From the Fringe

450 likes on Facebook. This may offend your political sentiments, but I’ll stand by this.

I’ve had more thoughts on the anti-white paper protest since the weekend, I’ll need to write it down into a slightly longer piece. But here’s what I posted on Facebook that got passed around a fair bit.

Point is, Singapore is at an interesting stage in our politics and civil society and it’s going to take a while to smooth out the kinks. Where I stand is, I don’t think, extreme in any way — but the values of race and inclusion are very, very important to me, and sometimes that is perceived to be too pro-immigration.


I was told today that I lacked moral courage for not going to the protest; that I was merely a keyboard warrior. I was also told ‘see? no racist or xenophobic speeches!’

Hmm, let’s see…

1. I have volunteered for years with the opposition and I have been on the frontline of elections. What have you done for your country except to happily throw it into the dustbin of nativist trope?

2. The political figures and figures on the political periphery (cannot confuse the two as there were too many political also-rans and wannabes best kept out of Parliament) involved should know what associating with Gilbert Goh means. I am especially heartbroken because some of these figures also purport to be the only party to stand for ‘human rights’; the other because it was inaccurately portrayed to be THE xenophobic party due to the unfortunate former membership and candidacy of said event organizer.

3. There has been a lot of moral relativism around today’s protest. There should be none. Someone said Gilbert’s stance is a lesser boo boo than the PAP’s bigger boo boos. Or something similarly puerile to that effect.

The only boo boo there is is that there should be any moral relativism at all. The racial profiling of the foreigners among us is vile and must be condemned unequivocally. There is no intellectual or high brow anything to this. It is basic human dignity.

Associating with someone like Gilbert Goh, a mere demagogue and an opportunistic one at that, merely cheapens the cause you and I both care very much for: how we can find an alternative to the White Paper which we believe will spell disaster for Singapore.

4. Some of you attended and said you needed to be there to (1) express your disagreement against the White Paper (2) shout down the xenophobes. It is regretful we have an impaired democracy in which a citizen finds he or she cannot sufficiently be heard except by gathering in one sanctioned park. It is even more regretful this democracy is so impaired that bright men and women consider the right to assembly and to be heard more valuable than the demagoguery involved.

5. My allegiance to The Cause has been questioned because I refuse to toe the ‘us vs them’ line of reasoning. I am old enough to remember the extreme political repression of the generation before us, but not old enough or idealistic enough to buy into the ‘anything, anyone but the PAP’ school of thought. I am a patriot first and an opposition supporter second. I am worried by the perception that not buying into the lock stock and barrel of all anti-PAP rhetoric necessarily means one is a traitor, spy, mole or PAP agent (I have been accused of all of the above).

Addendum: the more I do this stuff the more I think we need to grow the opposition not because I hate the ruling party. But because when they stop being the best guys for the job (and they’re starting to seriously show signs of that), I don’t want this country to descend into the mob. It’s capacity and the long game we need to build, not the Tan Jee Say REJECT EVERYTHING model. I will now actively seek out an organization which better fits this worldview.

5 thoughts on “From the Fringe”

  1. Ah right, the protest which you have “publicly disowned” and wanted to keep it as Gilbert Goh’s “own self racist own self nut job event and keep Singaporeans out of it”.

    But we turned out in force, and we stood there for various issues – minimum wage, income inequality, anti-xenophobia and most of all, we were there because it’s the only place we can exercise our inalienable right: Freedom of speech. It’s a pity you couldn’t see that the issues at stake here are bigger than your ego.

  2. “I am a patriot first and an opposition supporter second” who is “not old enough or idealistic enough to buy into the ‘anything, anyone but the PAP’ school of thought.” Too few understand that there is a necessary difference, and necessary separation, between patriotism and affiliation, and too many of those look to 2016 as a Magic Switch™ that will make everything all better. Much as I look forward to a post-PAP Government, I don’t doubt the patriotism of my (several) friends who are passionately pro-PAP, who see it as the only “viable” option. (Those who merely see it as the “least bad available option” might be won over before the GE.)

    One of the things we are going to have to do, as a nation, is to learn how to have profound disagreements that we debate and argue over, without doubting the other’s patriotism or sincerity. The American people have forgotten that in recent decades, and it has cost them their country. Singapore cannot afford the same mistake. If we are to have a country that is of and for all its people, and is not simply waiting for some would-be despot to foment divisions among people who look different, speak differently, pray differently, think differently… we need to learn something more than just “the most powerful hammer wins” or “the ones who shout the loudest win” or “the ones who make the most dangerous threats against others win”. Otherwise, we might as well be what I’ve been hearing people call for openly in recent years, that Singapore become a province of China. That’s fear talking; or (misguided) desire for rule by an iron fist; or something — but it’s not patriotism; it’s not saying “what can we all do to live together, so this country and its people don’t all fail together”.

    That doesn’t mean “let’s all rally behind this strong leader or that party”; that means let’s figure out how to live as a community of Singaporeans of different experiences and opinions and so on, while treating the visitors and foreigners among us as humanely as possible while working to figure out how we can do for ourselves, what we can do for ourselves.

    To quote a politician of another relatively new-at-the-time country who was working hard to keep his colleagues from (often quite literally) coming to blows, “if we do not all hang together, we shall each hang separately”. To which he could have added “and this nation we have fought for will be no more”. That’s not a unique experience, unfortunately.

    Well written. Let’s see if people can pay attention.

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