Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Why No Singaporean question and no Singaporean marches.

Hi Friends,

I will be busy these couple of weeks. ( But not too busy to write a short post here)

I was pleasantly surprised to find 2 letters in the ST forum today which more or less reflect my views about the "apparent" Singaporean apathy and about active citizenry.

The "whack the opposition to pulp" method or more simply stated "reign of terror" method meted out by Singapore's first generation leaders is an anachronism- in fact it was not even appropriate during the rowdy 50's and turbulent 60's. Globalisation ensures that we are never going back to those dark days.

We must continue to press for greater freedom and choice, which also means greater latitude to express our displeasure ( or pleasure) on any issues which we see fit.

The right to peacefully organise for any cause is a right and not a privilege. That inevitably means the right to peaceful marches outdoors.

The government now appears like a hypocrite as while it tacitly supports the protesting Burmese monks ( who if they were in Singapore would have been arrested and treated as per CSJ) it persists in disallowing peaceful assembly in Singapore's own borders. A case of pot calling the kettle black?

My opinion is that when ( and not if) the government allows the right of peaceful marches, the novelty will wear off very quickly ( ala The Speaker's Corner) and only a small vocal minority ( probably the usual culprits) will be left trying (with difficulty) to galvanise the rest (the apathetic majority who prefers shopping) to join in the protests.

Nevertheless,the government should not be afraid to hear its own people's voice.

Cheers and Freedom to Burma,

Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan

1. Why there were few questions for MM Lee
(ST Forum 10.10.07)

AT THE recent ministerial forum at Nanyang Technological University, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew asked: 'Is there no Singaporean who wants to ask a question?' (ST, Oct 5).

I attribute the dearth of questions to two factors. Firstly, the education system in Singapore does not adequately promote inquisitiveness and critical thinking. As a parent, I still find that children are primed to absorb and regurgitate information, despite changes introduced by the Education Ministry.

Perhaps the generation that current teachers hail from is one which does not truly appreciate active engagement and expressiveness by students. It is still a talk-down culture: teacher teaches, pupils listen. If one questions too much, he is seen to be difficult or trying to be too clever.

While the Education Ministry may say that the pedagogy today is different, I would argue that schools in other countries have progressed faster in this area.
Secondly, the political culture in Singapore does not encourage one to speak up, let alone question. Due to Singaporeans' belief in the efficiency and stability of the Government, most are wired to accept that 'Government knows best'. The result is that we do not question as much as others.

This is compounded by what I see as an unhealthy 'upward-reverence culture'. One tends to 'revere' his supervisor or anyone seen to be of a higher status.
This culture does not encourage the openness required for the development of naturally inquiring minds. In fact, one who questions runs the risk of being perceived as uncooperative, and 'going against the grain' of being cohesive and efficient.

Therefore, the unquestioning Singaporean public behaviour is not a phenomenon. It is a culture characteristic of our nation. The positive side of this culture is that we are a cooperative and efficient people. We obey and move very quickly.

However, in the increasingly dynamic, highly competitive knowledge economy, it will become a problem. Singaporeans will lose out to their more expressive and confident foreign counterparts who would speak up without fear.

The same strong leadership that had overseen the development of our robust economy in the last four decades should now aim to maintain Singapore's competitiveness by fostering a new brand of economy, one characterised by open debate, lateral thinking and creativity.

That way, MM Lee will be kept much busier by Singaporeans in future forums.

Danny Lee Kwok Hoong

2. Non-violent demos can serve civil society well
(ST Forum 10.10.07)

AS A Singapore citizen working in London, I shared in the universal horror at the events that have occurred in Myanmar. To express my sympathies with its people, I participated in a 'Free Burma' demonstration on Saturday.

Several thousand people gathered outside the Tate Britain museum and donned red ribbons and caps, and marched through the political centres of London (Houses of Parliament, 10 Downing Street and Trafalgar Square).

The participants were ethnically diverse, and ranged from old men in suits to parents with pushchairs. The demo was led by Buddhist monks but included Christian and Muslim individuals in religious dress.

The march took place over less than two hours, and caused minimal disruption as the streets were quiet on a weekend.

There was a small police presence but there was not the slightest hint of trouble. All present were respectful of the law and the needs of the public - the organisers even instructed us to remain quiet as we passed a children's hospital.
When the march ended at Trafalgar Square, various Myanmar individuals living in London expressed their gratitude that so many had turned out to express their solidarity.

This is an example of how non-violent demonstrations can contribute much to civil society. It united diverse Londoners, and allowed the sorrow that each marcher felt to be made into a shared, tangible experience.

Perhaps Singapore should be more encouraging towards its citizens and residents, with respect to public displays of unity.

Much has been made of the 'apathy' of our youth and the need to show a more gracious and compassionate society. A more permissive attitude towards public demonstrations may well be one way we can make significant progress towards our national aspirations in this field.

Jolene Tan Siyu (Ms) London, UK


siauderman said...

maybe nobody dared to ask MM Lee anything 'cuz there's this innate fear of the almighty ISD in many of us.

or maybe that's just paranoid old me imagining things.

hope it's the latter.

Anonymous said...

First of all, i strongly agree with the first few posts in this topic. As a student, i lack confidence to stand up and to express my thoughts.

The education system in SG, which i belief is,the one who can memorises the most facts will be the one who triumphs over the rest of his counterparts.

Why No Singaporean questions?
My sentiments are exactly the same as the first few posts.

Regarding Marches, i strongly disagree. Yes, we may argue that marches can be peaceful. However we do not know how some may think; IF marches were allowed in SG, I wouldnt dare to think of the consequences. I do not wish History would repeat itself like those in the 1960s(if i do not rmb wrongly) where riots are prevalent in SG.

nofearSingapore said...

Hi anon 12.17;
Thanks for your comments.
You have taken the first step in true education and that is to think for yourself about any issue and then make an opinion about it.

We may not know the facts about everything and our judgment about things may not always be right. The impt point is that we have thought through about it and made an independent decision about it. In school, teachers can only tell us th facts ( or where to find them) and we must then use those facts to help us be better students/citizens.

About the Marches- some marches do unfortunately end in violence, but most protest marches in civilised countries are peaceful and orderly and lawful.

Some feel that it is our right to express our opinions to society ( and its leaders) by assemblying together and show support for or against a certain issue.

I sincerely believe if Sporeans are encouraged to participate in debate about national issues, either in blogs ( like this) or newspaper forums or even marching for or against national issues, we will then have a better feeling for our nation. We will then not treat this like a hotel but more like a home.

Best wishes


Anonymous said...

I agree with the last paragraph of Dr H's comment at 7:14 PM, December 05, 2007. As a post-independence born-Singaporean, this island is now no more than a hotel to me as I countdown towards my exit. IMHO, 3 basic factors spells trouble for Singapore in the long run:

1. Singapore Inc's lack of transparency (e.g. what's happening to our CPF? why the pittance in returns for such a long-term locked-in investment? what is the cumulative effects of the much publicized investment fiascos by the govt-related investment bodies),

2. lack of political vibrancy & choice (e.g. thanks to the wonderful example ISD made of Mr Chia Thye Poh), and

3. the exceedingly self-serving policies of the entrenched political elite (e.g. telling the masses to lower their expectations while raising their own already sky-high pay) and the self-serving attitudes of those same elites (look at the Wee Shu Min saga and her daddy's non-apology).

I regard myself as a typical Singaporean who is pretty much apolitical, having been throughly born-and-bred by the Singapore system. Nevertheless, the trends since 1990s has been, IMHO, disturbing (from the ban in sale of chewing gum; to the increasing number of statesmen who "passed-on-the-baton" of being "prime" minister but stick-around with evermore grandiose titles). The reality is political situation of a country eventually affects the welfare of its citizens. I will leave to build a life in a real 1st world country which I believe will have its fair share of scandals, corruption, etc, but it also has a more robust system of constitutional rights, freedom of information and political vibrancy.

I vote with my feet, while admiring Dr H and his type for their courage to stay and make a stand for their beliefs.

nofearSingapore said...

Hi anon 11.23:
Best wishes.
Hope your dreams come through no matter where you are.
Remember- we must all have our dreams. The moment we stop dreaming, we start to decay inwards and become less of what we can be.