Wednesday, March 5, 2008

"Mas Selamat" does not exist

(Please don't take the above headline literally...)

I had been preparing to write about the transsexuality and transgenderism and their relationship with the moral rhetoric. I had also wanted to write about the meaning of “scholar” and “scholarship” in Singapore. But I guess there is no point talking about the unmaterialised and the invisible.

In Singapore, however, there is reason and motivation to talk about the invisible, namely one Mas Selamat Kastari.

Knowing that a dangerous man has escaped will definitely be a cause for concern for most who treasure being safe. Other than that, I am not very concerned about Mas Selamat the man, but Mas Selamat the concept.

But first, as a citizen, the efficient and truthful delivery and dissemination of information matters to me. In a social contract and obligation with the state of the nation which identifies itself as Singapore, I identify myself as a Singaporean and I have given up certain liberties to enjoy the safety and security measures the state has striven to take.

The only means by which my want for information can be satiated is an efficient and truthful answering of questions by the Home Affairs Ministry and the government. As an ordinary citizen, under the obligated care of the state, I believe I have the right to know all the accounts of ISD personnel on that fateful day, I have the right to see the security footage which serves as proof and substantiation of these accounts, I have the right to know the physical condition of Mas Selamat, a fellow Singaporean, prior to his escape, and I have the right to ask further questions and be entertained.

The withholding of information should not be justified by the internal/independent investigation process. If a dangerous man has escaped confinement or incarceration, the following questions should be promptly addressed:

1) When did he escape?
2) How did he escape?
3) What did he wear when he escaped?

And all of the above should be supported with video and photographic evidence. Without that, Singaporeans will speculate because Singaporeans are not media illiterate cultural dopes. Remember the case of Dave Teo Ming?

There will be (audacious) speculation, which will be more than unnecessary:

1) As to whether he is already dead and the whole incident is made up for whatever purpose.
2) News of his escape is aimed towards baiting other supporters and terrorists.
3) This is just a nationwide “firedrill”.

Now, moving on from here, I am more focused on "Mas Selamat" the concept.

I actually gave up reading the newspapers as early as the third day of his escape. I have observed that most of the interviews and opinions gathered are either from central public figures or ordinary Singaporeans.

Jean Baudrillard wrote the book ‘The Gulf War Did Not Take Place’. And the whole escape saga and accompanying (mainstream and internet) media frenzy reminded me of Baudrillard’s work, but of course after much stretching.

Conceptually, Mas Selamat does not exist. Conceptually, his escape did not take place. In essence, Mas Selamat and his escape are constructed. What the layperson knows of him is a constitution of imaginations, which are fed by messages disseminated by the media. Do you want press releases and opinions for information, or would you rather have accounts for information?

The state and media constructions of the episode are essential to the layperson’s understanding of the episode – of Mas Selamat and his escape. His profile is one that has been created in the wake of an allegedly true incident. He is a short ethnic minority, who limps and is very dangerous – a dark-skinned man who can survive in the woods given his training in the country known as Afghanistan, and Afghanistan is subject to the geographical imaginings of people who are exposed to globalised news media.

The creation of the “folk devil” is essential too. It will contribute to further legitimise the ISA and increased surveillance in the country. At the same time, it serves to unite Singaporeans, creating this siege/bunker mentality that has so often been articulated in rhetoric of Singapore being a small nation with no natural resources, Singapore being the Israel of Southeast Asia and so on.

By “creating” an air of uncertainty, you unite the herd of sheep under one central leadership and authority. A unity, whether at the level of the conscious, unconscious, or both, is good enough to deflect attention away from other issues that confront the Singaporean dream. The rhetoric will be, “Yes, we can carry on with our lives, but we must be vigilant. Thus our understanding of and direction towards pragmatism will be enframed by the value and virtues of vigilance”.

The media is also cautious in reporting the incident. The dominant status quo remains that way because it does not have the intestinal fortitude for media panics, unless these panics are aimed at marginalised persons and peoples that pose a threat to the norms and values of the establishment.

On a side note, media relations, on the part of the authorities, should also be critiqued. I am not surprised members of the task forces assigned and mobilised to conduct the investigation and search for the wanted man, are instructed to say "no comment" when approached by journalists and leave the answering of questions to the trained media experts of the organisation. And of course, a gag order/"no blogging about it" will have probably been imposed on personnel associated with the incident, investigation and search. Ultimately, another question will be raised: Which is more important, the image and legitimacy of the state authority or the safety of citizens?

“Mas Selamat” is not real and will continue to be unreal until Singaporeans see the video footages of his escape and hear the truthful and unedited accounts of personnel overseeing his confinement and wellbeing.

The secret police is simply becoming more secretive.

I recommend a little more prompt honesty and transparency on the part of the paternal state.

And I also hope, other than wanting the man to be found, that such people will rethink their violent and terrorist tactics. Then again, terrorism is a reflection of how legitimate "'in'-group" society conducts itself.


Agagooga said...

What good will photographic and video evidence do?

Ceci n'est pas une pipe

Sam Ho said...

i had to google that - "this is not a pipe".

we are a visual society any way.

bob said...

even b4 i read your article , i already thot it to be that way. remember that politic is very dirty.

bob said...

Any evidence regardless photo or videos are welcum.......... at least we can say , we sporeans are transparent.

Sam Ho said...

sorry for the late reply, transparency is what is needed to appease and shut up most singaporeans.

at least with photos and videos of mas selamat, we'll know that he exists and was alive at the time of escape. it will also quell conspiracy theories that he's already dead.