Greetings from Phnom Penh! What a wild week it’s been.
“Dissent and Resistance”… or not
I was originally meant to be facilitating a democracy classroom as part of a Week 7 LAB at the end of this month at Yale-NUS titled “Dissent and Resistance”, curated by playwright Alfian Sa’at. But the whole thing got cancelled. According to Yale-NUS, it didn’t “critically engage with the range of perspectives required” and might have infringed upon the school’s commitment “not to advance partisan political interests in our campus”. Furthermore, there were concerns for the students: according to The Octant, when President of Yale-NUS Tan Tai Yong consulted the Ministry of Education, he was told that “students on the program could not be protected if they inadvertently ran into trouble”. 😩
I have sympathy for the Yale-NUS administration, who are caught between wanting to protect their students and a sociopolitical climate where anything related to dissent can be risky. But what happened next has been just WTF.
Misinformation, appearing to originate from pro-PAP Facebook pages, began to circulate saying that the week-long programme was about advocating civil disobedience, drawing a link to the ongoing turmoil in Hong Kong. (Of course, the reality is very different.) Then the Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-jin waded in, asking if “this is the way to go”, “[given] what is happening in Hong Kong”.
For the I-don’t-know-how-many-eth time over these past two years, I found myself on the receiving end of hysterical accusations, saying I’m a traitor, that I’m an agent of foreign influence, that I would like Singapore to be like Hong Kong right now, etc. etc. (I wrote a piece for Popula about this last month, the last time I was accused of trying to destroy Singapore.) The most OTT one of all was this op-ed by former PAP MP Goh Choon Kang for Lianhe Zaobao, claiming that Singapore has already been targeted by those who, with the backing of foreign actors, seek to foment “colour revolution”. And to make things worse, it was translated into English and published in The Straits Times too. 😐😐😐
This all escalated very quickly. Just for clarity I’m going to state, for the record, that I’m not involved in any colour revolution. Please let your friends and family know, terima kasih 谢谢. 🙏
“The millennials strike back”
One thing about the hysteria over “teaching students how to protest” is the lack of acknowledgement that young people are already smart, woke, and savvy. They don’t need to be taught how to protest; they’re already adept at finding community and building networks and pushing for positive change in their environment. Exhibit A: The “Monica Baey incident”, where students rallied behind Monica and succeeded in getting the National University of Singapore to improve their policies on sexual violence on campus. That was activism, and the students were absolutely brilliant.
Please, officer, may I wear this T-shirt?
In last week’s issue, I mentioned that a participant in the Yellow Ribbon Run had been told that he couldn’t have an anti-death penalty message printed on his bib, because it was not in line with their cause (even though the Yellow Ribbon Project is specifically about second chances for prison inmates). Well, Nafiz eventually changed his bib, but wore a T-shirt with the same “‘2ND CHANCES’ MEANS NOT KILLING THEM” slogan, after receiving assurances that he could wear any T-shirt he wanted. When he showed up at the run, though, he was told that he couldn’t participate in that shirt—he thus decided to run alongside them anyway.
He (and his wife, who also wore a shirt with that slogan) have since both been called up by the police for interrogation into a possible Public Order Act offence. Under our public order laws, his wearing of the shirt with a slogan for a cause could be considered a solo protest, which is illegal if he wasn’t granted a permit for it. 😒
This ludicrous situation pushed me to write this Twitter thread:
Workplace diversity, eep
Singapore often tops international rankings, but we sadly didn’t do very well in one this past week. We’re second-to-last out of 14 developed countries when it comes to workplace diversity. Almost a quarter of Singaporean workers surveyed say they’ve been bullied at work. This makes it even more unfortunate that we were among a tiny handful of countries that abstained from a global pact on tackling violence at work earlier this year.
What’s on in Singapore?
The SG Climate Rally is on today. I’m really disappointed I won’t be in Singapore to lend my support, but please attend if you can! Read SG Climate Rally’s three calls to action here.
New Naratif is holding a democracy classroom on 25 September, discussing minority rights and protection. Here’s some pre-reading material: a comic explainer on why it’s important to protect minority rights, and Ruby Thiagarajan’s op-ed on the brownface saga. Seats are pretty limited, but we hope to see you there! Click here to register.
On 6 October, there’ll be a town hall on child rights. Listen to civil society groups share their experience and insights on the rights of the child, and join the discussion on how to advance these rights in Singapore. Click here to register.