Saturday, February 9, 2008

Singapore. The truth revealed by American student Bryan Murphy

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The article below is written by Mr. Brian Murphy an American student studying now at the National University of Singapore. A very well written article. An in depth understanding of the real Singapore.

If I could add to what Mr. Murphy has written it is this. Mr. Murphy points out many issues in Singapore which affect people’s lives and highly controversial; yet not resisted by the people, which in any other society such as America would have attracted robust argument for and against the issue. Issues such as the death penalty, legalized prostitution, criminalizing gays and lesbians and so on.

Mr. Murphy feels that Singaporeans do not either openly protest or approve any of these things because they are comfortable and affluent. Life goes on anyway and father (Lee Kuan Yew) will take care of them. So why get involved. I believe this is what Mr. Murphy thinks.

Mr. Murphy’s observations are very accurate despite the short period of time he has been there. Had he been longer in Singapore, I am sure he would have known that the reason for Singaporean's indifference to what goes on around them is not due to apathy. It is due to fear.

There is in Singapore at present, but slowly easing a little, an all encompassing fear of Lee Kuan Yew and his government. History has shown and as Mr. Murphy himself has observed that all one has to do to be liable in the tune of $500,000.00 in libel damages, is to just ask Mr. Goh Chock Tong about the whereabouts of $17 million of taxpayer’s money. Lee Kuan Yew had threatened to give this money as a gift to his friend the former dictator Suharto.

This causes a chill to flow down the spine of even the most courageous of Singaporeans; so they decide it best to not be heard at all. Any critic of Lee Kuan Yew's policies would be seen as an opponent which may mean, God forbid, being another Dr. Chee Soon Juan.

As for protests against the death penalty, there was not too long ago, an Indian lawyer who went around the island carrying candles in vigil outside Changi Prison before the execution of a number of condemned men; giving interviews to various local and international organizations on the injustice of the death penalty in Singapore.

Soon after that this Indian lawyer, was suspended from practice for 1 year and detained at a mental institution for 6 months! He has since been released from the mental institution. However, to be fair to the Singapore government in this case, knowing this Indian gentlemen personally, his suspension from law practice and incarceration at the mental institution was both self inflicted. Nevertheless, these events tend to have a chilling effect on anyone wanting to agitate for change.

Of course these are not the only instances where people have been persecuted for voicing their dissent. Mr. Murphy is himself aware of the sorry case of JB Jeyaretnam and others both before and after him who have paid a heavy price for having the gumption to stand up to this tyrant.

I think therefore, it is fear that stops people from having opinions, not affluence. In any case, it is also not entirely true to think Singaporeans are affluent. The Singapore skyline, not unlike Hong Kong or New York with its dazzle and glitter might make someone think that Singaporeans are affluent. As the saying goes, all that glitters is not gold. Not even silver. Even if it was copper, we would have been happy, but it is not even that.

It is something like this. Singapore being a money laundering center, has some super rich millionaires, such as Indonesian bank embezzlers, thieves and Burmese drug lords. This is the 5% of population. Then there are the other 40% or so of people with an education, many of who are politically connected with the establishment. These live comfortably too. Then there is the other 60% who do not pay any taxes, not because they are tax dodgers but because their incomes are not high enough. These are the ones that live in the one room and 2 room HDB flats who somehow survive on a meal a day and spend their nights under candlelight because they cannot afford to pay for electricity. It would be a good idea for Mr. Murphy to be taken around Singapore to the very common one room and 2 room flats to see the misery that goes on inside.

And finally Mr. Murphy refers to the disinterest of Singaporeans in such things as freedom rather than for modern electrical appliances and other luxuries. Being a Singaporean myself, I do be believe that a Singaporean is no different from any American given the opportunity. Alas they do not have that luxury, the reason being this. First, Singaporeans are deliberately kept in the dark about their rights. Mr. Murphy would be surprised to know that many do not even know that such a thing as a constitution exists.

Education has been deliberately side stepped from subjects such as political science and law, preference being for science subjects where things such as rights and wrongs do not come into play. Secondly, even if they knew their rights, the fear factor comes into the equation making it difficult if not impossible to form deep seated strong passionate opinion about anything. Singaporeans you may say, are not, by long years of brainwashing or indoctrination by Lee Kuan Yew, a passionate, spontaneous people.

Unlike Palestinians. I was in Ma'adaba, a small town 25 miles south of Amman, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan speaking to my client Abdullah, an Arab (name changed) in 2006. He is about 75 years old. He was a displaced person, having been born in Haifa before partition, now presently in Israel. As a young boy there, his family grew olives, oranges and other citrus, when they were forced out, in 1948, into refugee settlements in the West Bank after which he became a Jordanian citizen now living in Jordan. With the utmost seriousness and determination in his face, he tells me that he will not rest until he regains the citrus orchards that were stolen from him by the Jews in 1948! There you have a passionate man. You will never find a Singaporean like him.

But we must thank Mr. Bryan Murphy for this excellent observation on Singapore. Such writing and exposure truly helps the rest of the world to know what Singapore really is, the totalitarian and intolerant authoritarian dictatorship. Not the global democracy that Lee Kuan Yew tries very hard to paint it as such. Singapore is, as someone said, the Disneyland with the death penalty!

Gopalan Nair
39737 Paseo Padre Parkway, Suite A1
Fremont, CA 94538, USA
Tel: 510 657 6107
Fax: 510 657 6914

Singapore trades freedoms for happiness
Bryan Murphy
The Daily Campus
09 Feb08

Ho-ho-holy crap. Most people tend to make decisive judgments without fully realizing their implications, from "Yeah, applying early decision is an amazing idea," to "You're right, we don't need to use a condom for this."

To that list one could add, "Sure, let's go to study in this small tropical island nation without fully realizing that it's essentially a one-man state whose track record on press freedoms ranks it below the civil-war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo, Hong Kong, Kazakhstan and Djibouti."

Think of some form of political expression you might reasonably expect to employ in the United States and it would almost certainly get you incarcerated in Singapore. In the U.S., it's not really such a big deal if you're a famous political analyst who goes around calling a former presidential candidate a "faggot" and doing so certainly won't hurt your next big book deal - though it will serve to further convince everyone that you're a leathery old shrew.

Consider, by way of comparison, the plight of Dr. Chee Soon Juan, the leader of an opposition party here in Singapore. During the 2001 General Elections in Singapore, Dr. Chee made a stir about a $17 billion loan to former Indonesian President-slash-brutal-dictator Suharto. You might think an astronomical loan to a man whose administration was specifically condemned by the U.N. Human Rights Commission for its abominable conduct and repeated slaughters of unarmed protesters would be fair game for a bit of political rabble-rousing, but you'd be wrong. Dr. Chee was hit with libel suits totaling 500,000 Singaporean dollars ($352,933) by Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong, at the time the senior minister and prime minister of Singapore, respectively. Dr. Chee lost.

An interesting thing about libel suits filed by high-ranking members of the Singaporean elite is that you are pretty much guaranteed to lose them - especially if you belong to an opposition party. Another interesting fact is that under Singapore's Constitution, those fined at least S$2,000 cannot run in Parliamentary elections for five years. As one could easily imagine, the libel suit is a favorite tool in the political arsenal of Singapore's ruling class. One must concede that there is a certain element of poeticism to this form of control. Rather than taking one's political opponents into a small room and shooting them, one sues them until they are reduced to hawking self-penned novels by the side of the street like a crazy old man - as happened to Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam, the first member of an opposition party elected as a member of the Singaporean Parliament.

Then, if some group tries to make a documentary about the tragic plight of such a street-side novelist and decides to call it, hypothetically, "A Vision of Persistence," one need only remind the filmmakers that according to the Films Act in Singapore, it is illegal to make a film which "contains wholly or partly either partisan or biased references to or comments on any political matter," or could be construed as making a comment on "a current policy of the government or an issue of public controversy" - though, of course, the prime minister can also ban any film whatsoever at any time at his utmost discretion.

Addendum: the possession of "obscene films" is also a crime, carrying a fine of S$1,000 per film, though prostitution itself is not illegal in Singapore.

More unsettling than the thought that a cursory scan of my hard-drive by a police officer would result in about S$500,000 worth of fines, however, is the total apathy of the younger generation here to their seemingly unnoticed plight.

So as not to seem negative, I've got to mention that the National University of Singapore student body has the Huskies whipped in terms of athleticism and entrepreneurialism. One cannot seem to take three steps on this campus without passing a horde of toned bodies or flat tummies - nor can one get from one class to another without being bombarded with offers to purchase roses for their loved ones, sweets for their friends, or tickets to student plays and dances.

However, there's almost nothing here in the way of student debate societies or political groups. Not that there isn't more than ample soil for an advocacy group to grow in. Prostitution is legalized in this nation, yet there are no feminist protests. Pornography is illegal, yet there are no free-speech advocates. Possession of a gram of marijuana might not even get you a night in jail in certain cities in the U.S. - Boulder, Colorado, cough cough - yet the U.S. has spawned "Students for Sensible Drug Policy." Meanwhile, in a nation with the highest per-capita execution rate in the world - where the vast majority of executions are drug-related - there is nary a whimper of protest raised.

Of course, I don't expect anyone in the U.S. to care at all about the political apathy of Singaporeans. As Jimmy Buffet would say, "It's their own damn fault." The unsettling implication is what their silence might mean for, well, all of us. Why don't Singaporeans complain when minor drug pushers are straight-up hanged, or when is added to a national block list? Mostly, it's because things are pretty good here. Singapore is extremely clean, extremely safe and extremely wealthy. No one gets worked up over Presidential elections - even when they're entirely canceled by the Presidential Election Commission - because what does it matter? "The Father" will take care of things, anyway.

It's part of the American value-system to believe the rest of the world is chomping at the bit for their chance for democracy and personal freedom - but really, one has to wonder how many in the Third World want to emulate America's rights and how many really just want to emulate America's economics. The Singaporeans seem to have settled this question for themselves and the answer is not what John Locke would have hoped. One has to ask oneself what the truth is even here, in the homeland of Thomas Jefferson - what price do Americans affix to their freedoms? Is a couple hundred dollars from an Economic Stimulus plan enough to buy them off? If not that, then how about a vague assurance of freedom from terrorism?

It's the romantic view to believe that everyone burns with a deep-seated desire for freedom and political rights, but it often seems more accurate to assume that everyone burns with need for an iPod and a Corolla.

Weekly Columnist Bryan Murphy is a 4th-semester economics major currently studying abroad in Singapore. His column appears on Friday. He can be reached at


Anonymous said...

if mr murphy continues to write in this vein, his student visa will be cancelled pretty quickly!

but how sad, it takes a foreigner to raise these observations.

Anonymous said...

Singaporeans know all of this, but are too afraid to raise the "unwanted attention" of their government.

Say, are all of their government ministers Singaporeans themselves?

'A government that bullies its own people through seemingly harmless torturous actions is as good as a dictatorship. And one that will bring the whole country down.'

That's it. And what you get is what you asked for.

After all, what can you expect in the arena of fiercely-fought politics?

Anonymous said...

Just a bit of history about the Palestinians, like the one mentioned:

In the 1920's there were 20,000 Arabs in the land of Israel.

Later, when the British ruled the land, they gave land to Arabs (who came from Syria,Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia) but when Jews asked to settle on the land the British wanted ownership proof.

Today, millions of Arabs claim ownership on the land of Israel.

Expat said...

A telling anecdote: a group of Singaporeans, members of a wholly unpolitical association, were asked to write a letter to the editor of the Straits Times. None of the locals were willing to do so despite the anodine subject of the opinion letter. They explained to me that they feared repercussions at work even though many worked for private companies.

Singapore works, but only because of one man. I fear that when MM dies, the government will collapse in an orgy of infighting and money-grabbing.

Anonymous said...

Asians, Chinese, mentality is to remain selfishly reclined in an oppressive society. The contrary is many Singaporeans are western educated and deploys western management styles in companies.

This economic crisis is a great opportunity. When many lost jobs and cannot see the future, then there is a possibility to see changes.

Singapore is going backwards with the influx of lower spectrum 3rd world Asians. Compared to the 50s and 60s, the only word to describe the existing population is 'retard'.