West Have No Place In Singapore

I have benefited from dealing with people from the Muslim part of the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent, so I was gratified to read the commentary “Time to look beyond the Western view of the Middle East” (Nov 23).

My experiences when I talk about the Islamic world and the subcontinent confirm Ms Koh Choon Hwee’s point: The average Singaporean’s knowledge of both regions is inadequate, and his or her views reflect those of small-town American news outlets.

Why do we parrot the views on cultures we have grown up with from a group of people who are too far removed from those cultures to know better?

Our ignorance is more shocking, especially as gaining markets in those regions has become more crucial to our economic well-being.

I think back to 2006, when I worked with oil firm Saudi Aramco on an event promoting Saudi culture: One of the Saudis asked me if geography was taught in Singapore, after several members of the public had asked him which part of Dubai he was from.

This was not an isolated incident of ignorance. One only has to think of the way people think that Sikhs come from Bengal. A glance at the map would show that Bengal and Punjab are at opposite ends of a very large country.

Our small island has prospered from being open to the world. While it remains important to be tuned in to the Western world, we cannot be deaf to places that people in the West are.

Like any other part of the world, the Middle East and India present both challenges and opportunities that we cannot ignore.

To succeed in the wider business world, we should encourage people to understand cultures beyond the ones we know.

We must acknowledge that things such as the Paris bombings were caused by people claiming to be Muslims.

We must be vigilant against terrorism. We must understand there are reasons why things such as terrorism exist, however, and we cannot let the experiences and prejudices of the West influence our interactions with people from other parts of the world.

I remember Khaled Maeena, former editor of Saudi daily Arab News, telling me: “Singaporeans, you should trust your own experiences and culture, and not believe everything the West tells you.”

I could not agree more.



Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *