Tuesday, September 12, 2006

For the Cenotaph

The Singapore Zoological Gardens is lauded as one of the most enlightened zoos in the world. Its denizens are housed in enclosures which replicate their natural habitats. The entire layout of the zoo is modelled like nature. Its a giant enclosure with little or no cages. Its a giant enclosure, but yet, its very layout allows visitors to course through its lovely winding paths in relative safety. To see, to observe, to marvel to judge the wild creatures languishing in their little homes. The conceptual nature of the zoo itself, the notion of enclosure, has been masked. Rendered into a more benign, softer layout. Soothing and tranquil. Natural nature. The zoo usually posits that its enclosures are a form of protection. To keep the animals in. But enclosures are not so simple. As they keep the animals in, they keep people out as well. As they protect the people outside, so too the enclosure protects the animals within.

We have to understand enclosures. The power to enact enclosures. And the rationale of enclosures.

Its like concentration camps. Little is known of the juriprudence that underlies Hitler's enactment of the camps. Enclosures to house and kill the Jews. But there was juriprudence and there were official legal decrees which justified the enactment of the camps. The Nazi state enacted its sovereign right to the body of the Jews and in the name of protection, brought them into the camps. It was a State of Emergency which laid the legal mandate for 12 years of Night.

Near and around Suntec City, there is a Cenotaph. it is a monument for the war dead. It too has been enclosed. Made into an enclosure. The rationale is that the Cenotaph and the area around it must be protected. Danger must be kept out of the Cenotaph and its environs. This is a funny enclosure. Because it is not the Cenotaph that is endangered, but the danger the Cenotaph and its environs represent by its proximity to Suntec City. It represents a danger, in the sense that it is a "natural" gathering point for would-be IMF protesters, and hence, it is enclosed. Made into an enclosure. Caged for the danger that the space of the Cenotaph represents during this time.

To understand why the space of the Cenotaph represents danger by its proximity to Suntec City, we trace the source of this danger. The Cenotaph becomes a danger only because Suntec City itself is now an enclosure. It too has been enclosed by tall reinforced steel fences. And its enclosure is to protect those inside it and to keep out those who should not be inside Suntec City. Those who are kept out are the Danger. Because they are kept out from the Suntec City enclosure, they then endanger the Cenotaph and the space around it. Thats why the Cenotaph has become an enclosure too.

There is another enclosure within Suntec City. A smaller enclosure within the large enclosure meant to keep people out of Suntec city. Its the 18 by 4 enclosure to house accredited protesters. This enclosure is like an exhibit. To house those of different opinion. To cage difference from those who are caged within the larger enclosure that is Suntec City. Unlike the Cenotaph enclosure which is to cage a space, this enclosure is meant to cage difference and the danger that difference represents.

And around all these enclosures, enacted for various diverse reasons under vague signifiers like terrorism, security, danger, safety, are the wardens. The coppice-men. Patrolling the enclosures. Ensuring those which are in are in, those which are out are out and those which are empty spaces stay empty. Patrols who are supposed to understand the rationale of the different enclosures around Suntec City. Patrols who surveill and judge. Deciding your right of existing on that space, which has been enclosed and protected.

It is a slippery slope. Even though we do not consciously feel the implications the presence such enclosures bring. Yet.

All these enclosures enacted almost overnight. Enacted by Police authority. Enacted in the name of a Security Operation. Enacted by the powers invested into the Singapore Sovereign. The Government. The enclosures are enacted as a security routine.

And we carry on with our lives because we know these enclosures are really only temporary. A temporary inconvenience.

But what of the Cenotaph? Enclosed not because it is dangerous, not because it is different? It is enclosed, imprisoned merely for existing in a space which has an inferred danger, of which stems from another enclosure close by. It is enclosed for its association by space. Simple.

But it is a merely a Cenotaph after all. Devoid of feeling, without rights. The Cenotaph cannot be angry. Perhaps it enjoys this period of being caged. Because it has possibly become a master. The patrols outside its enclosure surveill it constantly. Slaves who protect it with their Gaze of authority.

There is a short story by Kafka titled "der Bau" which narrates the story of a nameless creature. The creature is building a burrow. It is paranoid about the secruity of its burrow. It is to be a perfect burrow. Safe and secure from all. In the end, the burrow is perfected into an inescapable enclosure. There is no entry. And no escape.

We really do have to understand enclosures. The right to enact enclosures. The legalities behind it. The implications to you, to me, as citizens, when enclosures are built. Or we could be like the Cenotaph, just retreating into its dreams of a glorious memories it is supposed to consecrate.

Quote of the Day --

"Today we face extreme and most dangerous developments in the thought of security. In the course of a gradual neutralization of politics and the progressive surrender of traditional tasks of the state, security becomes the basic principle of state activity. What used to be one among several definitive measures of public administration until the first half of the twentieth century, now becomes the sole criterium of political legitimation ... The thought of security bears within it an essential risk. A state which has security as its sole task and source of legitimacy is a fragile organism; it can always be provoked by terrorism to become itself terroristic." -- Agamben, G (2001) “Heimliche Komplizen. Über Sicherheit und Terrer”, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, No 219, 20. September 2001


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is so beautiful and utterly sad writing at the same time.

12:20 PM  
Anonymous gamma said...

what is a cenotaph?

It is an empty grave. Awesome entry dude

12:36 PM  
Blogger Whispers from the heart said...

Cenotaph, an empty grave without souls and spirit is similar to Singapore as much as I hate to admit.

Irony to protect what need not be protected as much as there is nothing to protect.

6:26 PM  
Anonymous red11 said...

You are able to exercise power over a given space, so you do. And in turn, transform its meaning, however temporary. People may now start seeing spaces like Cenotaph (and Suntec) as spaces under threat and to be protected, and such meanings may persist for some time after the IMF/WB meet. So, its original meaning of honouring the war dead (and a shopping paradise!) has incorporated new meanings or been transformed, or both.

It's about a small group of people with the (political, economic & social) power to, transforming the urban landscape of S'pore.

And oh, with all this elaborate planning over the IMF/WB meet - steel barricades (!), taxis, food, medical centres, goodie bags, entertainmnet - me thinks the IMF/WB delegates will come away with the impression of S'pore being a police state, or entirely too organised & orderly, or doing everything in an overkill style (aka kiasu), or a combination of all these. :lol:

6:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

They are afraid. Of Singaporeans. Of their own 'rabble' which they fear that they cannot control.

8:47 PM  
Anonymous ahboi said...

My goodness.

This surrealistic audit of spatial proportion left me void of breath. But thats just me, who cares?

The brand of Humanities championed by Kafka exists in ambiguity. And it is this very space where intellect hones the culture of life by asking questions about justice, authority, truth, fill-in-the-blanks. The day when this space is gone . . . well, lets not go there, shall we?

I enjoy the occasional Kafka but identify more with Camus. I prefer some level of certitude. And I take offence with the person who dare to say "Singapore has no soul and spirit". You see only what you choose to see, and the opposite holds true.

12:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

breathtaking indeed

2:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Cenotaph has always been a monument under siege.

- It was enclosed a long time for re-furbishment.
- It was enclosed a long time for the construction of the Circle Line.
- It was enclosed a long time for the construction of Citilink Mall.
- It is now enclosed for the IMF/WB Meeting.

There's a poetic irony in there somewhere...

2:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

anyone out there....how can we get this published / noticed by international papers eg IHT / Reuters / Times to celebrate this IMF / wB meeting? This article is world class and so apt.

5:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

AFAIK, the memorial being enclosed is the Civilian War Memorial. The Cenotaph is actually a short walk down sandwiched between the Esplanade and the Padang.

7:53 AM  
Anonymous T.T. said...

From CNA report ... they do mention the cenotaph. I wonder whether everyone is confused about all these enclosures. excatly what xb is saying

Title : CSOs disappointed with space set aside for protests at IMF/World Bank meetings
By : Pearl Forss, Channel NewsAsia
Date : 10 Sep 2006 1844 hrs (GMT + 8hrs)

SINGAPORE: Civil Society Organisations have expressed disappointment with the 14 by 8 metre space allocated to them for indoor protests within Suntec Singapore.

Police say the IMF/World Bank joint secretariat had been consulted when choosing the site.

The area, demarcated by four poles, is where protests will be allowed during the Annual Meetings.

Police say a sizeable number of delegates who come in coaches will have to pass through this security checkpoint before entering the convention hall, hence giving the civil groups ample visibility.

Over 500 civil society organisations have been accredited by the IMF World Bank, but the police does not expect the majority of them to stage an indoor protest at the same time.

The police added that even though demonstrations are allowed here, they will move in to control the crowd if the crowd got too rowdy.

Wooden placards and metal poles will also not be allowed for safety reasons, and police will provide cardboard and paper poles.

This protest space is offered on a first come first served basis.

Civil groups say they play an important role in the IMF-World Bank's policy making, and feel these security measures curb their right to air their views.

"It highlights a more general concern about how the government understands and views civil society at large. Perhaps they are misinformed about exactly their role. They are not there simply to demonstrate but are serious professionals that have worked on many of these global issues for a very long time. This is a key meeting for them in which they will come and make their views known in a responsible and professional manner," said Goh Chien Yen, a representative of Third World Network.

At the Cenotaph , which is the only large open space nearby, barbed wires and steel fences are being put up to prevent people from scaling the monument.

Civil groups have also taken issue with what they say are the 20 activists who have been barred from Singapore, saying they do not pose a security threat to the country.

"The reason that is given by the government, that is these activists pose a security threat, to me it is an over-reaction because intrinsically these civil society organisations are peaceful and they are law abiding. They are not here to destroy public property or destroy public order," said Lee Chen Chen, CSO Participant, ActionAid International.

Police have said that under the current security environment, they have to be cautious about who they let in especially during the high profile IMF-World Bank meetings. - CNA /dt

8:01 AM  
Blogger Kev said...

A moment of silence for untouched space inside our hearts is surely needed.

8:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey amidst all the bullshit and confusion and cock-ups and repression which the gahmen and the useless newspapers are committing against us singaporeans, your writing is like a knife that so clearly slices all the bullshit into pieces .. just wanted to thank you for this wonderfully written and layered entry. you're da best

12:22 PM  
Blogger Mr Wang Says So said...

Heheh, you should write something about the Wilting Flowers of Suntec City.

For the IMF/WB event, they take all these beautiful, colourful flowers, and put them not in vases, but plant them into the ground all around Suntec City on Sunday night, as if these flowers were really growing there.

Of course not. These flowers are meant for the cool climate of Cameron Highlands, not the 30 degrees celsius of Singapore.

Now they are wilting. We're just on Day Four of IMF, mind you. All flowers die, but these look particularly sad - even the leaves are drooping and dying.

7:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

today, there was a forum article in the straits times. When the CSO breaks into mini scufflings and mini fights - would we Sinaporeans be happier? I think a majority of bloggers would smile, but I think a majority of Singaporeans will frown. Do not flame me, but I believe that is the reality on the ground and PAP still has the pulse on the people. Still that is the price we pay. I see Bangkok - Tharksin and Taiwan and I do envy them. If the PAP goes the NKF way, things will come to a natural conclusion. TC

7:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey man. Just msged to give you a heads up for your cause. A kindred soul, brother in arms. Though i am not currently in the country, it feels great to have someone creating dialogue, resistance, and friction.
Good stuff.
Peace out Home Fries.

8:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ditto anon above, ur a serious sg thought leader cheers

12:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone going?


Rally and March set for 16 September
6 Sep 06

The Empower Singaporeans Rally and March planned by Singaporean activists is fixed for next Saturday, 16 September 2006.

The event will commence at 11 am at the Speakers' Corner at Hong Lim Park. Singaporeans are strongly encouraged to turn up to support the struggle for democracy in Singapore.

The peaceful rally will also highlight the economic hardship of many Singaporeans. Not only are the poorest of the poor suffering under the PAP, but many working- and middle-class Singaporeans are also reeling from the uncaring economic policies of this Government.

Singaporeans need a voice and there is no better opportunity than this rally and march to tell the PAP that we, the citizens of Singapore, demand – not request – our rights for free and fair elections, a free media, and freedom of peaceful assembly.

Participants are encouraged to wear white T-shirts or tops, and bring along signs calling for democracy in Singapore.

The event will begin with speakers addressing the relevant issues. The schedule for the rest of the day will take place as follows:

11:00 am Assembly and rally at Speakers' Corner

1:00 pm Walk to Parliament House

1:30 pm Rally outside Parliament House

2:30 pm Walk to Suntec City

3:00 pm Rally outside Suntec City

4:00 pm Walk to Istana

5:00 pm Rally outside Istana

6:00 pm End and dispersal

This rally will be an historic occasion and will mark the beginning of the campaign for political and civil rights in Singapore.

Citizens of other countries are so concerned that they have taken the trouble to come to Singapore to make their voices heard. Are we that apathetic and uncaring that we are even afraid of speaking out for our own country, in our own country?

If you are a Singaporean, you must care. Because if you don't, no one else will.

5:44 AM  

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