Friday, March 14, 2003

i'm back from the human rights/civil rights event that brought Chee Soon Juan [currently though perhaps not much longer the Secretary-General of the Singapore Democratic Party], Francis Seow, and the Country Specialist on Singapore, M'sia and Brunei from Amnesty International to campus for our viewing pleasure. sponsored by Amnesty International, the Scholars at Risk Network, and the Human Rights Program at the University of Chicago, which i remembered offhand and Francis Seow, to his great discredit, had to ask the co-ordinator about. a few preliminary remarks before i really begin: Chee Soon Juan is a lot less clown-like than i expected him to be; the media in Singapore really has made him out to be some kind of moron, which he isn't. he's clear, and concise, and has serious concerns and issues he would like to bring up for our consideration. Francis Seow, on the other hand, is just a clown: his personal vendetta against 'Harry Lee Kuan Yew' [i didn't know anyone really called him Harry! how bizzare] just destroys any real support he could garner for his perhaps justified political woes. it would in my opinion be far more logical to make a general case for civil repression using yourself as an example, than to talk for 45 minutes about how Harry Lee had you tailed all over the US and your picture splashed all over the ST. which is what Francis Seow did, tonight in Pick Lounge.

however, those aren't the main issue: i was enraged by their common assumption and attitude of expectation -all THREE of them- that if we as Singaporeans and human beings did not fully and vocally object to and work against the oppressive regime of the Singapore Establishment, we must be either (a) have our spirits broken, cowed beyond all recognition by the fear of what the ISD could do to us; or (b) brainwashed, mentally-incompetent people who have had their independence 'educated' out of them. in their own way they were as bad as the PAP ever could be; it is ALWAYS a 'with us or against us' mentality with them that leaves no room for middle ground. why should i be discriminated against because i don't disagree 100% with what our administration is doing for/to us? i feel like the sane person in the middle of the insane asylum, trying to convince the doctors i'm sane while all they want to do is take my temperature, record my activity, and put me down for yet another dose of Prozac and anti-hallucinogenic drugs.

i'd be the first person to admit that the Singaporean system isn't perfect -- it's very far from perfect and everyone knows that there are many things i take issue with, one of which is our one-party political system with no apparent viable opposition. and i have vocalised this objection and i'm not afraid to continue vocalising this objection. other things that come to mind are perhaps the 'human rights' violations that the system allegedly commits: torture of political and other prisoners in our jails; detention without trial of political dissidents. but perhaps because i come from an upper-middle class family, with two healthy working parents [one from each gender even!] with the prerequisite sibling, and a close extended family living nearby; and i had the matching education in the best schools having tasted the benefits of the system before even becoming aware that it indeed existed -- i don't totally disagree with everything that is going on here. let me say now that i have the greatest respect for Lee Kuan Yew. i think he's a brilliant man, perhaps autocratic and disinclined to leave well alone [i can't say i don't sympathise; when i see someone screwing up what i have set up to run in my own little way, it drives me crazy too! the only difference is when i meddle it doesn't affect 4 million people] but his contribution to nation-building is immense and beneficial in the large degree. particularly in his Aristotlean vision of a large and stable middle class - sure, it's a political foothold and means of control, but it also means that a large proportion of your population is not going to be starving, without a roof over its head, living on the streets. i also have a lot of respect for what the PAP is has done to bring us thus far in terms of economic and social development. otherwise, i wouldn't have signed on to take this job: i have my integrity, and the luxury of choice, and i would have exercised it. i'm sure my parents would have understood.

just because my desired method and means of change has always been through education, and not 'teaching critical thinking' but real, honest-to-goodness institutional change in our monolithic Ministry of Education, does not mean that i am 'cowed by the system' and am afraid to speak out in public rallies held illegally in front of the Istana. it means that i am willing to continue to believe in a system that i think works a good chunk of the time for a good chunk of people. i would like to see opposition leaders who do the same thing: who acknowledge that not everything Lee Kuan Yew and the PAP has done over the past thirty years has been horrible, but that it has not been perfect, and that needs to change. now. but we don't HAVE those, and you have to ask yourself why. and that's also why i am unwilling to sign myself over to a group of people who are identical to the PAP in their attempts to 'brainwash' me into thinking that the 'other party' is evil and controlled by X. especially when they pretend to themselves that that isn't what they are doing, and they are instead trying to open my eyes to the badness and corruption of the 'other party'.

a couple more things before i wind down: i have lost all faith and confidence in Amnesty International [not that i had that much to begin with] because of the behaviour and attitude of their representative [as she was repeatedly reminding us] this evening. and to just completely top off an incredibly insane evening of singapore-bashing:

'Singapore is no better than its neighbours -- in many ways, it's worse. It is the Cuba of Asia (but without the crushing poverty or damaging economic sanctions)....From a human rights standpoint, however, the Western-style prosperity of the place makes denials of civil and political rights all the more offensive.' -- South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre.

oh my god.


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