Friday, September 18, 2009

Combing the Mane of Singanews for Lice

This is probably old news. Buzz, mainly of suspicious nature, recently surrounded Singanews.

Like many issues, they have a lifespan, and apparently the interest and discussions have slightly withered away, given how they have appeared to gather full momentum a few days ago.

As with any cyberspace-based discourse, we find ourselves negotiating an ecosystem of facts, subjective truths, cynicism, one-upmanship, and of course, speculation.

The Online Citizen has provided an "About Singanews" factsheet earlier in the week, reproduced at the permission of CEO Mathew Yap. It can be accessed here (http://theonlinecitizen.com/2009/09/about-singanews/). Do note that Singanews has referenced Goh Chok Tong's 1997 Singapore 21 Vision as a probably inspiration of its launch.

One gripe some Singaporeans have with Singanews is that they believe the news portal might be a sheepskin for a Christian movement, one that probably has doses of puritanism, conservatism and righteousness too high for others to accept, or even respect.

A point of contention remains in the rhetoric of "mainstream values", of which Matthew Yap already has elaborated in an interview with The New Paper as one includes, or stars, a "generational, natural family which focuses on procreation".

While the conflation of "family" and "procreation" is not entirely exclusive to Christianity, it suggests many things about a possible conservative agenda. By conservative, I refer to sexual conservatism, a system of beliefs often under the guise of a general term like "conservative" or "mainstream values".

This form of sexual disciplining ignores its own history in Victorian puritanism, from which Western conservative ideas of body and sexual discipling derive. And here we are, Asians appropriating these values as if they were indigenous to us when it was Western Christianity which had colonised our minds.

What my Christian friends will see as truth and the right way of life, I see a disregard for history and cultural circumstances. An open mind will come to realise the extent to which Western Christianity has been borrowed into the discourse of "Asian values".

Yes, even I have joined the bandwagon of speculation, as it is evident how inevitable I bring religion into the launch of a news portal.

For the record, the soft launch on September 9 was private and so was the event at which it was launched. It is unfortunate that news of it broke into the mainstream.

I feel it is a little ironic that a champion of mainstream values did not want mainstream attention.

Nevertheless, we could recognise it to be a small humble launch at a small humble event attended by a small humble crowd. We could recognise that a portal foundationed on "mainstream values" may want to consult a section of society that supported this moral agenda. After all, the discourse of "mainstream values" cuts across many segments of society.

Given Chinese Christian connections, a demographical convenience, we could recognise that it would be easy to reach out to the converted, and there would not be much of a burden for the launch to be part of such an event. In that view, there is nothing wrong with that. After all, those who have done events, should know that the success of events depends a lot on connections and convenience.

Say if there was a socially liberal news portal to be launched, it will probably want the opinions and consultation of a private audience of a particular demography too.

What is slightly unsettling is the fact that we will never know, despite official releases and explanations from Singanews representatives, that there is a Christian agenda.

Reasons for such suspicion are aplently. We will never be able to see a salient Christian agenda, because it might be entangled with moral discourses on gender norms, sexuality, secular pro-life politics, secular/multi-religious ideas of what constitutes a family, and so on. Hence, a discourse on "mainstream values" will always be suspected of harbouring a Christian agenda.

At the same time, we could be wrong in giving Christianity in Singapore too much credit, as not every narrative is a euphemism for Christian doctrine. We could be wrong in speculating that it might be a Christian agenda to unite other religions in Singapore, by highlighting certain commonalities in beliefs and values, and steering this ad hoc alliance towards or against specific issues - we could be wrong in suggesting a Christian lynchpin in these affairs.

Christianity and Christian faith in Singapore has been re-articulated, re-rationalised, and in simple terms, evolved. I believe it has even entered the lives and mindsets of non-Christian Singaporeans. After all, some of us think in English, some of us mingle with Christian friends, some of us watch television programmes.

Christians themselves have also articulated their Christian faith as not merely a religion, but a relationship with the biblical god. Christian faith is also re-articulated as a familial entity, which of course is not exclusive to them.

With monotheism, there is "monotruth", singular truth, truth with the capital T, wherein capitalisation in the English language indicates importance, like how most of us, Christian and non-Christian, have come to capitalise "god". (ooo, capitalise "god". it is a pun that explores many possibilities, but I don't think I shall delve into that.)

Monotheists believe in one truth, and there have been different manifestations across time and space. We used to excommunicate, prosecute, punish or kill those who do not subscribe to the one truth. Given modernisation, nationalism and immigration, a new politics of multireligiosity, multiculturalism, entities so crucial to the economic sustenance and progress of a country like Singapore, we discard this bloody history for newer ways of propagating the "monotruth".

I believe the acceptance of other faiths (and the faith-less) is not what it seems. Amidst the political correctness, I believe there is some degree of condescension and begrudgement. It is here where religion, the institution, attempts to lay claim over "knowledge" and "truth", whatever they are. The stakeholders are every individual's faith.

It is under the circumstances of our informal Christian/non-Christian contact with Christianity that makes us less able to challenge specific discourses. We are thus more like to dismiss suspicion because a specific issue appears to us as a concern for all, and not only a Christian thing. The entwinement of Christian doctrine and politics with mainstream politics becomes unproblematic, therefore appearing to be natural and authentic social issue for the multicultural masses.

This is why some Singaporeans are suspicious of Singanews. They see something that some of us don't. They are asking questions some of us cannot even think of asking. I believe the problem does not start with us not knowing the answers, but rather us not even knowing what to ask at all.

For me, a Christian Chinese elite (elite as in relatively privileged socio-economic status and fairly educated) discourse on "mainstream values" raises a lot of alarm bells. To put it crudely, but not intending any disrespect, it is a wolf in sheep's clothing. We are accustomed and rather warm towards the rhetoric of "mainstream values", which makes discourse on "mainstream values" a fertile ground for certain entities with desires for hegemony to infiltrate, scavenge, hijack, (re)claim, conquer or crusade.

The discourse on "mainstream values" deserves the participation of non-Chinese Christians too, by the way, and not to forget non-proponents of mainstream values themselves. Everyone, mainstream or subaltern, has a say in it.

Speaking of participation, the existence of Singanews appears as a reaction to the apparent lack of participation of proponents of "mainstream values". Perhaps, this is a genuine problem in Singaporean cyberspace, where it is rather easy to raise your pitchforks and light your torches and do your cyber lynch-mob routine, championing a certain brand of political correctness we dare not whisper in the corporeal world.

Obviously, the people behind Singanews have long felt there is a need for the representation and participation of the "generational family structure", and that the mainstream press is thought to have forgotten about them.

I believe this is a reaction to how growingly globalised and cosmopolitan Singapore is, and the extent to which our government is indirectly allow non-mainstream (or "alternative", as the "mainstream" would like to call it) value systems and identities to proliferate. A clash in values will always put the incumbent on the defence. In a country where we (try) tolerate different races and religion, people continue to feel threatened.

Non-mainstream value systems and identities, that directly contradict perceived mainstream values, are discarded and demoted to "alternative lifestyles", suggesting they are inferior and more flawed.

As the "Values" of Singanews indicate, we seek to "promote truth, peace, compassion and justice". Is this promotion couched in a certain perspective that ignores that presence of other perspectives, that embraces universalism over subjectivity, that passes off a particularly popular and powerful beliefs system as the only beliefs system?

Any how, is the government and the press not "mainstream" enough for Singanews to enter the cosmos of Singaporean journalism?

We need to see for ourselves how legitimate there is a need for this particular brand of "mainstream values" to be part of news reporting. Perhaps, we are truly missing something out. Only time will tell.

I believe Singanews is here because there is a perceived lack of focus on "mainstream values" and the "generational family structure", as well as their representation and participation. That perceived lack might be genuine and that is why I believe we should support Singanews to some extent. However, I still believe this problem is mainly confined to cyberspace discourse.

Perhaps, with Singanews on the internet, we will no longer engage in "liberal" monologues, or outshout websites into closing down.

No matter what the (true) leanings of Singanews, its online presence should provide for more dialogue, even though it might be conservative. It is not wrong to be conservative or liberal (you could be politically liberal and morally conservative any way), and it will always be natural for you to feel your beliefs system is better than others. What matters is that we get to participate and from our participation, we become better informed.

And it is the perceived lack of participation of the "generational family structure" in cyberspace, for one, that makes some of us not so informed, even though we claim to be wiser and seen it all. That is why I welcome Singanews, as it will pave the way for more voices, some of which might support, and some of which might challenge the notion of "mainstream values", revealing many possibilities and positions.

Once Singanews defines and communicates its idea of "mainstream values" through its publications, I am sure there will be invited many other voices to articulate their idea of "mainstream values", because after all, every Singaporean matters, so it says.

We need to give Singanews credit for identifying its moral position, because there are organisations that hide their positions under vague rhetoric.

Any way, in a political climate where we are faced with Islamophobia, some of us Singaporeans have Christianophobia. We see the extent to which Christian doctrine is deeply rooted, entwined, how it appropriates, (re)claims and hijacks certain issues and discourses. Christianophobia in Singapore lies deeper in the areas of ideology and way of thinking. Do we then blame the Christianophobic individuals, or do we start looking at the conditions that led to people becoming suspicious of Christianity in Singapore?

As said, I find it too convenient to link Singanews with the Christian agenda. And this is why I believe my suggestion of self-interrogation for others should also be applied to myself. Unfortunately for many, the self-interrogation of your prejudice is sometimes confined within your prejudice, as it begins with your prejudice and ends with your prejudice. Heck, there is even prejudice and bias when we talk about being fair and gracious, for we are speaking about fairness and graciousness with a certain ideal and from a certain position.

Maybe Singanews could free up a few spaces on the Straits Times previously hogged by one George Lim?

-Add- I am still in camp, doing my reservist training. There will be more from me on this issue, whether or not it is still considered "newsworthy".

And with regards to the title of this article, I am not suggesting anything when I say the following word: Homophone. I realise it's just cheeky, that's all.

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