Individual responsibility versus mob rule in Asia 101

Individual responsibility versus mob rule in Asia 101

I like to tell friends who visit Singapore that this city is Asia 101. A gentle introduction to a host of cultures which, for many, conjure up images of the exotic.

In a single day, you can walk through Chinatown, up North Bridge Road to Peninsula Plaza, take a bend around Golden Mile Complex, stroll through Arab Street and circle back to Little India, all without having to confront the political and socio-economic stresses that plague the home countries of these cultural microcosms.

Protests, poverty, crime, ethnic conflict and riots are not words most would associate with Singapore.

Indeed, I joined the rest of Singapore in total incredulity when I saw people posting on social media that there was a riot going on in Little India only to be completely gobsmacked when I found out it was happening right below the HDB flat where I live.

I returned home worried, amid the sounds of sirens and a weird mix of uneasy tension and reassuring calm as I walked past the usual array of characters that one can find on Sundays in this neighbourhood: drunk migrant workers blissfully passed out in the corners, uncles playing checkers on a bench over hawker food and beer, makciks chatting away while carrying groceries, and slightly less drunk migrant workers calling home on their old Nokias. There was little alarm even a block away from the carnage.

Only after I got past the police blockade along Race Course Road did I see the aftermath. Firemen were hosing down a pile of metal that used to be a vehicle, police cars were flipped on their sides, patrols were circling the area and an exhausted young policeman was trudging along, clearly having had enough for a day.

It is a testament to Singaporean efficiency that by about 11pm, the only people who still seemed to be distressed were those on social media who were being notified of the whole affair through short bursts of texts and blurry photos.

As expected, there were a few outcries against foreigners, but most were trying their level-headed best to denounce offensive behaviour and to pre-empt any emotional outrage from other netizens.

I come from Myanmar, a country that, until recently at least, has been more familiar with the angry mobs on the street than the mobs on the Internet. I have never been part of a protest or riot before but I have heard from those who participated in them.

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