These are crazy times. As Piers Morgan put it, the world has gone nuts. The woke movement which first started out supporting marginalised groups has now morphed into belligerent mobs that would unleash the power of “cancellation” on anyone who disagreed with them. Body neutrality or positivity groups have accused their members of betrayal when they decided to lose weight for health reasons. Gender neutrality groups often go to extremes to blur the lines between the sexes, cancelling anyone who dared to insist that men and women are different. Vegan group attack anyone trying to encourage meat consumption.
Make no mistake, there are markets for such madness. Businesses and politicians gain significant mileage when they pander to such insanity. Those who are afraid that the world may go nuts with all these extremist views might have decided to fight fire with fire by electing a demagogue like Donald Trump. Is this sort of mentality new? Hardly.
What were you doing on 11 September 2001? It was an ordinary work day for me. I was in my room, watching the news when I saw the horrifying image of a plane crashing into a tower block. By then, the first building had already been hit. The details are readily available online.
The first plane to hit its target was American Airlines Flight 11. It was flown into the North Tower of the World Trade Center complex in Lower Manhattan at 8:46 am. Seventeen minutes later at 9:03 am, the World Trade Center’s South Tower was hit by United Airlines Flight 175. Both 110-story towers collapsed within an hour and forty-two minutes, leading to the collapse of the other World Trade Center structures including 7 World Trade Center, and significantly damaging surrounding buildings.
A third flight, American Airlines Flight 77, flown from Dulles International Airport, was hijacked over Ohio. At 9:37 am, it crashed into the west side of the Pentagon (the headquarters of the American military) in Arlington County, Virginia, causing a partial collapse of the building’s side. The fourth, and final flight, United Airlines Flight 93, was flown in the direction of Washington, D.C. This flight was the only plane not to hit its intended target, instead crashing in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania at 10:03 am. The plane’s passengers attempted to regain control of the aircraft away from the hijackers and ultimately diverted the flight from its intended target. Investigators determined that Flight 93’s target was either the White House or the U.S. Capitol.
Imagine what would have happened if the plane had actually hit the White House. The folks on Flight 93 were heroes. They knew they were going to die anyway and fought to steer the plane away from the intended target. Then came the image of George Bush on TV and his cringe-worthy statement “you’re either with us or against us”. Interestingly, not everyone cringed.
There was an outpouring of sympathy for America. That is understandable. But beyond emotions, we need to also look at the root causes for such terror attacks. Why? For the vast majority of the people I encountered on the internet during that time, it’s just pure evil on the part of the terrorists. Victims were victims, period and any allusion to America’s foreign policies vis-a-vis the Middle East was an instant invitation for ruthless attacks. Some even suggested that nuclear weapons be used; kill them all and let God decide. And I’m not just talking about Americans but Singaporeans who were cheering when Afghanistan was invaded. People like me who were against the war in Afghanistan and Iraq and who suggested that America should also do a bit of reflection and not put the lives of so many innocent people at risk were flamed non-stop and branded as anti-American or even terrorist sympathisers. You could not even suggest that their foreign policies could be the root cause of terrorist attacks. That’s how much in denial they were.
It really puzzled me that these folks seemed to have completely forgotten the fact that Ronald Reagan met with the Mujahideen fighters during the Soviet invasion and pledged his support for them. Osama bin Laden was one of America’s allies in the liberation of Afghanistan.
But wait a minute. There were 7 diverse groups with different agendas inside the Mujahideen itself. News reports simplified the scenario for the the public. The rebels were simplistically portrayed as freedom fighters. On the silver screen, Rambo further simplified and glorified their courageous struggle against the Soviet bullies.
Although the US was never directly involved in that war (Rambo notwithstanding), Congress approved a $2 billion covert assistance for the Afghan insurgents. Practically nobody objected. It was seen as morally justifiable. The naive assumption was that the anti-Soviet fighters had to share the same values with the USA. As it turned out, empowering the Mujahideen led to a major backlash. They lorded over Afghanistan as the Taliban and eventually provided refuge for terrorist organisations like Al Qaeda.
While the vast majority of netizens were weeping and mourning the loss of lives and property on 911, swearing to make the Taliban and Al Qaeda pay for their crimes, there was a tiny handful of cynics, better acquainted with the bad moves that led to this sorry state of affairs. These folks would have said “you asked for it”.
I would not be so callous, but some measure of objectivity based on cause and effect would certainly be in order. But no, terrorism was too easy to hate and the war on terror became the fashionable thing. Everybody started labelling his enemies as terrorists, the Maoist insurgents in Nepal for instance. Facing little objection from the global village, American troops stormed into Iraq with their British allies. Then it’s Libya, Syria … just as I expected from Uncle Sam.
I was appalled that Colin Powell could just declare that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq even though UN inspectors found none. Few people had a problem with that. Saddam Hussein was a demon that just had to be destroyed, period. Just before the invasion of Iraq, our then PM Goh reassured us that there would be little impact on the economy (as if that’s the only thing that concerns Singaporeans) as it could be likened to a battle between someone with a machine gun and someone with a bow and arrow. Someone who argued against me even said that if not for America’s double standards and pro-Israel foreign policies, the Arabs would rip us off and we would be paying more for petrol than we do for our COE. What nonsense, but almost everyone I encountered thought that there was nothing wrong with America’s wildly belligerent posture.
Then I heard the French and German experts on BBC denouncing the invasion of Iraq, predicting that American troops would have serious problems holding ground and occupying Iraq. Looking at things logically, the European analysts made sense to me. Colin Powell didn’t. And boy was it a difficult position to take as the majority of netizens did not agree with me.
For these folks, things only started to clear up in recent years. They started recognising that the US has been starting unnecessary wars and supporting the wrong insurgents, causing turmoil and mayhem. Not that these places were very peaceful to begin with, but they further destabilised what was already unstable and they made the murky even murkier. Very few of the wars they fought could justify the numerous lives lost and the trillions spent. To be fair, America did not and could not stifle the pro-war Vs anti-war debate. American leaders were not immune to criticism for whatever decision they make. Not so for another “superpower”.
It has been 20 years and quite interestingly, the mood was completely different when US troops withdrew from Afghanistan. America was mocked and derided. Virtual rotten eggs and tomatoes were thrown at them. They have been called warmongers and even “terrorists” themselves. While some suggested that they ought to take responsibility for nation building and stay on in Afghanistan, there was an overwhelming number of netizens who felt that they should not have invaded Afghanistan in the first place.
Yao mo gao chor ah? What happened to all the sympathy for 911? Either these folks suffered from amnesia or their personalities changed after 20 years. Yes, America performed very badly in the Middle East and Afghanistan, but do we have to be so mean? 911 was tragic even though America’s foreign policies were partly to blame.
I think we should shift our attention this time. That because the “illiberal liberalism” of the woke movement is not confined to the West. America may not have changed that much in the last 20 years, but another country has changed a lot. And yes, I’m talking about China and the current “woke” movement that is erasing famous people so that all the focus could be on the one and only.
As America’s reputation keeps getting tainted in recent years, the same flock that had supported the mindless wars in the Middle East is turning a blind eye to the Scarborough Shoal dispute, the Terrex incident that almost immediately followed the PCA’s verdict (because Singapore hosts the Permanent Court of Arbitration; not because of Taiwan) and the subsequent occupation and development of the disputed reefs. China initially promised not to develop the reefs but did so anyway. When challenged, they promised not to militarise but militarised anyway… what next?
Did Covid help or ruin China? A little of both. Frequent and drastic lockdowns have caused incalculable suffering to the 老百姓.。Companies like Evergrande are on the brink of collapse threatening millions of jobs. On the other hand, people staying home during the pandemic have been consuming a lot of news reports on social media. Language and ethnicity caused one group to gravitate towards China Daily, Xinhua, Sina and Global News. A surprising number have been consuming news from these well-known government mouthpieces and Tik Tok videos. It’s the same bunch of gulliblle, emotional folks who are so prone to amnesia. They forgot about the melamine milk scandal. They forgot about the SARS cover-up and the sloppy investigations into the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake. They even forgot the Covid timeline – who said what and when – and are subscribing to theories and accusations of “double standards” vis-a-vis the origins of the virus. And that’s not all.
Effective 1 September 2021, Beijing pushed an amendment to its maritime law requiring foreign vessels to give notice before entering “Chinese territorial waters,” providing China’s maritime authorities with detailed information — including the ship’s name, call sign, current position, next port of call and estimated time of arrival. The amendment was approved in April by China’s Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress.
This sounds reasonable enough until you realise what they mean by “Chinese territorial waters”. Yes, the infamous 9 dash line which is crossed by vessels from numerous countries on a daily basis. Does it mean that our naval ships, when they sail through this area, must declare their weapons and ammunition (classified secret as far as I know) to the Chinese authorities? Neither America nor any other country in the disputed area has ever required us to do that.
This new regulation is a second instance of China attempting to provide a legal justification for its maritime reach this year, following a law introduced in February that allows the Chinese Coast Guard to use weapons to “protect China’s national sovereignty” (within the 9 dash line).
Both the US and the Australian navy have declared the new law “unlawful”. The two navies operating in that area are going to ignore it and will support (and hopefully protect) those who ignore it. Thank goodness! And as we remember the hatred and thirst for revenge that gave full support to the invasion of Afghanistan after the 911 tragedy 20 years ago and how some people woke up later, let us not get carried away with America’s many mistakes and condemn the 7th Fleet for doing a very important job in the South China Sea today. America has to justify everything that it does. China does not have to. Their atrocious warrior wolf “diplomacy” is little more than childish denial and arm-twisting. Unless there is a UN embargo, America will not use politics as a prerequisite for trade. China can ban your exports, boycott trade and yes, cancel your contracts simply because your political views are not aligned with theirs. They can detain your Terrex when a court associated with your country passes a judgement that is not in their favour. America is far from perfect, but American presidents are ultimately answerable to the people and they can be changed. There is no such safeguard for China. I could go on and on.
Just as 20 years ago, I often find myself in a very lonely position vis-a-vis China’s domination in these parts where 站好队 means submitting to China supremacy and hegemony. People have been blind to America’s disastrous moves in its so-called “war on terror” just after 911. They are now blind to China’s growing belligerence, an exaggerated level of sensitivity to “historical reminders” and an atrocious disregard for others’ sensitivity. Imagine what would have happened if the photo below had been circulated in the wake of 911. It was crazy back then, it’s crazy now and there is just as much blindness and denial as 20 years ago.
China’s foreign ministry has been boasting about the cancel culture being non-existence in China. Is that so? Look at all the boycotts imposed on celebrities and academics who dared to say one disparaging word about China. In fact, you don’t even have to say a disparaging word to be accused of 辱华. The general term 华 is deliberately used to attract gullible ethnic conscious followers outside China. Aren’t these folks the Asian equivalent of snowflake followers of the woke movement who practise “illiberal liberalism”? There are left-leaning elements in the West who have flung out America’s noble value of defending to the death other people’s right to disagree? Is an authoritarian system superior? Who is influencing who?
I objected to Uncle Sam’s interference and involvement in the Middle East way before that stand was popular in Singapore and likewise, I can see where China and the rest of the region is going if this current trend continues. It’s sad but history is going to repeat itself albeit with different players.