Monday, June 28, 2010
I have had the pleasure - and heartache - of working with youths in Singapore who have, through the years, expressed to me their anguish and frustration with the system that dumbs them down and ignores what they have to say.
Pleasure because many of them demonstrate maturity in intellect well beyond their age.
Heartache because time and again, they have had to deal with parents who believe that the PAP can do no wrong and, worse, parents who go to great lengths to censor and censure them.
It is bad enough that one has to struggle with one's conscience in a political environment where conformity is prized, but when familial relations are brought into the equation, things can be too much to take.
I have had a couple of Young Democrats for whom the conflict with their parents became so intense that they had to leave home, temporarily at least. They ended up staying at my place until things calmed down.
One mother was so terrified that she threatened to report her son to the police when she found out that he was reading one of my books. She forbade him to get involved with "bad company".
Another parent called me up to plead with me not to let her daughter get involved in opposition politics because she wanted her child to be an "upright citizen" and "help Singapore succeed."
No one should have to go through such conflict just to speak up in one's own country. But such is the reality in Singapore. Many have honoured their filial obligations and stayed away from the SDP. Still, others have stood firm and become active members of the Young Democrats.
But whatever the outcome, I have always had the pleasure of sharing my thoughts with these young Singaporeans whose paths in life I have had the honour of crossing. Obviously the one question that we had to deal with is how to go about resolving the differences with their parents.
I tell them (and to the many who may yet be crossing this hurdle) not to aggravate the situation by going behind their parents' backs and secretly emgaging in political activity. Parents, like most everyone else in Singapore, need time to be persuaded that joining the opposition for democracy's sake is an honourable and desirable undertaking.
At the same time, however, we must remember that age does not have a monopoly on wisdom. Enlightened youths have the rare opportunity to educate their parents about the need for change in Singapore and that democracy is crucial to the future of our nation.
Advocating and working for change in an intimidated society is a lonely task. It is much more comfortable, both physically and psychologically, to be on the side of power. But for those whose conscience and awareness do not allow us to remain idle, we have the obligation to speak up.
In this regard, I am reminded of a critically acclaimed play that was turned into a movie in the 1950s. The classic 12 Angry Men, starring the late Henry Fonda, featured a jury, all white males, appointed to determine the fate of a young man who was accused of murdering his father. If found guilty, he faced the death penalty.
Eleven jurors were convinced of the man's guilt. Juror #8, played by Fonda, was the lone hold-out (the jurors knew each other only by number). A unanimous decision was needed for a guilty verdict. In the beginning of the movie everyone was furious at #8 because the evidence was overwhelming and all wanted to get it over with and go home.
But #8, who was initially hesitant and unsure of his own position, insisted on scrutinising the evidence. As he presented his views, his confidence grew and so did the uncertainty of the other jurors. With his persistence and insistence of getting at the evidence instead of pandering to the prejudices of his fellow jurors, #8 slowly managed to persuade the jury to come to the truth. In the end, a not-guilty verdict was passed.
There is a need for us to understand that majority opinion, especially one based on prejudice, misinformation and fear cannot go unquestioned. More important we have to speak up, softly if we must but insistently nonetheless.
This we must do to those who despise us as well as to those who, as parents, love us.
Read also: An Open letter to Shafi'ie's Mom
Friday, June 25, 2010
By Ng E Jay, The Online Citizen
You would have thought the mainstream media would have been coy about this issue.
But today, Straits Times columnist Rachel Chang finally admitted in her article “New citizens and the next GE (24 June 2010)” that new citizens regularly express overwhelming support for the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), with some even going to the point of unfettered adulation and admiration.
Ms Chang writes in her article that when she informally sought out the political views of new citizens, she found that she was “hard-pressed to find a new citizen who harbours anything but admiration for the ruling party“, and that their support for PAP ranged from “placidly approving to aggressively proselytising“.
Take careful note of the last word that Rachel Chang used — proselytising. New citizens do not merely support the PAP. They worship the PAP like Gods.
Rachel Chang’s article also contains quotes from some new citizens explaining why they support PAP. These quotes do not just express admiration for the PAP as a political party, but in fact seem to be geared at justifying many of PAP’s autocratic policies.
For example, university lecturer Ori Sasson, who originally hails from Israel, expressed support for PAP’s restriction on public demonstrations and other civil liberties.
Mr Sasson said that in Israel, he had never felt the need to participate in public demonstrations even though they were allowed.
Mr Sasson also said that while other countries give citizens freedom of expression, their tax rate is higher.
His implication of course is that he prefers Singapore’s lower tax rate and is prepared to give up his human rights and civil liberties in exchange for it.
Naturally, the PAP would want all Singaporeans to think like Mr Sasson, who is probably viewed as a “model citizen”.
A*Star research officer Niu Liming, who originated from Beijing, told the Straits Times that his experience with other political systems made him favour the PAP.
He said that the problems Singaporeans face, such as the lack of a social safety net or high property prices, pale in comparison to the problems citizens of other countries face.
Of course, Mr Niu as a government researcher is drawing a much higher salary compared to the daily rated and blue-collar workers, and so he may not be able to empathize with how rampant inflation and escalating prices have hurt poorer Singaporeans, and how low wage workers in Singapore are left unprotected because they do not have a minimum wage, and there are no independent labour unions to represent their interests.
But naturally, views such as those of Mr Niu are very welcome by the PAP who would want all citizens to share similar opinions.
Ms He Li Fang, 41, a teacher from China, also explained to the Straits Times that because Singapore is a small country, the strong impact of government in the lives of people meant that “new citizens will not waver in their loyalty to the ruling party“.
The overwhelming support of new citizens for the incumbent PAP does not come to a surprise to most netizens, who have probably known it all along.
All the Straits Times article does is to assure us that the government will not do anything major to drastically reduce the import of new citizens in the name of increasing productivity.
You can be rest assured that the status quo will continue, no matter how the government seems to be changing its tune every now and then.
Friday, June 18, 2010
The arts community position paper on Censorship and Regulation has been announced to the media at the press conference held Monday 14 June, 10.30am. Basically the position expressed is: do not censor, regulate instead.
Censorship creates a culture of dependency on the part of the public, timidity on the part of institutions, and impacts creative expression through self-censorship.
Regulation on the other hand promotes responsibility and accountability, if applied consistently, clearly and transparently.
The website containing the full paper can be found at: http://sites.google.com/site/
We hope that as with the 2003 arts community paper, to be able to bring together members of the community who agree with the paper, as signatories. Please sign your support via the website (http://sites.google.com/site/
We are also anticipating media coverage over the next few days. In order to share the coverage with the community, we hope to be able to provide scans of news on the arts engage website. If you are able to help us clip and scan, please let us know on ArtsEngageMedia@gmail.com
Thursday, June 17, 2010
Singapore sits at the very heart of Southeast Asia. We are located at the southern tip of the great Asian continent. To our south lies the Indonesian archipelago. We are inextricably linked to Malaysia, both geographically and culturally.
And yet our ties with our neighbours have been contentious, often filled with suspicion. Relations with Thailand have not been good since Temasek Holdings bought over ShinCorp. Indeed the recent unrest that we witnessed in Bangkok can be traced to that notorious deal between Temasek and Thaksin. Ties with Malaysia is complicated with many issues, one of which is our inexplicable strong relations with Israel which serves us no real benefit.
Relations with Indonesia are over-shadowed by the billions of dollars of corruption money brought in by some of the millionaire Indonesians. Calls for an extradition treaty from Indonesia are un answered by Singapore.
In short, Singapore does not enjoy very good relations with our neighbours.
Defence or offence ideology?
Such a situation seems to stem from our attitiude that the neighbouring states are out to harm us. This seige mentality constantly puts us on the "war" stance. When I was in school, I remember my History teacher wagging his fingers and telling us his experience standing on the East Coast beach with rifle loaded, ready for war. Who our enemy was he didn't say but it was pretty obvious that it was against one of our immediate neighbours.
He was spouting nationalistic sentiments with constant references to war. So fiery was his speech that I listened with my jaws wide open. More frighteningly he was our History teacher and teaching from books approved by MOE.
Since independence, this talk of war and hostility has been perpetrated by the military telling NS conscripts that Singapore is surrounded by hostile Muslim nations that want to do us harm. In fact we have one of the world’s highest defence spending budget in the world, spending $11.45 billion compared to $1.97 billion for social security.
Who exactly are we fighting against and why?
A single entity
How does such a hawkish military stance help us strengthen our position in ASEAN? ASEAN wants to integrate the region economically by introducing a single market by 2015. Besides the economic integration, however, we would also need political integration. Regional solidarity needs trust. The problem is that our defence ideology and, more importantly, budget does not seem to reflect trust.
On the other hand, the European Union and NATO is built on trust and solidarity. Prior to the 1940s Europe was entangled in war after war. Yet, the leaders were able to envision a better future for the people and they came together to forge a common economic and political entity.
Their defence spending is low and therefore are able to spend on social security and take care of the people's needs. The European Parliament, in which I was an intern earlier this year, has elected representatives from across Europe to work out polices that are binding on the member states.
I would like to see the same kind of approach taken in this part of the world. Singapore and Malaysia could kick-start such an undertaking. We should work towards the kind of relationship that fosters trust and ensures mutual benefit with our neighbours, one that forges regional solidarity instead of behaving in a manner that agitates and provokes unfriendly ties.
Only when we work towards such regional integration can we really achieve real progress and stability.
Read also other reports from Shamin in Europe:
Shamin thinks of setting up SDP for S'poreans in London
Young Democrats actively learning about democracy around the world
Witnessing democracy in action at EU
Muhammad Shamin is a member of the Young Democrats.
Monday, June 14, 2010
Young Singaporean artist, Ms Lam Lien Minh, is appealing for support for her entry in this year's Democracy Video Challenge. Ms Lam, a second year student in the School of Art, Design and Media at the Nanyang Technological University is one of three finalists from the Asia Pacific region.
Democracy Video Challenge is an international film making contest aimed at raising youth awareness about democracy. It was launched at the United Nations on the International Day of Democracy, 15 Sep 08.
The programme leverages social media to encourage young people to start a global dialogue on democracy by submitting short videos that complete the phrase “Democracy is...” Participants are provided with an opportunity to express their own thoughts and interpretations regarding the subject.
Six winners from the various geographical regions around the world will be picked. They will get to meet with democracy advocates and government leaders in Washington D.C and New York as well as top world film-makers in Hollywood.
Ms Lam has passed through two tough rounds of judging by experts in the field. She is the sole representative of Singapore and she needs your support. Watch video below:
The Singapore Democrats whole-heartedly support Ms Lam's video and we call on all Singaporeans to do the same by voting for her entry (see below for how to vote). Email this article to all your friends and relatives and ask them to cast their vote for Ms Lam. The deadline is next Tuesday, 15 Jun 10.
Ms Lam says: "Help me spread the message to other people who love freedom and democratic society."
How to vote:
- Access into this link: http://www.youtube.com/democracychallenge
- At the top right corner of the site, click sign in
- Sign in with your Youtube account or Google account.
- Go back to the site, find the video named “Democracy is …struggle of freedom desire!”
- Click on the green thumb up to vote. When your vote is counted, the other icon will turn grey.
- If you want to leave her a word of encouragement, click on the name of video to go to original Youtube page.
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
The Singapore women table-tennis team’s victory over China at the World Championship a week ago has polarized public opinion and sparked an intense debate among Singaporeans if the win truly belongs to Singapore.
The trio who brought the trophy home are all born in China and came to Singapore as established table-tennis players – Feng Tianwei, Wang Yuegu and Sun Beibei.
A significant proportion of Singaporeans labeled the match as “China Team A versus Team B” and felt that there is nothing really to celebrate.
Some even poured scorn on the policy-makers splurging millions of taxpayers’ monies to “buy” success at the detriment of developing local sports talent.
The PAP’s “foreign talent” sports policy has been a controversial one all these years with many Singaporeans disagreeing with its approach and strategy of enticing foreign players to take up citizenship in order to represent Singapore in international competitions.
While the Singapore women table-tennis team has secured an unprecedented victory over perennial world champions China and put puny Singapore on the world map, the mood on the ground has been rather sombre and nonchalant despite the pathetic attempts of the state media to whip up public sentiments including a delayed telecast of the match by MediaCorp.
PAP supporters and apologists come out in force in the internet chatrooms, decrying the critics as “xenophobic” and arguing that other nations have imported foreign talents as well to represent them.
China is no doubt the undisputed world leader in table-tennis, having producing several great players, some of whom now ply their trade in other countries.
Though some nations like Hong Kong and United States have imported China-born players to represent them like Singapore, more than half their team still consists of natives.
Let us take a look at the Olympic teams of Hong Kong and United States:
1. Hong Kong: Ko Lai Chak, Lau Sui-Fei, Song Ah Sim, Li Ching (China), Tie Ya Na (China)
2. United States: Jasna Fazlic, Mark Hazinski, Sean O’Neill, Wang Chen (China), Gao Jun (China)
As we can see from the above, China-born players make up less than 50 percent of the teams in contrast to Singapore which consists 100 percent of China-born players including the coach.
Some defend the PAP’s sports policy as akin to that adopted by many countries like France, whose 1998 World-Cup winning team consists of many players of African descent like Zinedine Zidane whose parents emigrated to France from Algeria.
These blind supporters miss the fact that most of France’s players were born in France or came to France at a very young age. Zinedine Zidane was born in Marseille while Thierry Henry in Paris.
France did not import established players from Brazil or Argentina like Robinho and Lionel Messi into its team by offering them instant citizenships like Singapore.
Furthermore, the French players of African descent are already naturalized French citizens who speak French with a native accent and are French in every other way compared to Singapore’s China-born players who look, speak and behave differently from Singaporeans. There are even doubts if they can sing Singapore’s National anthem and recite the Pledge.
Singapore cannot claim any credit for nurturing the three China-born players as they were already established professionals when they joined the Singapore team. In fact, their Singapore citizenships were fast-tracked precisely because of their “talents”.
Both Wang Yuegu and Sun Beibei were already ranked among the top ten players of the world when Singapore roped them into the team.
Wang made her inaugural appearance on the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) Pro Tour in June 2005 at the Volkswagen Korean Open in Suncheon, South Korea, where she and Sun Beibei took the silver medal in the women’s doubles. On 24 September 2006, Wang achieved her first gold medal on the Pro Tour at the Japan Open in Yokohama before she took up Singapore citizenship in 2008.
Feng Tianwei was ranked 73th in the world and was playing in the Japan’s professional league when she was talent-spotted by former national coach Liu Guodong.
Not withstanding the fact that Feng was only in the China “B” team and unable to break into its “A” team after three years, she is already far ahead of the local-born Singapore players in terms of international experience and exposure. It is not entirely a surprise that her world ranking improved dramatically after given the opportunity to shine by Singapore.
Instead of dismissing the criticisms from the ground as mere grouses and complaints from jealous, disgruntled and marginalized citizens, the policy-makers should pay attention to some of the feedback given.
After all, sports does serve a secondary objective of bonding the nation and it makes little sense to spend millions of dollars to develop table-tennis only to receive such a lukewarm response from Singaporeans.
The backlash from the ground will be less had the team comprised of some native Singaporeans and if the players had come to Singapore at a very young age for other purposes other than to play ping pong.
It is both unfair and unreasonable to label Singaporeans as “xenophobic” just because they do not see eye to eye with the PAP’s “foreign talent” sports policy.
By and large, Singaporeans are the most open, tolerant and accepting people in the world partly due to our upbringing and the cosmopolitan nature of our nation.
Most of us do not mind bringing in young foreign talents to complement our limited talent pool to increase our global competitiveness, but a clear demarcation must be drawn between importing and nurturing potential talents and “buying” established talents.
For example, the reaction from Singaporeans was predictably less hostile towards China-born swimmer Tao Li who came to Singapore at the age of 13 and studied at the Singapore Sports School.
There is an urgent need for the authorities to review its long-standing “foreign talent” sports policy and start listening to the people who are ultimately paying for their expensive “investments”.
As one netizen sums it up succinctly:
“There is no honor in buying trophies. I rather watch a team comprising of native Singaporeans get thrashed at the finals than a team of China-born players winning the competition.”
Thursday, June 3, 2010
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
I am an ordinary Singaporean student who, until now, has been brainwashed like many of you. Now I know the ugly truth. I'd like to share my experience with you about my struggle in taking off the blindfold the PAP has tied on me for years.
I believe it is about the same for most young Singaporeans as it was for me. The brainwashing starts at the secondary school level when most students still do not have the maturity to be able to accurately judge if what they read is true or false. Most of them would not even be interested in politics at that age.
Like some of you, I also viewed Social Studies and National Education as propaganda of the government. But for the sake of getting good grades, many just memorise the PAP’s version of Singapore’s past and regurgitate it when needed.
Drilled into our minds from young that the PAP are the good guys and all who oppose it must be bad, more and more Singaporeans come to accept this twisted view without question.
The awakening for me came when I took up a political science module at the National University of Singapore where I'm now studying. It was about politics and governance of Singapore. That got me thinking about Singapore’s history and the role the PAP, civil service, and trade unions played in it. I also started to examine the subject of the PAP’s political hegemony.
When I signed up for the module, the first thing that I wanted to do was to find out the truth. I thought that in university, there would be more freedom to scrutinize criticize the Government and its policies. But, this turned out not to be the case at all.
The lecture notes given to students spoke highly of the PAP, and denounced the opposition. The lecturer himself, Dr Bilveer Singh, did not take an unbiased view. Whenever he mentioned the opposition, it was to criticize them and to emphasize that they were puny compared to the PAP.
I remember Dr Singh saying that Dr Chee Soon Juan is a symbol of blundering. I was thinking, “Okay, so where’s your evidence?” But he didn’t even bother to support his point and took whatever he as if it was factually true.
And most of the students just accepted it without questioning the accuracy of his statement.
In his textbook (which was a compulsory text for all of us), the lecturer wrote that Dr Chee had ousted Mr Chiam from the SDP. This was, of course not the truth, as those of you who have read Dr Chee’s detailed account of what actually happened would know.
But as this article is about how I discovered the truth about Singapore’s history and politics, I will not digress any further.
What jolted me to the truth was Dr Chee’s books, A Nation Cheated and The Power of Courage. What I read shocked me. I read and re-read it again and again to make sure I had read everything correctly.
The shocking truth has been scrupulously kept away from the eyes of Singaporeans. I am sure the majority of Singaporeans are blissfully unaware that Mr Lee Kuan Yew was not the hero who fought for Singapore’s independence. Rather the true hero was Mr Lim Chin Siong, who failed to become Singapore's first prime minister only because he was continuously thwarted by Mr Lee Kuan Yew and the British.
The book documented from declassified papers that “it was Lim Chin Siong who insisted that Singaporeans’ freedom and independence were not for compromise.” And that was also why the British considered him such a threat to their colonial rule, and tried all ways to cripple him. Please refer to A Nation Cheated for more details.
Everyone knows that there were riots in Singapore’s history, and these riots were explained by the Government that the Malayan Communist Party “in charge of Lim Chin Siong” was behind the whole affair and that it was (Chief Minister) Mr Lim Yew Hock who purged Singapore of the troublemaking communists.
But I learnt from this book that “it was then Chief Minister Lim Yew Hock who had purposely provoked the riots to enable the detention of Mr Lim Chin Siong.” The colonial government and Mr Lee Kuan Yew (London’s “best ally”) had no qualms employing the tactic of provoking a riot and then using the outcome to “achieve a desired political result”.
Another shocking fact that A Nation Cheated reveals is that “Lee had confidentially said that he values the [Internal Security] Council as a potential scape-goat for unpopular measures he will wish to take against subversive activities."
Another controversial issue was the clause the British introduced that would bar ex-detainees, or subversives, from standing for elections. It is revealed that “Lee Kuan Yew was secretly a party with Lim Yew Hock in urging the Colonial Secretary to impose the ‘subversives ban’.”
Yet, in Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s memoirs, he wrote “I objected to [the introduction of the clause] saying that ‘the condition is disturbing both because it is a departure from democratic practice and because there is no guarantee that the government in power will not use this procedure to prevent not only the communist but also democratic opponents of their policy from standing for elections.”
Mr Lee pretended to be the good man by pushing all the blame to the British. It was written that “Lee told Britain’s Seceretary of State, 'I will have to denounce [the clause]. You will have to take responsibility.'”
After I first read the book, I was thinking “no, no way, this can’t be the truth, everyone knows that Lee Kuan Yew was the founding father of Singapore.”
But after I reread the book repeatedly, I finally accepted the concrete evidence. And after the initial denial came the horrid shock. We have been emulating and glorifying this person all this while.
I told my mom what I had read from the book. She got very angry with me and scolded me harshly. She said that I should not get involved in politics, and implied that I (and everyone who wants to stay safe) should just turn a blind eye to the truth.
I was thinking, “This is injustice!” My mom got angry with me that day. I was afraid that she might throw away my copies of Dr Chee’s books.
Now that I know the truth, I feel burdened. I cannot continue to propagate the stand that Lee and the PAP are righteous without lying to myself. I was also scared because what I wanted to tell others was akin to blasphemy, heresy.
I thought of people like Dr Chee who know far more about this subject than I do would feel much more aggrieved because not only do most people not believe us and may even say we are subversive and spreading lies about the Government, but the authorities will also do everything to hide the truth and fool the people.
Even now, I still need to mince my words whenever I discuss politics and Lee Kuan Yew in my family. Youths are forced to self-censor and cannot say much in public because we do not have any freedom of speech (unless it’s about singing the Government’s praises).
What has become of our so-called "democratic" country? I urge all of you, for the sake of your own honor and integrity, to please read and find out for yourselves the truth.
Natalie Koh is currently studying Chemistry at NUS.
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
31 May 2010
Re: Mr. Vincent Cheng - ex-Internal Security Act detainee
I am writing to you, on behalf of Singaporeans for Democracy (SFD), about ex-ISA detainee Mr Vincent Cheng’s public speaking engagement at the NUS History Seminar 2010 on 4 June 2010, 2.30p.m at the National Library Board (NLB).
It has come to public attention that the National Library Board has asked the NUS History Society to take Mr. Vincent Cheng off the speakers’ list. Hence on 4 June 2010, Mr. Vincent Cheng will no longer be on the NUS History Seminar’s panel of speakers.
As a registered political association looking into matters of civil and political rights, SFD would like to seek from you answers to the following questions:
- Did the Internal Security Department or Ministry of Home Affairs officials and/or their agents communicate or meet with the National Library Board representatives over Mr. Vincent Cheng’s speaking engagement there?
- What is ISD's policy in allowing former detainees, in this case the 1987 group, to speak in public? In answering this question, could you also refer directly to Mr. Cheng’s public speaking rights as an ex-detainee?
Singaporeans for Democracy notes that at present there has been no active ban on recent ex-detainee publications, although SFD’s member Mr. Martyn See’s documentary Zahari's 17 Years remained banned.
As this is a matter of public interest, I would be grateful to receive a timely response.
Many thanks for your assistance.
Dr. James Gomez
Singaporeans for Democracy
Also read: In desperation and fear, they censor