No Need For Empathy Now?

So what’s new? Australian woman Schapelle Corby 36, has walked out of a prison in Bali, Indonesia, after being convicted almost nine years ago of smuggling 4kg of marijuana in a bag while arriving at Bali’s Denpasar International Airport. Rumour has it that Australian network reporters were tipped off to provide full coverage of her release.

All this while, Corby maintained her innocence and many in Australia believed her. In 2004, Alexander Downer, the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, announced that the Australian Government would be requesting permission from Indonesia to test the cannabis and help determine its point of origin. If the drug originated from Indonesia, then Corby’s claim that she was set up by the Indonesian customs officials would be credible. The request was rejected by Indonesia. It raises suspicion that they may have something to hide, but what issues did they have against an ordinary woman like Schapelle Corby?

Meanwhile, Singapore and Indonesia are locked in a bitter dispute over the Indonesian navy’s decision to name a refurbished frigate after two marines who staged a deadly bombing in Singapore in the 1960s. Singapore has complained to Indonesia about naming the warship “KRI Usman Harun”. Usman Haji Mohamed Ali and Harun Said were the two marines executed in Singapore for their role in the March 1965 blast at MacDonald House (Dhoby Ghaut) which killed three people and injured 33. The attack was part of an effort by then Indonesian president Sukarno to stage Konfrontasi – an armed confrontation against the newly formed Federation of Malaysia, which included Singapore at that time.

I can hear Anton Casey heaving a sigh of relief. While life goes on in Singapore, social media is now flooded with complaints ranging from measured protests to pure expletives against the Indonesian authorities and even Indonesians in general. Many are as racist if not more racist than those against Anton Casey. Even though Konfrontasi occurred before most of these folks were born, everyone seemed eager to jump on the bandwagon to vilify our big neighbour. In fact, I was quite surprised by “nationalism” displayed by bloggers who normally only criticised the government.

Perhaps this is our equivalent of the Japanese/Chinese people’s Yasukuni Shrine. Some may even say that it’s like the Germans naming their warship Hitler. But is there really a basis for such comparisons? Are Singaporeans really that angry and insulted? Would we have known or bothered to find out the names of the ships? Would these names even ring a bell if the media reports were not accompanied by historical references? It is important to ask that because unlike an individual like Anton Casey, Indonesia is no pushover. To choke us to death, they only need to let their forests burn.

This time, our leaders are in no mood for damage control. They even uninvited Indonesian dignitaries to our airshow. No more calls for “empathy”. Let it spin. Yes, we may see more diplomatic squabbles in the coming weeks and months, but I suspect that this row may blow over even faster than the Anton Casey fiasco – at least in social media, but we’re not dealing with a relatively powerless individual this time.

There are educated, mature and reasonable Singaporeans who are courageously sharing their thoughts and concerns on various policies and social phenomenon on social media. They go all out to argue their points when they see that something is not right. Some have political ambition. Some have axes to grind. Some just have to get it off their chests.

But there are also educated, mature and reasonable Singaporeans who gripe a lot in private but say absolutely nothing in public even in an age where literally everyone has a say. These folks just want to make a lot of money and enjoy life – unnoticed by the masses. They will never have any Twitter, Instagram or Facebook account, thinking that the outspoken people have nothing better to do than to put themselves “at risk”. They probably also don’t understand why people would want to “kaypoh” when it’s not their relatives who were killed in the bombing. They are Singapore Inc’s best employees; responsible for Singapore’s low rate of volunteerism even when compared to ultra-pragmatic Hongkongers.

This brings us to a most frightening question. If our true blue Singaporeans can’t feel the pain of those bombing victims and their families, how much do you think our new citizens will care? It’s about taking it too seriously and it’s about not taking it seriously at all. Where do we find the balance?

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© Chan Joon Yee

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  1. Alan Tang says:

    Good summary of past events. I agree that some folks just want to make more money and enjoy their life. They only gripe privately dare not come out to take a stand.

    1. admin says:

      As long as the majority can still get by (some actually prosper) under the system, they will keep low and keep quiet. Such apathy will do us in – not the opposing voices.

  2. JG says:

    Why should anyone take a stand?

    For decades, we’ve been trained by the PAP govt to just mind our biz, earn a good (at least, in the past, though not now) living and put aside our thinking cap.

    Marxist conspiracy doesn’t sound right? Keep quiet, make your money, mind your own biz.

    Switching from single ward to GRC scheme such that even with 60% of votes, the ruling party dominates >90% of parliament seats? Again, keep quiet, don’t think so much, make your money, mind your own biz.

    Mas Selamat’s escape, “once in 50 years” flood, Singtel blackout causing half of nation to lose Internet, recurrence of another Mas Selamat style penetration into our border, AIM saga, flooding the country with foreigners … the list goes on … and yet, through all this, the mantra is keep quiet, Singaporeans don’t care about such things, just make money, mind your own biz.

    This is the consequence of running the country like a biz – its efficient and as long as the rising tide lifts all boat, who cares about “values”, “sovereignty”, “nationhood”, blah blah blah.

    We reap what we sew.

    Suddenly, you want to drum up outrage with the rank and file Singaporeans with this incident? Come on, almost half of the Singaporeans are new citizens, and they don’t care two hoots about “Konfrontasi”. Its as remote as “Raffles”. They feel stronger emotional link to the Yasukuni incident, than this. Which incidentally, the Singapore govt takes no stand.

    So the bottomline is this – rant and rave all you (the Govt) wants, but make sure you don’t spoil things for us. Like make the Indonesians uncooperative in future haze incident. We’re out to earn our living and lead the good life, remember?

    1. admin says:

      Thank you for your comments, Juliet. Hope to see you here more often.