I found an island in your arms,
a country in your eyes,
arms that chain, eyes that lie.
Break on through to the other side.
– Jim Morrison
The Public Order Act is not just about maintaining our racial and religious ‘harmony’. Harmony can be maintained, if it must, with the existing laws, as they always have been maintained, with a grip so ironical that one wonders if our vaunted ‘harmony’ even exists.
The POA is also not just about the impending APEC meetings or Youth Olympics and the protesters that accompany these events, for the POA is here to stay.
The POA is about preserving the dominance of the PAP. For this reason, the POA is about us, the citizens.
With the Internet, citizens have managed to reclaim some of their voices, and they are starting to speak and be heard. Nary a week now goes by without the government’s mis-steps being exposed and scrutinized by netizens, and the mainstream media’s chicanery continually unmasked. Now, the PAP’s pedigree no longer appears so distinguished and its record no longer that sterling, and the mainstream media little more than a lackey of the government. That is, a government whose largely fabricated aura, abetted by the media propagandists’ daily worship, has been diminished exponentially.
And right that it has. Our government is just like any good government there is elsewhere – filled with fallible men, prone to err. And like any government there is elsewhere, its natural impulses are to power and tyranny.
This is why democracy, and the structures that uphold it must be built, must prevail. Democracy is vital, it is neither a distant promise nor a compromise. It starts with having free and fair elections, that will give rise to a strong Opposition, and it ends with a freer people. Currently, all three elude us.
With the Internet, awakened and enlightened citizens who can now see the government for what it really is, might be galvanized to action, and threaten the PAP’s hold on power. This is why the POA is enacted, to contain dissent, to suppress action, to shackle the citizen.
But this absolute ease of tyranny – see how the POA was like an edict read out in parliament to overwhelming ‘ayes’, rather than being the contentious piece of legislation that must be deliberated and debated over – did not emerge overnight. The government’s successive legislations and insidious tweakings over the last four decades – on public order, on defamation rulings, on the GRCs, the plethora of licensing and restrictive laws governing the broadcast and print media, ‘public entertainment’ and civil society, not to mention the enormous discretionary powers the government has behind those laws – have gradually but surely strengthened the PAP’s grip on the country, entrenched its power in- and outside parliament, weakened the key institutions of the state, and silenced the citizen. In that sense, we have already been muzzled long ago. Taken together, they create for better and worse, the Singapore that we live in today.
It is this absolute ease of tyranny that manifests itself in the stark but facile choice (or is it a playful taunt?) posed to us by the law minister: “Well, ask yourself two questions: in our region, which country would you rather be in? And among the countries in the world which became independent in the 1950s and 1960s, which country would you rather be in?”
You would rather live in Singapore, wouldn’t you? Anyway, where else can you go?
There are those who simply cannot leave, there are those who truly want to remain. But to remain is to perpetually duel, conscience with cowardice, conscience with contentment. To be made to sing its cadaveric songs of nationalism. To remain is to live in oppression. This is sad, and this is wrong.
From the law minister once more, as reported by TODAY: it boils down to how much Singaporeans trust the Government – bearing in mind the limitations and geo-political challenge that a small country faces.
This is not pleading trust. This is delivering a thin-veiled threat, once more playing the vulnerability game, and inciting the siege mentality created by them – trust us, or else.
For you would rather live in Singapore, wouldn’t you? Anyway, where else can you go?
Trust them, or live in oppression. What a generous choice. What a mockery of trust it makes. And what does it make of us?
Rather, it is the government itself who does not trust its people. From our NRICs to our health records on public computers, from racial profiling to academic streaming, from NS disciplining to scholarship bondage, from HDB flat allocation and CPF lock-ups, to the neighbours’ constant gaze through grilled-windows from the opposite block, to how to love our lovers so as to propagate the state’s ideal family structure, to 24/7 surveillance online and offline, all with the threat of the ISA and the knocking in the night a recurring spectre in our minds. All culminating in this country’s pervasive, undignified, climate of fear, every step a landmine of a legislation, every step the high wall of state condescension, every step once more into the inescapable arms of the government.
This is not about trust. It is about the regime’s ability to exert and collect power. Power undergirded by a politics of deep mistrust, subjecting citizens to living in a prosperous state of constant intimidation and surveil. While they pry into all our personal affairs and indiscretions that everyone has, threatening to expose them, incarcerating you for them. Everyone a potential hostage, while their own infractions are placed above their panoptical power, beyond scrutiny. While they gently cajole: Trust us, or else.
Or else, the government can trust us for once, no? The docile, disciplined, depoliticized Singaporean, produced, processed, labeled and sorted, all for the benefit of Singapore Inc. And to whom does Singapore Inc. benefit?
If we bemoan our current state, it is also because we have ourselves to blame.
Honour freedom. The POA and those who support it, dishonour it.
Freedom is not, unless you have bought into the government’s rhetoric, a lofty word – it is a basic need, without which citizens are bereft of dignity. The so-called politics of bread and butter is at one with the right to liberty: together, they constitute a proper, fuller life. One less, and it’s half a life. Why would dignity discriminate?
Albert Camus once observed: there are no two politics, there is only one, and it is the one that makes a commitment – the politics of honour. And indeed there can be no freedom without honour. Honour in words, honour in deed, honour in our hearts.
No heart, no honour. Not unlike those moneyed men in white.
Honour freedom. Today the government goes for them whom you think isn’t about you. (Where were we when the Opposition members were intimidated and bankrupted?) As if it’s none of your business, as if oppression is just fine. Tomorrow they’ll come for you, and you alone. They will, simply because they can, and they will, because you had let them.
Remember the saying: a nation of sheep begets a government of wolves? See how quickly the laws are amended and passed. This is our parliament of men in white, representing not the people but themselves. See how swiftly your basic rights have disappeared.
And why? Because we blind ourselves to the fact that the numerous laws passed ostensibly to maintain peace and prosperity, also invariably constrain the Opposition, crush dissent, and ensure the continued dominance of the PAP. Because you have been trained to disdain freedom, and because you have been encouraged to love your own servitude and bondage. This is the most powerful form of control, indoctrination at its best.
If we bemoan our current state, it is also because we have ourselves to blame.
The Opposition is weak because we kept silent, and so we kept them weak. Taunting them, we bluffed ourselves, feeling secure in our hypocrisy and timidity. Serves them right, we chide. In the end, this has not served us well. And now when we speak, if at all, we speak the language of disappointment, of anger, of disillusionment, of despair.
Each law that is passed is a gag and a tightening of the noose around your necks. The POA is only one of many examples, and no doubt many more will come, cumulatively, oppressively.
Forty years of independence, and we’re as dependent as ever if not more. Our nation-building efforts built a tyrannical regime instead. This is what happens when you remain silent. You will be silenced, and you will be defenceless.
The Opposition has spoken out against the POA – they always have. Go with the Opposition, that’s a start. Honour those who honour freedom, their strength lies in your hands.
Honour your own freedom too, for much is at stake. To be able to walk free and be heard, with fervour without fear.
Because freedom is not a lofty word.