I have deep admiration for the French. Religion aside, we do share some values like compassion and the ability to not take life too seriously. The above cartoon provoked French society in almost the same way that Anton Casey’s videos and photos provoked Singapore society. The reaction from the French and Singaporean public couldn’t have been more different. Of course, the cartoon made some people in France very angry; it could well have driven a Frenchman whose girlfriend dumped him for a Chinese man to run amok. But the majority of French people were able to laugh at themselves – how the tables have turned on the Frenchmen who used to subdue Chinese people are now economically defeated on their own home ground. In January 2015, a hundred Bordeaux châteaux have fallen into Chinese hands, underlining the Asian giant’s seemingly unquenchable thirst for property in the legendary French wine-making region.
Anyway, my point is: while this cartoon may raise a few heckles in France, it is perfectly legal. Nobody has the right to censor it. Nobody will call the police and have the cartoonist arrested. If France decides to open its doors to immigrants, then the onus is on the immigrants to adapt to French social norms and not the other way around. If they don’t like it the way it is in France, they can choose somewhere else to migrate to. If France bends over backwards and change deep-rooted values to accommodate the sensitivities (read intolerance) of immigrants, then it’s as good as surrendering to foreign invaders.
One week ago, Singapore lost its first prime minister. I was jogging at 6.00am along the former Sungei Serangoon outside Hai Bin Prawning when I heard over the radio: “…享年91岁”. When PM Lee Hsien Loong came on air later in the morning, I could feel his pain – announcing his father’s death to the whole world. It was a sad day for Singapore. We lost our chief architect – Lee Kwan Yew. This was followed by a week of mourning. Huge crowds braved the sun and gathered at Parliament House to bid the late Mr Lee farewell. When interviewed and asked why they were willing to queue for 8 hours just to see Mr Lee’s coffin, the answers were mostly inarticulate or a repetition of what you could watch on TV. And what you could see on TV was staggering if not overwhelming. I can’t remember some of the speeches Lee Kwan Yew made in the past. Perhaps I just couldn’t be bothered back then. It was interesting to watch the repeat and mind-boggling to calculate the sheer amount of air-time our media had given him to tell his long yet engaging tales. However, I remember quite a few other “stirring” speeches he made that were not shown. That’s not too surprising, but even with the filtration and selection, I wonder how much it would cost a company to run this amount of commercials over the entire mourning period. The people who “misinterpreted” Mr Low Thai Khiang’s speech as trying to score political points at a time of grief may have totally lost their sense of proportion.
Online and offline, praises for and gratitude towards Lee Kwan Yew’s contribution to nation-building poured out. I salute him for the total and complete way he had dedicated his whole life to improving the lives of Singaporeans and in most ways, we have improved. This point is indisputable. Some suggested naming our airport after him – like Sukarno-Hatta Airport in neighbouring Indonesia. Facebook friends changed their profile photos to the black ribbon. On the day of the funeral, huge crowds braved the rain just for a glimpse of the gun carriage towing Mr Lee’s coffin. Folks watching the live telecast at University Cultural Centre confessed to shedding tears when eulogies were delivered.
But as one minister put it, anything that you can say about Lee Kwan Yew would already have been said. We’ve seen all the good stuff on TV. He chose a pragmatic path with regards to education. Our system is far from perfect, but it’s a lot better than that in neighbouring countries. He made sure every feature of this city state, down to the last tree was orderly, controlled and accounted for. It made Singapore boring, but some people like it that way. He ruthlessly rooted out all controversies and made sure no one could publicly play the racial card. Over time, Singaporeans are so attuned to this philosophy that Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent victory at the polls in Israel (by promising no Palestinian state) would not have been possible in Singapore. Yet, it would be foolhardy and delusional to assume that Singaporeans are any less racist than Israelis and more sensitive than French cartoonists.
In many ways, we are actually a closed-minded and intolerant people. Just look at the sense of soulless superiority Singaporeans demonstrate when they visit neighbouring countries and suggest that they demolish ancient ruins to make way for theme parks. Just look at all the stupid, insensitive comments people post on social media. We are just better controlled and better shielded in spite of our bluntness and low EQs. We live in a dome and we pay the price when we venture out and get easily disgusted with the “greyness” of the real world. We have difficulty working with people who don’t share our puritanical values and methodical ways.
For a more balanced view of Lee Kwan Yew’s “methods”, you can google our late president Devan Nair’s statements, former ISA detainees and a few other Singaporeans who are in exile or who have died in exile. It’s all there. But to many of the “you die your business” pragmatists, evidence of Lee Kwan Yew’s greatness is obvious; you only need to look around you.
Sure, Singapore is clean, orderly and full of architectural wonders, but what is not obvious from just “looking around”, is the fact that we are a high-strung, vindictive and unhappy bunch. I’m against opening our doors to talented foreigners who get in to enjoy virtually equal opportunities without even passing English at our PSLE standard or doing NS. Yet, I believe that foreigners who threaten to kill us and steal our women are jokers not to be taken seriously. Just sack and deport them. What’s so dangerous and hurting about Anton Casey’s stupid comments? Isn’t it perfectly normal for every society to have clowns like him? We don’t need to put on knuckle dusters and break their bones. So where did their idiotic haters learned to be so petty, grouchy and unforgiving?
For something less violent, blogger Grace Tan is showing us some guts and gumption in suing Singapore’s blogger queen Xiaxue for cyber-bullying. She wants a better blogosphere, a calmer cyberspace, a safer Singapore. And here’s her inspiration.
I draw strength from the words of one of our founding fathers, a man I deeply respect and admire, who fired up Singaporeans and told us to have the “guts and gumption” to stand up for ourselves, and who always sought to make Singapore a better place. If you are being cyber-bullied or if you think you are having an ordeal, stand up for yourself and apply for a Protection Order.
Ultimately, I wish for a better blogosphere, a calmer cyberspace, a safer Singapore. I am doing this for our children, our students, my fellow bloggers, and the public in general.
And during the mourning period, a Singaporean teenager by the name of Amos Yee posted a video presenting some “hard truths” about Lee Kwan Yew. In a twisted way, you can say that he too displayed some guts and gumption to stand out and make a difference. Today reported that he was arrested for “insulting Christians”, but even the Christians themselves have gone on social media encouraging fellow Christians to forgive him. If you see a cartoon that may be offensive to the French and instead of seeing angry Frenchmen, you see laughing ones, would you still raise the issue with the authorities and wish to see the cartoonist in jail? If Christians can forgive Amos Yee for insulting their religion, who is it who can’t forgive him? Why were 20 police reports lodged against this harmless, albeit annoying, maladjusted teenager? Why did they make their first move such a drastic move? Why didn’t they even try to engage him first? I just wonder where these angry adults learned how to deal with a feisty teenager. If the complainants somehow had the authority to invoke the Internal Security Act against Amos Yee, would they have done it?
I think Mr Low Thia Khiang is wrongly optimistic. Lee Kwan Yew’s passing does not mark the end of an era. His legacy and his “methods” have lived on within the scrappy psyche of many Singaporeans.
© Chan Joon Yee