The Distorted Face of Terrorism

A colleague once told me that arguments were based on beliefs, and beliefs were based on facts. The problem is that what is ‘fact’ can so often be wholly inaccurate, especially in our media-saturated environment where facts could simply be what is more commonly reported.

So therein lies a likely root cause for flawed arguments: inaccurate facts. 

Case in point: the argument that stamping out terrorism lies in targeted measures concerning Muslims, which is based on a belief that Islam as a religion somehow promotes violence as a justifiable means to an end, which is based on the ‘fact’ that most terrorist attack are committed by Muslims.

Well, as this article points out, most terrorist attack aren’t actually committed by Muslims. A Europol report states that less than 2% of terror attacks in 2013 were committed by Muslims while an FBI study looking at terrorism committed in the U.S. between 1980 and 2005 found that only about 6% of attacks were committed by Muslims.

It just seems like most terrorist attacks are committed by Muslims because such attacks receive disproportionately more attention from the media, reigniting narratives on the clash between the West and Middle East again.

So, the next time we offer arguments, let’s critically consider whether the beliefs and facts they rest on are sound.


Authentic Travel Experience a Myth

Do we sometimes go on a travel experience already with stereotypes of people and cultures in our minds, and we were just looking to visually confirm them? I could honestly say my visits to South Korea and Thailand in the past weren’t exactly postcard experiences of Gangnam Styles or Lady Boys.

Gary Andt from The Atlantic writes:

The world is what it is, and you have to explore it on its terms, not yours. No matter what you expect to see when you visit a new place, the reality you will find will be different. You are traveling in the 21st century, not the 19th. Do not expect people to be caricatures or stereotypes of something you have in mind. View the people you meet as neither cultural superiors nor objects of pity. Moreover, whatever you think is authentic was developed without your having experienced it.”

Here are 7 reasons he observes why travelers, especially those visiting a less developed ‘ethnic’ destination, often have a misplaced sense of realities and cultural diversity.


Culture Blaming

The recent sea disaster involving the Sewol Ferry in South Korea sparked speculation surrounding the causes of the disaster, with some journalists attributing it to the nation’s “culture of obedience”.

Kai Ma from TIME bemoans this journalistic trend, and writes:

Should aspects of Korean society be scrutinized? Of course. Poor communication, disorganization, and complacency – compounded with fumbling bureaucracies and the lack of protocol and proper training – resulted in a botched rescue mission that has South Korea reeling. But to theorize that the high death toll is linked to a perceived cultural flaw or deficiency is a lazy journalistic shortcut. It fits a stereotype.

Maryam Mokhtar from The Straits Times also adds a local perspective to it: 

Like South Korea, Singapore’s education system is often perceived as instilling a culture of obedience in the young, who are subjected to rote-learning.

I am a product of this system. But my peers and I have little problem expressing our views – politely – during discussions with our supervisors at work or our parents at home.

So what does this mean for the GP student? Yes, we can surely consider wider cultural factors and norms when speculating on why certain events occur or issues persist. But, we must caution against lazily doing so in the absence of more rigorous investigation. Perhaps blaming culture is mentally not as taboo as blaming race or gender, but it still feeds an unhealthy stereotype that does more to limit our view of the world, rather than help make sense of it.

More Nationality-based Prejudice

Quite unsurprisingly, a recent IPS survey on race, religion and language suggested that nationality-based prejudice is on the rise while that between races and religion has remained largely unchanged. About 32.1 per cent of 4131 Singaporeans surveyed felt that prejudice based on nationality has become more widespread now compared to five years ago.

Survey also surfaced how Singaporeans were less relatively comfortable with New Singaporeans born overseas in private (like family) and public settings (like work). It is perhaps a pity the survey did not delve deeper into these perceptions to get at the reasons why such sentiments prevail.

Moving forward, what can be done to better integrate new citizens while maintaining a Singaporean identity? While most felt that the government is responsible for maintaining racial and religious harmony, less than half agreed they have done a good job integrating new immigrants. Is government enforcement the answer then?

What approach is then needed? 


Empathy for the word ‘Empathy’

Several netizens have questioned Singapore Kindness Movement general secretary William Wan’s article calling upon Singaporeans to show ’empathy’ for Anton Casey – the unfortunate individual whose online comments on the ‘stench’ of public transport erupted in a social media furor and indignation.

Just trying to understand how Wan’s use of the word empathy here. I don’t think he is trying to say that we necessarily lacked empathy in our response, but that we needed to exercise more empathy BEFORE we considered endorsing efforts that attacked the person (his home, family) rather that the action i.e. If I WERE made such a stupid comment myself, I would gladly accept the consequences but not the attacks on my family. I think Wan is NOT asking us to empathize with his class or wealth , but merely to empathize with his very basic humanity.

What do you think? 

Cost of Racial Blindness

As this video illustrates, trying to avoid appearing racist can have a reverse effect of actually impeding communication and elevating racial bias.

Good workplaces need to be honest about race, acknowledging racial differences.

How can this apply in the Singapore context? Do we try too hard to avoid talking about it then we sweep glaring race-related issues and problems under the carpet of political correctness? Or does our state’s CMIO classification system make us incredibly averse to discussing race informally?