Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Promise

Today we explore competition, we review promises and we look at blogosphere.

No holds barred.

In my previous entry, I explored the concepts of bureacracy and politics. How the incumbent regime has sought to cross-breed both into one to give birth to the following oxymoron :

Practical and procedural-minded politicans.

As Max Weber has explained, the bureaucrat cannot be a politician as a politician cannot be a bureaucrat.

"If a bureaucrat's superior gives him a directive he considers wrong he should object, but if the superior insists, it is his duty and even his honour to carry it out as if it corresponded to his innermost conviction"

"... the politician must publicly reject the responsibility for political actions that run counter to his convictions and must sacrifice his office to them."

These words reveal the serious structural flaw in the Singapore State.

These words reveal why the representatives of the people end up rubber stamping legislation after legislation which fail to consider the wishes of the people.

These words explain why, it is no use for a Minister to cry in Parliament when the Government decided to proceed with the Casino. If it was morally wrong to the convictions of the politician, the politician would have sacrificed his office. Instead, we have a bureaucrat response where the policy was agreed and carried out with duty and honour. Whats the use of crying in Parliament?

Bureaucrats masquerading as politicians.

But humans are humans. Some sparks always fail to conform to the system. In the last GE, the PAP lauded SDA candidate Steve Chia. They said he was good, like the PAP. But how wrong that assessment was for the PAP.

Midway in his tenure as NCMP, Steve Chia asked a question in Parliament. Are there White Horses in Mindef. And with this question, he slayed a Minister of State. Anybody remember Cedric Foo? Given a backdoor pass into Parliament, appointed as a Minister of State for Defence, no less.

What was Cedric Foo's reply to the question? Like all bureaucrats, he stated the reason why there was a White Horse classification system. To prevent NS dodgers, to prevent influential persons' children from receiving preferred treatment.

And what a storm that created. The bureaucrat set up the rationale of the White Horse policy but the application of the policy and the spirit of the policy was totally reversed. Totally reversed. But the ex Minister of state was trenchant in his initial response. just like a good civil servant. No the White Horse system was to prevent preferential treatment.
The response by the people? Yeah right. And the stories flew in cyberspace, in real-life.

Faced with this public outcry, the ex Minister of State conceded that there may have been misapplication of the policy. He promised an enquiry. And to this day, which bootlicking military man has been surfaced? But yet, we all know that White Horses existed. And we all know that preferential treatment was indeed practised.

So Cedric Foo is no longer a minister, no longer a PAP MP, no longer a PAP candidate in this GE.

And that should be so for a bureaucrat masquerading as a politician.

And who do we have to thank for this? A NCMP. A real NCMP, I should add. Without whom to this day, all Singaporeans who have served NS will look at this white Horse classifcation system and snigger. A fact that can exist only in coffee-shops, back-room talk when it was indeed a fact.

You tell me whether we need competition in Parliament. Whether we need a real Opposition MP backed by a constituency in Parliament. Whether we need a team of Opposition MPs backed by a GRC in Parliament.

Let us look back again and refresh our memories of what happens when a bureaucrat is cross-bred into politics.

Year 2003. Event : SARS outbreak.

While Singaporeans were grieving, fearful and despondent. While Singaporeans were trying to save lives at the risk of their own. While the country was in a crisis. A bureaucrat-politician steps up and pins the blame right down to a "super-infector". A Singaporean whose family died, whose life had crumbled around her. She was to blame. She was the "super-infector".

Now tell me what happens when a bureaucrat is bred into politics.

Singaporeans become digits, useful only when economically productive.

Promises, promises, promises.

For those of us who thrive in the Net, what was PM's most encouraging promise in his maiden rally speech? Change. A more open society. A hundred flowers. And what have we seen?

Clampdown, media barrage, threats and so forth especially when the GE loomed nearer and nearer.

But there is really hope. I really believe it. I see so many blogs with entries on politics in this GE, speaking with so much conviction, so much eloquence; drawing with so much effort, so much thought; flickr-ing with so much passion, so much precision.

I see the massive amounts of video clips coursing through cyberspace on this GE in open defiance against the MDA edict issued so recently.

This is power.

This forces the state into paralysis.

This shows us the simple fact that the world has moved on. And Singaporeans are gradually but surely moving on as well despite the fact of the State trying to chain us down to an anachronistic interpretation and instrumentalisation of new media power.

I no longer am a political savant. Because there are so many more around and so many more to come who are pushing the envelope to the State.

You made a Promise.

A more open society, more freedom.

And we will not let you renege it.

Quote of the Day --

"Here comrades! Why do you look so gloomy? Fight on, fight on! ... There are two hundred million of us! You cannot hang us all!?" -- Kosmodemyanskaya, Zoya (1923-1941)

Friday, April 28, 2006

Former Brigadier General Battles Former Police Inspector in Aljunied

Two things to write about today for a jet-lagged and overworked irresponsible anonymous blogger. The act of voting and Humility.

Read the following extract :

"I remember that day. I followed my mom to Braddell primary school which is now demolished. It felt almost like being first day of school (although I didn't go to this school) because it was doing something important for the first time and my mom was there to accompany me. :P The process was so simple yet it actually gave me a sense of accomplishment because it was symbolic of, or rather it was my voice amidst a bevy of voices on the little densely populated island. I wonder if other first-time voters felt like that. I wonder when I would get a chance to do that again."

Memories of a Singaporean on his first time voting. A memory that I do not have. A memory that many others like me do not have.

Looking at it, voting really is indeed a simple process. You register, take your numbered ballot slip, walk to a shielded counter and make a simple cross against the party logo of your choice. Simple but yet each individual cross etched, each ballot slip slotted into the box, aggregates into political power.

What about the feelings that accompany this simple action? Is it simple? From this short excerpt, no. Such few words but so many things come through. Do you sense a feeling of empowerment. Do you sense a feeling that this is an edifying moment. Do you sense that this is a significant moment of political learning. Notice the analogy. It was like the first day of school. Do you sense that at this moment, there was a feeling of being a Singaporean. Truly for the first time, a sensation of political meaning. To be a Singaporean. To be doing something important for the first time.
I sense so many things in this articulated moment, so many opportunities, so much awakening and yet it is a simple act of voting.

Sometimes I wish someone elder can tell me how it felt like to cast that vote during that infamous National Referendum for Merger. That simple vote to decide the fate of a country, a nation, a community. I can only guess that the feelings can be distilled into those same feelings as quoted above.

Stop and think. Take a pencil, a piece of paper and draw a cross and imagine that with that cross you join 4 million other Singaporeans to decide what everything means to your life. This is the political power coursing freely through Singapore now. The State can de-politicise you. But during this period, it cannot do so because it has to partake in politics for its own sustenance and legitimisation.

For the many more Singaporeans who are going to vote this time. Cherish this and know that it may not come again.

State participation in politics brings me to the next issue. Humility.The incumbent regime has been so long in power that it seems to have forgotten this simple political emotion, crucial in an election period. In drawing the battle lines and coming out with all guns blazing, their rhetoric has bordered on arrogance. Coming into my turf? Suicide. Polli-cide. MY PEOPLE WILL RETURN ME.

The State has consistently instrumentalised depoliticisation measures such that it requires the talent of technocrats or bureaucrats to operationalise these measures. Practical, procedural, hardly political. But there remains this incovenience of elections every five years. In the past, the PAP Old Guard were visionaries focussing on the political because they had excellent British-trained civil servants to execute the procedural, the bureaucratic. Now we do not have the such civil servants (hence, the need for the Admin Service) and ironically, the "best" of such bureaucrats are then cross-bred into politics.

So during election time, we experience the typical Mandarin attitude. Abrasiveness and arrogance.

But take a look at the wiliest and most consumnate politician in Singapore, Minister Mentor Lee. Feel how he enunciates and listen to his words in various media interviews. Compare the tone, the emotional tenor in these interviews to the forum where he took on the young radical English-educated Singaporeans. There is a difference. A slight difference. Cross examiner transforms into politician. It is not arrogance, it is confidence. He has distilled Singapore politics into its essence, vote me because I will deliver. During the struggle for independence, he persuaded Singaporeans in a marathon rally, his podium piled high with crumpled and still smoldering cigarettes. Today, political experience focusses that oratory power into sound-bite minutes for broadcast consumption.This is what the "young" PAP candidates do not have.

Political savvy no. Administrative savvy yes. Political savvy no.

Just analyse George Yeo's articulations over Gomez's handing in of minority status forms. He would make a good Returning Officer or Election Department Head. This is reflective of his technocratic mindset. This fixation with rules and regulations comes out naturally when he speaks. It is familar ground for a bureaucrat. Gomez failed to adhere to procedures, he lied, he is dishonest. Its the same mindset that perceives u-turns as rethinks because that is procedurally exact.

The political strategy of zooming in on the weakest link in Sylvia Lim's GRC team is correct. But the political method used in exploiting this link fails. And this is expected from a bureacrat's application of politics.

The traditional media compunds this bureaucratic mindset by aping this fixation with the procedural, when as Mr Wang points out, a simple look at Gomez will inform you of his race. The media apes this bureaucratic mindset when staring them in the eyes is such a beautiful media spin : "Former Brigadier General Battles Former Police Inspector in Aljunied" ... who knows the poeple well? who will have had greater operational experience in dealing with the community. "Sandbox Tactics Pitted Against Street Patrol Tactics". So many media opportunities and we waste valuable article space talking about the race of Gomez. He is Indian. No doubt about that. We can put it to a vote.

But I digress. Bureaucratisation of Singapore, Singapore Inc. The media institutions become the organisation newsletter. Grassroots organisations become HR departments. Schools become organisation training institutes. BUT politics abhors bureaucracy and turns it upside down, inside out. And this Achilles will be the single greatest reason why a single dominant party system will not sustain into the long-run in Singapore. To cross-breed two inimical ideas is doomed in the long-run. Singapore Inc cannot last into perpetuity.
And we will, we have to recover Singapore as it is. Because the procedural and the practical leads to statements like this :

"My personal view is, our land is expensive. But we have nearby neighbours in Johore, Batam and Bintan. The elderly want to reach their doctors within half to one hour. So retirement villages in neighbouring countries is possible, barring the cross-border hassle. It is best to find cheap land on short leases," said Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan. ChannelNewsAsia

Where Singaporeans are valued less than the their own land. Their soil. Their home. And shoved to die on short lease foreign soil.

Voting is a simple process. Let us Singaporeans be humble in our expression of political power.

Quotes of the Day --

"If a bureaucrat's superior gives him a directive he considers wrong he should object, but if the superior insists it is his duty and even his honour to carry it out as if it corresponded to his innermost conviction" -- Max Weber, Economy & Society

"... the politician must publicly reject the responsibility for political actions that run counter to his convictions and must sacrifice his office to them. A genuine political leader will be ready to accept responsibility for morally dubious action, since the different parts of our value system are irreconcilably in conflict." -- Max Weber, From Max Weber

"You were, as you say, taken on as a surveyor but we don't need a surveyor . . . The boundaries of our small holdings have been marked out, everything has been duly registered, the properties themselves rarely change hands, and whatever small boundary disputes arise, we settle ourselves.'' -- Franz Kafka, The Castle (unfinished work)

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Mandate in Ang Mo Kio

Nominations are over and we are still free. Certain events happened today which require some analysis. The contest of Ang No Kio GRC and the non return of PAP to power are two politically significant events for the GE.

The move to contest Ang Mo Kio GRC is a political masterstroke. The WP is indeed shaping up to be a professional Opposition PArty. The fielding of a totally young team, lacking all political experience, to contest the Prime Minister's ward, is a win-win situation for the party. They will probably lose. But imagine the political exposure this team will get. Already the media is edgy about this team. A wildcard. While the foreign media is having a field day splashing their youth in their coverage. The experience of standing up for elections in the Prime Minister's ward is invaluable. So what if they lose, at least they are giving a test, a slippery, tricky test for the Prime Minister.

For the people of Ang Mo Kio, a constituency which includes a chunk of the infamous Cheng San electorate, what will they be thinking? The responsibility is heavy, if by some fluke, and flukes do happen in a politically fluid period as now, Ang Mo Kio residents will be responsible for not returning the reigning Prime Minister into power.
History in their hands.
Imagine this. The PAP returned to power on Polling Day without their leader, without the Prime Minister. A heavy responsibility indeed.
Even if returned, what is a clear mandate for the Prime Minister? 75% and above? Remember how the late Ong Teng Cheong fared against the unwilling Presidential candidate? That remains the only national-level benchmark of the percentage of ruling party support in Singapore. It was a dismal number. And Ang Mo Kio represents this chance again to discover, what is the national-level benchmark.
Simply because it is the Prime Minister's ward.
The psyche of Ang Mo Kio residents has to be examined. What is this constituency? Comprising many resettled residents from the remnants of the kampung clearing exercises in the late 70s. Known to be predominantly Chinese. Swayed by the Hokkien rhetoric of a certain Tang Liang Hong. It was in Ang Mo Kio, that I first witnessed the graffiti NKF = PAP, that troublesome sigul which dogs the PAP.
And suddenly, through this process known as democracy, Ang Mo Kio residents are handed real political power.
The last time I talked to a friend staying in Ang Mo Kio. He was upset. His complaint? Having to pay ERP for going home to Ang Mo Kio after work. He was upset about that. Very upset. His understanding was this : restricting access into the city, yes it was fair for all Singaporeans. But putting a gantry on his way home. That was wrong. Very wrong. It is like a penalty he had to pay for staying in Ang Mo Kio.
What does Ang Mo Kio mean? Literally it translates as "a foreigner's bridge", to be exact, a Caucasian. There are definitely quite a few flats there rented to foreigners working in Singapore, studying in Singapore. How would these foreigners feel? Staying in a constituency which will see a contest of the "radical English educated young" against the Prime Minister. It is a bridge. Ang Mo Kio is a bridge which the 5 young WP candidates have to cross.
What is Ang Mo Kio? It is one of those older style estates which actually have coffeeshops dotted in every other block of flats, unlike the new housing estates which force residents into small neighbourhood centers. It is one of those areas where three room flats can still be found in abundance. It is where older Singaporeans congregate at coffeeshops to watch live EPL broadcasts because they cannot afford SCV charges for the premium sports channels. It is where a lot of taxi drivers stay in.
Ang Mo Kio is a heartland. Representative of a Singapore heartland. Predominantly Chinese, lower middle income. And the 5 young WP candidates will have to cross the bridge into this heart and win this heart over.
Unlike the previous elections, there is a sense of change in the air. Already on Nomination Day, we have the surprise that Singapore is still without Government, without Parliament for another 9 days.
This GE is about a clear mandate. The Mandate. Mandatory. Remember that?
And we have a group of Singaporeans in Ang Mo Kio, who are custodians of this Mandate for these nine days.
Quote of the Day --
"You assist an evil system most effectively by obeying its orders and decrees. An evil system never deserves such allegiance. Allegiance to it means partaking of the evil. A good person will resist an evil system with his or her whole soul." -- Mahatma Ghandhi

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Imagining Potong Pasir

About 14 years ago I gave tuition. It was to this boy staying in Potong Pasir. I took a bus into Potong Pasir. Number 142 from Toa Payoh Interchange. The only public bus that goes into Potong Pasir at that time. It goes past St Andrews than makes a left turn into Potong Pasir proper. What a sight. The flats looked old and in need of a fresh coat of paint. I entered the lift and it was an old lift. I walked along the dimly lit corridor. Fluorescent lamps dotted with remnants of desiccated insects. Knocked on the door and entered the flat of my tuition kid. There I received an education. A political education for almost a year while I was giving tuition there.

For my foreign readers, understand this. Potong Pasir is a residential area, a constituency, that voted a non PAP politician to represent them in the Singapore Parliament. Since the 80s. The area has resisted harsh measures imposed by the dominant political party and continued to vote the same Representative faithfully.

I first remembered Potong Pasir via a newspaper article. The article mentioned that if a situation arose whereby the lifts/elevators of a residential block were to break down simultaneously in Toa Payoh (an adjacent residential area represented by the ruling political party) and Potong Pasir, the former would get priority in servicing and repair. During the inception of the HDB Upgrading Programme in the early 90s, in which the ruling political party offered to upgrade the older residential areas and spruce them up, again priority was given to areas which had the dominant party's representatives. When the idea of the subway was mooted in that North east region of Singapore, initially, Potong Pasir was to be bypassed again.

What a constituency.

What a group of Singaporeans.

Their voice are never heard in the mainstream media except every four years during General Elections. Even then, the focus during this period is never their voice. Why have they voted this way for years and years. What drives them? Where is the fear? That so ubiquitous Fear that permeates among so many Singaporeans, especially the younger ones. why do they reject the carrots and accept the stick waved at them time after time, one Election after another?

The mainstream media, as responsible custodians of Singapore's public opinion, will never take up this story. It is too sensitive. They have to be responsible.

And so we are left to imagine Potong Pasir. That place in Singapore which we always hear about, almost like a mythical land within Singapore. I imagine Singaporeans who are proud of themselves and of their status as nay-sayers against the dominance of the PAP. I imagine Singaporeans who feel a sense of community and solidarity which is channeled politically via their Representative. I imagine a group of Singaporeans who look at the policy disadvantages directed against them and shake their heads; not only in defiance but also probably a tinge of sadness that the Government, who after all represents them at a national level, insults their sense of honor to re-place that tick for an upgraded flat. I imagine Singaporeans who feel that sense of community spirit or semanggat at a local level, comradeship, to work around the policy disadvantages and help themselves.

Perhaps ironically, that elusive national identity, that Singapore Heartbeat, is located in a non-ruling party constituency. That Singaporean, that independent, entrepreneurial, creative spirit which we try to distill from our education system, perhaps ironically it is in Potong Pasir. Is it not?

I have heard the Potong Pasir voice so many years ago. That real voice. As they talk about national politics in Singapore, as they talk about local politics in Potong Pasir. How they can be more active citizens in their community.

Can you imagine Potong Pasir? Especially those readers, Singaporeans or not, who are not from Singapore. Who are not in Singapore now, who are in Singapore but have never been into Potong Pasir? It is not a mythical land. It is a real place with real people living in it. There are a group of Singaporeans, our fellow citizens, residing there. It is a chimera which requires Un-thinking.

Can you imagine Potong Pasir? There is a feeling one gets when you step into Potong Pasir. Its a little thrill that you are somewhere different while in Singapore. Its a slight jump in the heart. A feel of freedom? I do not know. Words fail me. But for this feeling, I thank all these Singaporeans who reside in Potong Pasir.

[Endnote : Potong Pasir and Hougang is inter-changeable in this entry. For readers from the two constituencies who wish to speak, leave comments and I will post them as entries]

Quotes of the Day --

"The Haitian Revolution did challenge the ontological and political assumptions of the most radical writers of the Enlightenment. The events that shook up Saint Domingue" from 1791 to 1804 constituted a sequence for which not even the extreme political left in France or England had a conceptual frame of reference. They were "unthinkable" facts in the framework of Western thought ... The unthinkable is that which one cannot conceive within the range of possible alternatives, that which perverts all answers because it defies the terms under which the questions were phrased. In that sense, the Haitian Revolution was unthinkable ..." -- Michel-Rolph Trouillot

"Imagine there's no heaven. It's easy if you try." -- John Lennon

Saturday, April 22, 2006

15 Days of Freedom

The Singapore Parliament was dissolved yesterday. In effect, Singaporeans are free from the PAP for the next 15 days until Polling Day unless the PAP is returned on Nomination Day. This short-lived freedom is a significant period. But most Singaporeans, well de-politicised, suitably chastened in a Forum pitting the mute young against the wiliest politican in Singapore, do not understand this significance.

As of yesterday, technically, the PAP is no longer in power. It has relinquished its political power. Government affairs have been handed over to the President and the civil service to ensure administration of daily governance. It means all national projects are in limbo, the Casino, for instance. It means that Singaporeans are free to decide who to represent them in the composition of the next Government.
Every citizen has to understand this. At this moment in time, you are free. This could be for 7 days or 15 days. But it is a valuable time, a priceless period, which comes around once only every four years. While the national media pounds you with election news, this candidate and that candidate, this manifesto and that constitution, it fails to appreciate the nuance of these 15 days. It is a period when Singaporeans are freed politically. It is a moment when political power is diffused back to the citizenry.
Surely in 7 days, portions of Singaporeans will re-enter the fold of "governed" as their constituecies are returned uncontested. But for others, they remain within the zone of political freedom for another week where they are then given the choice. The political choice which some may look at enviously while others may not welcome. But this is monumentally important, this Political Choice that is given to you. Because it is given only when you are Free. And when you exercise that choice, you could in effect be exercising that choice for those who will lose that freedom in 7 days.
We have to think hard. we have to look hard. And face questions not only at the local level but at the national levels. This choice, this gift is the only fail-safe which Singaporeans have. The media's assessment of the young Singaporeans at the infamous forum as radical and English educated is wrong. First, these are not radicals. Second, the entire post-Independence Singaporeans education system is based on English as a first language. So they cannot be pigeon-holed as "radical and English educated". They are Singaporeans. The next generation which the PAP Government cannot seem to root and keep within our shores. They are "running from the darkness in the night"; hence, their so obvious dissonance both physically and cognitively throughout the forum. They do not know where they stand, where is the reference point. And that is the sad part of Singapore today. We are successful no doubt, but also lost when we realise that there is no end goal. From Third World to First, yes, good, then what?
The Singapore Parliament has been dissolved, we citizens have to understand what this means and act our roles as free citizens now for the next 15 days. We have 15 days of freedom.
Quotes of the Day --

"There never has been any 'aestheticization' of politics in the modern age because politics is aesthetic in principle." -- Jacques Rancière, Dis-agreement : Politics and Philosophy

"We feel our freedom." -- Immanuel Kant

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Seven Years Ago

Seven years ago, seven years ago, People stood up and said " If u make cherry tea, why do you fly first class? It is wrong. Morally wrong. You take our money to make cherry tea so that sick people can live easier. But you waste that money on a plane ticket which could benefit tens more sick people." Seven years ago.

Seven years ago, Elite said, "You have defamed me. I take you to Court. I use your money to hire big Lawyer. YOU HAVE DEFAMED ME." Seven years ago.

People said, "I have no money to fight your Lawyer. I concede and settle out of court." Seven years ago.

Two years ago, People stood up and said, "If you make cherry tea, why do you have gold plated taps in your private bathroom?" People stood up and wrote, "If you make cherry tea, why do you fly first class?"

Elite stood up and said, "You have defamed me. I take you to Court. I use your money to hire big Lawyer. YOU HAVE DEFAMED ME."

People said, "I have no money to fight your Lawyer. I concede and settle out of court."

One year ago, Elite stood up and published an article suggesting the "facts" put up by People. Elite got angry and said, "You have defamed me. I take you to Court. I use People money to hire big Lawyer. YOU HAVE DEFAMED ME."

Elite vs Elite. And the maker of cherry tea fell. Fell so quickly amidst a storm of anger amongst the People.

Seven years ago, People stood up and said, "If you make cherry tea, how can you fly first class? It is wrong. Morally wrong." Seven years ago. And People lost. Lost miserably.

The Elite had a mandate. A strong mandate. Every year his cherry tea corporation made money. Lots of money. Economic progress. Elite could do anything. And he was not Wrong. There was no Wrong. Legally, it is not Wrong. He had the Mandate. Legal Mandate.

But Morally? Ethically?

The Law is Blind. Lady Justice is Blindfolded.

Legally there is no Wrong. Because he had the Mandate. The Mandate of his higher Elite. Thats why Elite, though fallen, is still Free. Amongst the People he had wronged.

Can this story be made into a Platform? A Platform for the People? But the People were wronged for Seven Years. Seven years ago, People stood up and said. But were Silenced. By Defamation. By Law. By Fear. By Power. By Mandate. Seven years ago.

Silenced for seven years until Elite fought Elite.

So how dare You, Representative of the People, place thyself on the Platform of Hero?

When People spoke and were silenced, seven years ago.

Quotes of the Day --

"You may rob a three corps army of its general, but you cannot take away the free will of a common man." -- Analects

"The benevolent emperor Nintoku considered the nation prosperous when he could look down from a tower and see the smoke from many cook stoves even though his palace was in ruins." -- a Japanese saying
"Yet it is far more remiss in a man to reduce doubt and surmise to certainty; since when he has gained his object and knows that his doubts are justified, the fact which he was at pains to track down becomes a grief surpassing all others." -- Gottfried von Strassburg, Tristan

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Danger of Silence

There is a very famous quote on the Holocaust. The quote's essence is this. If you stay silent, you allow atrocities to occur. That’s why genocides happen.

From Auschwitz to Pol Pot to Rwanda. There is a danger of silence. Sometimes silence is not golden, it is bloody. And when the annihilated die in silence, their remains become lost. They died for nothing. In nihil events of history, the dead are not merely dead. They are erased. This is the danger of silence.

Violence comes in many forms. The concentration camp in modernity does not necessarily have a ten foot fence ringed with barbed wires, landmines and snarling German Shepherds. A simple Foucaldian reading reveals the social arrangements of modern society. A state of surveillance. Watchful eyes, alert ears, whistling tongues. Violence has many layers. There are many ways to Wound, to hurt. To instil obedience.

There is a poet, a Russian poet. Anna Akhmatova. To silence her poetry, the Stalinist regime imprisoned her son and killed those around her.

I’ve things to do today:
I must crush memory down,
I must turn my heart to stone,
I must try living, again.

Violence has many forms. for almost 25 years, she was not allowed to write poetry. But she wrote them still. In her head she wrote. She spoke and her confidant committed each line to memory. So that her poetry could live through the silence.

I learned to know how faces fall apart,
how fear, beneath the eye-lids, seeks,
how strict the cutting blade, the art that suffering etches in the cheeks.
How the black, the ash-blond hair, in an instant turned to silver,
learned how submissive lips fared,
learned terror’s dry racking laughter.
Not only for myself I pray,
but for all who stood there, all,
in bitter cold, or burning July day,
beneath that red, blind prison wall.

There is a danger of silence. With silence there can be no knowledge. There can be no awakening. I look at you in silence. you stare at me wordless. And suspicion gnaws in our brains. What are you thinking? What are you saying in your head? you are an Other. I cannot trust you. And the society of mutes look at each other in silence. Only the speakers are blaring. To speak is danger. There is a danger of discourse. Political discourse.

In Auschwitz, even among the condemned, they looked down on one class of prisoners. They called these prisoners the Muselmann. These were the abject of the abject. They have lost humanity. They have forgotten how to be human. They have been totally desubjectified. The Muselmann could be made to do anything. If the guard told them to eat their faeces, they did it. If they told them to abuse themselves they did it. In silence. When told to go into the gas chambers, they went without a voice.

His senses are dulled and he becomes completely indifferent to everything around him. He can no longer speak of anything ... they spoke only about their memories and food -- how many pieces of potato there were in the soup yesterday, how many mouthfuls of meat ... they dreamt of rummaging through the kitchen trash to find pieces of bread or coffee grind ...

What's worse than a Muselmann?
Does he even have the right to live?
Isn't he there to be stepped on, struck and beaten?
He wanders through the camp like a stray dog.
Everyone chases him away but the crematorium is his deliverance.
The camp infirmary does away with him!
(Bronislaw Grocinski)

There is a danger of silence. When we are shown glitter shadowed by menace. It is easy for us to just focus on the glitter. And we think the menace recedes. But it doesn't. It stays in your head. Despite the glitter. Because you are human.

There is a danger of silence.

Despite what the Minister says.

About the danger of discourse.

Quote of the Day --

"Remembering them always, everywhere,
unforgotten in each new terror’s care,
and if they shut my tormented lips,
shut my mouth where a hundred million people cry,
let them remember me, as well, today,
on the eve of my remembrance day.

And if ever in this my native country
they think to erect a statue to me,
I agree to that ceremonial honour,
but only on one condition – not there
beside the sea-shore, where I was born:
my last ties with it so long outworn,
nor in the Imperial Garden, by that dead tree
where an inconsolable shade looks for me,
but here, where I stood three hundred hours,
where no one ever opened the doors,
lest I forget in death’s blessed oblivion
the Black Maria’s screaming hum,
forget the terrible clang, the gates that hail
like a wounded beast, the old woman’s wail.

And from my eyelids, bronze, unmoving,
may snowflakes fall like tears, melting,
and the prison pigeons coo far from me,
and on the Neva, ships sail silently"

-- Anna Akhmatova, Requiem

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


Singapore is the only place where you can hear politicians uttering contradictions with confidence that no one will notice. Yesterday, I read that Prime Minister Lee agrees that Singaporeans need to speak up and to participate more as active citizens. The Government has to be less intrusive. Today, I read that podcasting and various other forms of Internet commentaries on the General Elections will be circumscribed. Last few weeks, I read from the mainstream media that blogging and cyberspace in general will have no impact on General Elections because the "stories" in cyberspace are not credible. There is a triple contradiction in these facts I have cited.

Hidden within these reactions is fear. Fear simple. Did the Straits Times or other media report critically on new PAP candidate, Ellen Lee's remarks that male Singaporeans do not get more paternity leave because first, they did not ask for it and second, fathers do not get more leave because they do not change the diapers, do night feeds etc etc. Because this is a politically charged statement to make. Just like the statement that a five figure salary is considered "peanuts".

Many years ago, a certain PAP female candidate lost her seat because after shaking hands with hawkers she was seen quickly going to disinfect her hands. This is a politically charged action. And a political price was paid.
With cyberspace and new media we can charge statements and actions with political significance at a phenomenal rate. Hence, the fear. Speak up and participate responsibly, so the Prime Minister says. Responsibility and cyberspace do not seem to go hand in hand unless there is .gov nomenclature to it. Why should this be so?
Cyberspace allows us to speak up in ways previously unimagined. Cyberspace enacts its own rules of engagement and judgment of credibility and responsibility without the Government needing to tell us what to do, what to say. Is this not what the Prime Minister wants?
In Thailand, there are many poor people. People who can benefit from a Thaksin regime which despite its thievery, brings in foreign dollars to the country, some of which trickle down to the man on the street. But the same poor person refuses this. Because the same poor person treasures certain political values higher than personal well-being. Hence, no vote. No fear.
You see. Incumbent regimes fear the unpredictable, that Neo-figure who strips away the layers of lies. Who looks straight into the core and see its decayed state. Who looks into the heart and see that it is dying. But the regime fears this illusory bogey man, this shadow of Vendetta.
Where is the irony? It is that the people, the ruled, experience fear too. Fear of the coppice men and the men of Law who will come knocking on their doors if they see and speak beyond their vision and envisage a different futurity. So much fear both ways.
And beyond Catherine Lim's stylised dance of marionettes between the governors and the governed in Singapore is this atmosphere of fear both ways.
This then is politics in Singapore. Let the Elections begin. Because this will be the first step into an uncertain cyber-tinged futurity.
Quote of the Day --
"Whosoever fears the tip of my spear shall never pass through the magic fire!"
"The flames instantly blaze up and fill the entire space before the hall, seeming even to seize on the building. In terror the women cower towards the front. Suddenly the fire falls together, leaving only a mass of smoke which collects at back and forms a cloud bank on the horizon. The Rhine swells up mightily and sweeps over the fire. On the surface appear the three Rhine-daughters, swimming close to the fire-embers. Hage, who has watched Bruennhilde's proceedings with increasing anxiety, is much alarmed on the appearance of the Rhine- daughters. He flings away hastily his spear, shield and helmet, and madly plunges into the flood crying 'Keep away from the Ring!'
"From the ruins of the half-burnt hall, the men and women perceive with awe the light in the sky, in which now appears the hall of Valhalla, where the gods and heroes are seen sitting together.... Bright flames seize on the abode of the gods; and when this is completely enveloped by them, the curtain falls."
-- Das Rheingold. Richard Wagner