Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Singapore as a sporting nation versus National Service as the destroyer of sporting dreams

I previously discussed about National Service being a stumbling block to male Singaporean athletes, and now feel it is worth exploring some related issues now that the Youth Olympic Games have come to a close and that we will be having some football academy (we already have a handful by the way).

I am also reminded of the news concerning the footballing kids of Fandi Ahmad, a footballing hero of Singapore, and the dilemma the family would face when his sons grow old enough to enlist to serve the nation.

It is very ironic that we hear news of another football academy being established in the island-nation, knowing that the most crucial parts of a footballer's professional career are spent doing National Service. Top athletes maintain a strict diet and training regime with ample amounts of rest, and if that were to be followed, they surely cannot perform any National Service duties.

Footballers have to train everyday. Time is not only spent on individual level training, like fitness and skills, but also tactical team training, friendlies and competitive games, among many others. You need rest and also a focused mind. That is the life of a professional athlete.

The Singaporean government can try all it wants to develop Singapore into a sporting hub, but its own infrastructure is its undoing. National Service robs many an athlete his dreams. It figures prominently in the vicious cycle that will cripple the country's (professional) sporting culture.

Because an athlete's life from age 18-21 are surrendered for the national cause, attention is often focused on sports in which young champions can be created. When attention is given to the particular sport, combined with the emergence of young champions, funding for the particular sport will all the more be justified.

As for sports deprived of the necessary national funding, they enter the vicious cycle of underachievement and never producing the champions the country want. Even if they do manage to nurture a teenager into a potential world-beater, National Service will ruin this continuity.

Deferment from National Service is result and goal-oriented. If a young athlete has not achieved enough in his fledgeling sporting career, he will have to stop everything and serve National Service. During National carrying out his National Service responsibilities, and that is not a desirable scenario for many a sportsman. He will never be able to turn professional as a result, and his sporting dream is lost.

Different sports have different life spans, and have different training methods and all, but they share common characteristics in training. To be a successful athlete, or rather, to be an athlete in a better position of achievement, you need to have physical, technical and mental training. We do not have the infrastructure to develop world class male athletes because National Service does not provide athletes with these types of training, and more over, the school system is changing too slowly to nurture young sporting talents.

Take tennis for example. While most tennis players around the world are entering the circuit at the ages 17-20, earning ranking points, and some money that would go back into their training and enrichment, Singaporean tennis players enter National Service and hopefully get to train with the tennis teams of the army, navy, air force, police force and civil defence. They are shortchanged.

Even the reality of National Service looming on the horizon on many a budding athlete's teenhood, can compel a boy to end his sporting career before he even begins it. To be fair, National Service cannot take full responsibility here, because we also have the school system and prevailing employment practices that overemphasise paper qualifications and frame achievement in terms of grades rather than progress, and even progress is measured by grades.

Still, National Service being a permanent fixture in many a Singaporean male's life, can become a mental stumbling block for budding athletes. Most probably rationalise that the sporting route is not the best for them, and either put in sufficient effort to see them through their teenhood and get a couple of school medals, or give up sports altogether.

A young athlete already has to make many sacrifices. These necessary sacrifices are for them to be in the physical and mental condition to be a winner. If the government truly wants to support these athletes, grant them the long National Service deferment they need.

The government fails to understand many things about sports:
1) That for many sports, the ages 16 to 20 are few of the most important years of an athlete's lives.
2) Some athletes bloom later, but require the training and competitive experience in their younger years. If they don't perform up to standards in their earlier years, they have less grounds for deferment.
3) That some athletes have to be based overseas and regularly travel for training and competition purposes. They need funding and they definitely need a long deferment.

It is very odd that as Singapore strives to be a serious sporting nation with promising and successful athletes, we have a counter-intuitive counter-balance entity that is National Service which throws many spanners in the works of the development of most male athletes.

I personally want to see male Singaporeans in the English Premier League or Spanish Primera Liga, in the tennis top 100, fighting in UFC, MMA tournaments, boxing, Muay Thai etc., because these are few of my sporting interests and it would be really great if I could see a fellow Singaporean doing something special in these domains.

The government is just putting the cart before the horse when it is doing all it can, pumping in shit-loads of money and setting up academies and what not, but failing to realise that National Service is the major stumbling block for many male athletes. Furthermore, its tiered funding for various sports, which is prioritised by level of importance, is too wonky and does not take into consider the problem that is National Service.

Speaking of level of importance, funding is probably contingent on sporting achievement and potential for achievement and growth. DUH?! All sports actually have the potential for achievement (creating champions) and growth, but consider the mental and professional sporting impact National Service poses to most male athletes.

In view of this, funding and attention, as mentioned, is usually directed at sports that have young champions (pre-National Service age). That is result is the rationality that more money should be directed at these particular sports, all the more improving the possibilities of creating more young champions, reinforcing that these sports are more viable in Singapore, at the expense of other sports that might require more "patience" and understanding.

At the same time, what kind of message do these decisions send to male budding athletes? That we want immediate success before you enter National Service?

If National Service is made optional or can be deferred for longer period of time, athletes and their parents will rationalise differently. Sporting associations will rationalise differently. We will have a slightly different attitude towards sports. To be fair again, we also need changes in the school system and other areas for a larger and more positive change in attitude.

The compulsoriness of National Service parallels the compulsoriness of religion, or the compulsoriness of gender binarism or heterosexuality. It is there and we do not question it. Since we do not question, we take it to be a given, and our lives are oriented around it, all the more legitimising it and therefore reinforcing its presence, relevance and institution.

It is not only male athletes, but also male musicians, artists and performers, male entrepreneurs and others who lose 2 value years of their youths. Remember, the Beatles spent 2 years in Hamburg. Roger Federer took 5 years as a professional tennis player to win his first major aged 22. Steve Jobs founded Apple aged 21.

I don't know about the true sentiments of male Singaporean athletes, but I feel many of them have been shortchanged by the system. I believe some even have the government turning its back on them.

If the government truly and genuinely wants to nurture athletes, why does Fandi Ahmad have some reservations pertaining to his sons' futures in Singapore and National Service? There can be a better case scenario.

Our male athletes deserve better. In the mean time, we can all just follow women's table tennis.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Lay(person)ing the law: Section 377A's constitutionality

I am neither a lawyer nor legally trained. Some more, social studies was not examinable when I was in secondary school (good old Singaporean excuse). However, I am often perplexed at what I believe to be a great incongruity between our Singaporean Constitution and statutory laws. Please correct me if I am wrong! Much appreciated, because I'm still learning.

From what I understand, the constitutional law, or the Constitution, lays down the foundations for justice and other laws. It defines, although rather generally and vaguely, the terms and boundaries for government, including the rights of citizens.

The statutory law on the other hand, is created by the legislature (all the people in Parliament, right? Well, almost all), with a view to maintain peace and justice, and based on and also well within the principles and guidelines of the Constitution. These laws created by the legislature represent the legislature's interpretation of what is and will be good for the well-being of citizens and stability of the country. Technically, the judiciary interprets the statutory law and the executive (the government or Cabinet plus President, is that right?) will enforce it.

All three parties, legislature, judiciary and executive are technically separate entities. However, in Singapore's case, the legislature is overwhelmingly PAP (thanks to democracy, the GRC system and gerrymandering under the rubric of minority representation which is basically racial politics), and because of that, can easily pass laws aligned with their political ideology. The passing of laws require a democratic voting process in Parliament, and democracy is fully exploited here when you have like-minded (or party whipped) individuals in the house.

Furthermore, the Cabinet (which comprises the executive along with the President) determines the legislative agenda of Parliament, signifying a rather close and unequal relationship between the executive and legislature. The President, meanwhile, will act on the advice of the Cabinet, and according to political critics, is believed to be subsumed under the authority of the Cabinet (it's not true "on paper" and "by right"). For example, look at the calls for presidential clemency for Yong Vui Kong, and the reason given by the judiciary.

Any way, I have a very limited layman understanding of the technicality of government. I just want to establish, as a layperson, my view that some (statutory) laws appear to be outside our constitutional boundaries, indicating that something is amiss in the decision-making and law-passing processes of the legislature.

According to (not so reliable) internet sources and friends, the Constitution also acts to prevent the evils/excesses of democracy. For example, 51% of citizens can technically vote to kill off the other 49%, but the Constitution is there to ensure that this is not abused. I learned (not from secondary school though) that the constitution is there for minority protection. However, democracy ceases when we have a predominantly PAP legislature convening to cast a two-thirds majority vote to pass certain laws. Although the passing of laws is done with what the legislature believes is for the good of Singapore, it is done by a single-minded entity with perhaps limited discussion and deliberation, and any vigorous debate will merely constitute a formality or a newsworthy spectacle (see the Casino parliamentary soap opera).

For example, the Constitution (and I will continue to specifically refer to Part IV of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore, which states our fundamental liberties) states that we all have a right to equal protection and freedom of religion, among other rights. And the legislature, in view of this, has rightly created statutory laws to protect, for instance, people's freedom to practice any religion (sorry for the Jehovah's Witnesses).

So, we have Chapter XV (Offences Relating To Religion Or Race) of the Penal Code, designed, passed and implemented to ensure that people can freely practise their religions and have protection from having their "religious feelings" "injured" or "wounded". The various decisions/actions of inheritance (from British colonial laws), maintenance, amendments, creation and repealing are political processes indicative of what the legislature feels is relevant to the governing of Singapore.

All the Ministers (of the Cabinet) take the oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of Singapore. And that is probably why the Constitution cannot be easily amended, simply because, like religion, it cannot be questioned by ordinary persons. The President also has his hands tied because his powers are often contingent on his "consultation" with the Cabinet.

Any way, there are many statutory laws that appear to limit and curtail Singaporeans' constitutional rights. For example, to exercise your constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression, you have to apply for permits or risk being arrested. There are also out-of-bound markers established to limit this constitutional right. Moreover, sometimes when you speak, the police encircle you and prevent you from speaking, rather than surround you to protect you and defend your constitutional right. In another example, to exercise your constitutional right to peaceful assembly, you need a permit again, or what you do would constitute an unlawful assembly, no matter how peaceful it is. When government blacklisted people assemble, their constitutional rights appear to be stripped away from them when the police surround them to prevent them from assembling peacefully. The constitutional idea of "peaceful" is again interpreted by the executive and legislative, which is why certain laws are passed that (un)fortunately limits your constitutional rights.

I would like to focus on constitutionality of the statutory law on consensual sex between 2 men. Actually, I had wanted to also discuss marital rape, but that would involve a discussion of the need for Singaporean law to honour and protect the importance and sanctity of consent.

Well, let's just discuss consent first then. I believe one of the fundamental principles of having a law in place is to honour and protect consent. I'm not sure whether there is any mention, hint or metaphor (currently the hot keyword these few days) relating to the idea of consent.

But the principle of consent runs deep in most statutory laws. At the basic level, there are laws, rules and codes of ethics in different domains that determine the boundaries of consent, namely who are the people who are capable of giving consent. By order of elimination, taking away minors, teenagers, persons with certain degrees of learning disabilities and handicap, very elderly folks, persons with mental disorders, and NS-liable Singaporeans, we more or less know who are recognised by the law to be able to grant consent.

The rest of the "incapable of giving consent" people are deemed incapable of giving consent due mainly to their mental and emotional aptitude, but in the case of NS-liable Singaporeans, the state entirely removes the need for consent.

The idea of "consent" is as much an ethical idea as it is a legal idea. At the level of the law, the reason why it is wrong to kill someone is not only does it reduce productivity and disrupt economic progress (according to the PAP government), it is wrong because the killed did not want to be killed in the first place. No one wants to be killed, or with respect to other crimes, robbed. There is no consent given. That we have laws in place to prohibit murder and robbery, show that the law is (sometimes) aligned with what is deemed ethical. What is ethically right, may be legally wrong, vice versa; and for the case of robbery, what is legally wrong is also ethically wrong.

In the case of adult males having consensual sex, its criminalisation firstly does not honour the principle of consent. A morally right/correct exchange is deemed a legal wrong.

At the next well, compared with consensual sex between an adult male and adult female, the criminalisation of consensual sex between adult males is indicative that some Singaporeans have more rights than others. This is discrimination from a statutory law, and is not aligned with the Constitution. If all Singaporeans are equal, and that the principle of consent is preserved and consistent across all segments of adult Singaporeans who are deemed by law capable of granting consent, there would be no statutory law that has discriminatory treatment of Singaporeans who engage in adult consensual homosexual intercourse or adult consensual heterosexual intercourse.

The criminalisation of adult consensual homosexual intercourse, under Section 377A of the Penal Code, is indicative that self-identified homosexual Singaporeans (or residents in Singapore) are either deemed incapable of giving consent, or that the principle of "consent" does not apply to non-heterosexuals. Either way, how is this justified constitutionally?

I believe even the argument on the grounds of culture and values cannot hold water, given that the Constitution is there to protect minorities, and minorities also have diverse cultures and values, differently from those that have been said to inform the creation and development of law. Surely law-makers cannot be held ransom by influential persons from alleged "majority" cultures and values, or can they?

Technically, from what I learned from a lawyer friend, the legislature may create a law, but the judiciary can choose not to act on it. In Singapore's case, the government (executive) has said that while Section 377A is there, it will not be actively enforced, if I am not wrong. With this, we will never know if the judiciary will ever consider it criminal for 2 men who are brought to court for adult consensual homosexual intercourse.

Apart from debating the constitutionality of Section 377A, is it even constitutional for the executive to enforce this law (based on the implications on equality as decreed by the Constitution)?

I believe the crime is sexual violence and assault, because these items are non-consensual. Like rape, the victim is deemed by law to be a non-consenting party and deserves protection. I cannot wrap my mind around the idea that consensual adult homosexual intercourse (that does not concern me or my family) is criminal.

Another principle of the law, I believe, is to protect people from harm. Consensual adult homosexual intercourse (in the private domain, because public sex is illegal) does not in any way harm people in the public domain. How can consensual adult homosexual intercourse ever be justified harmful to the country and citizens other than the two persons involved, enough to be criminal? It does not affect internal security (unless Christian fundamentalists, a minority by the way, storm Parliament or enter Parliament based on merit), neither does it affect national security.

The government (executive) has continually justified its stance by saying that the law reflects the values of Singaporeans. True. What I learned in the increasingly overcrowded National University of Singapore is that the law is the aspirations and ideals of a society.

Sociologically, a society is often times governed in the interests of specific groups. These groups can be politically, socially and economically influential. They could also be capable of violence and that being in power all the more grants them greater privileges of violence. The two said groups may also overlap. When the law is created, amended or retained, it is a political process within the discourse(s) of the these powerful groups.

For instance, if the PAP government sees harmonious multiculturalism and multireligiosity as integral to national unity and peace, it will create, amend and retain laws to ensure this vision stays on track.

The very fact that the PAP government omits sexual citizenship and rights, is indicative that it is unwilling to recognise the constitutional rights of LGBT Singaporeans. At the same time, its inaction in addressing the constitutional rights of LGBT Singaporeans is reflective of certain pressures it faces from segments of the citizenry.

The protection of the constitutional rights of anti-LGBT Singaporeans cannot be extended to the discrimination of LGBT Singaporeans and the criminalisation of consensual adult homosexual intercourse. This is morally wrong and (constitutionally) legally wrong.

At the same time, the law, inherited from Colonial rule, cannot be and should not informed by a couple of religious beliefs, because self-professed secularly legal Singapore is multireligious, which means while we may have spaces dedicated for religion, no single religion can have 100% say and take priority in governance in the public domain (unless they threaten violence as we have seen in other countries).

Unless of course, multireligiosity is all rhetoric and do not really mean anything as codified in the Constitution. Worse, even if it means something, does this mean that non-religious Singaporeans have one less Constitutional right and have one less reason for the government to protect them, than Singaporeans with religion? I mean, since non-religious Singaporeans are deemed by the law to have little-to-no "religious feelings" worth injuring, are they thus not worth protecting.

I hope not only the LGBT community bear the responsibility of questioning Section 377A's constitutionality, but also heterosexually-identified Singaporeans. We know so little of our constitutional rights, and education is oriented towards the visibility of statutory laws affecting daily lives, at the expense of the Constitution. People do not realise the extent to which some of their constitutional rights are being curtailed by certain statutory laws and the state's interpretation of some of them. These have to be continually questioned and I believe the state has a responsibility to listen and address these questions.

Maybe an expert of constitutional law can shed some light on the incongruity between statutory law and constitutional law. We could turn to Professor Thio Li-Ann.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Using guns and cuffs for communications management in Singapore

The best communications manager is not someone who has media and communications training, or a relevant degree, but someone with a gun and with the power to do things to you against your will.

Never mind our past. Let us focus on the affairs of today. Following the arrest of Abdul Malik Mohammed Ghazali for posting his disagreement with the Youth Olympic Games, obviously embarrassing the organisers, albeit using metaphors to which the authorities (over)read to be inciting violence and public disorder, another person Abdillah Zamzuri has been called in for questioning related to his comments in cyberspace.

More shocking, he is identified as a police NSman. Come on, it is not even his full-time job!

It is reported that Abdillah has been called in by his police unit for questioning over his disagreement with how the police had handled the handcuffing of the journalist during the great Bukit Timah floods. It is also indicated that Abdillah had written that the police officer concerned "acted stupidly".

More can be read here.

It is definitely a no-no for NSmen to talk about their training and exercises in the armed forces, civil defence and police force. They also should not reveal their rank and responsibilities as these bits of information can affect operations (especially in the armed forces and police force).

But when it comes to criticising, I feel it is perfectly fine to do so. Sometimes it is important to let the main stakeholders (i.e. ordinary Singaporeans) to be in the know of such criticisms, and they can collectively demand better standards. This is because, not many Singaporeans are Ministers, or Lee Kuan Yew, and they cannot effect change as a unit.

It is also very unfortunate, that even the idea of "rallying together and vote them out" suggested by Malik (in his YOG criticism) is construed by the authorities not as a completely legal democratic process, but one that constitutes incitement to public disorder. This is utterly perplexing and embarrassing.

Obviously, our authorities have an issue with public opinion. Rather than direct resources to improve standards and address their own shortcomings, they resort to force and intimidation to manage their image (which ironically backfires). They use physical, legal and psychological mechanisms to "manage" communications!

There are whispers that the internal security department (ISD) is also actively following people on the internet and such, but I am sure some of the people they follow actually contribute to democratic process, rather than pose security threats. Bombs and violent ideologies pose security threats, but not pro-Singapore pro-democracy Singaporeans.

Back to communications, the government and relevant authorities, especially since we're an Asian country (just to indulge in some essentialism for a bit), value "face" a lot. Having good public opinion about you matters. But sometimes they fail to understand that poor public opinion arises from shortcomings on the part of the state, and also lack of accessible information and transparency.

In order to arrest the situation of poor public opinion, they literally arrest people. Ok, I did find that funny... You don't?! Pfffttt!!

And how do you legitimise an arrest? If the criticism is damning enough, you can charge the honest person with anything associated with bringing the organisation into disrepute, inciting public disorder, compromising operations, or any crimes against civil/public servants. Not totally unrelated, so long as it is within the literary capacity of the authorities to "interpret" your "crime" and intent.

And if you are deemed a greater threat to the pride and legitimacy of an organisation or a prominent public official, they'll probably pile on more proxy prosecutions onto your hapless carcass. Have you heard about the joke of the political dissident who littered in Malaysia and in Singapore? In Malaysia, he was charged for littering and sodomy. In Singapore, he was charged for littering, illegal assembly and injuring the religious feelings of another party, and subsequently sued for defamation by the entire cabinet and their families.

This is how power is consolidated, sometimes subtly, sometimes not so subtly. It is not about hiring the best public relations or communications specialist to manage your image. All you need is a bunch of people with guns, tasers, handcuffs and a few prisons, and they will manage communications for you very very well.

Communications management for the authorities is not about writing press releases or getting dishy spokesperson to address the press and public. It is about creating rules and regulations for the public to follow. It is about putting "like-minded" people you can trust in influential positions. It is about removing editors and journalists form their posts, silencing them in the process (by silence, I mean removing their voice and I do not intend to incite any violence here). It is about arresting bloggers who are contributing to the democratic process of information sharing and dissemination, and exercising their constitutional right to air their opinions about the start of affair. It is about raiding the homes of people who speak their minds, confiscating their belongings and psychologically intimidating them throughout the whole ordeal. This is the best kind of communications management.

Sometimes I really wonder what is the point of learning communications in the Polytechnics and Universities, when the most effective kind of communications strategy is to use force and intimidation, which serve to eliminate, "fix", "burn", weed out all those whose views might not be what you feel is the best in your interest.

There are many times I have the urge to speak of my National Service and reservist experiences, but I abide by the rules because I do not want to be seen to be "compromising operations" or bringing the army into any disrepute as however whoever defines it. This is why I will never let Singapore know the origins of my torn ankle ligament, the history behind my occasional rheumatism pains in my left leg, the story behind the few months during my full-time National Service in which I did not receive my allowance in full.

There are lots of oversights, shortcomings and injustice that blighted my experiences during National Service and reservist training, but I have never mentioned them, because I know in doing so, it will affect the image of the organisation a lot more than it actually affect any operations or infringe any security protocol. But a "face"-obsessed state will always be more concerned with the latter. But I'll be more than happy to have an audience with any General or any official from the Ministry of Defence to share my story. I hope they will provide free food for me to sample, otherwise it will get me mad and I will throw my credit card down at them.

I hope those in my unit and those in the Ministry of Defence who read (or exercise surveillance on) my blog will understand where I am coming from, and I work well within the rules of the organisation. Hey, after all, I was once top soldier in active days and won the best commander award in one reservist cycle. I give my all for something I don't believe in because that is the most legally acceptable way of disagreeing. Any other way would spell incarceration (incarceration for being pacifist sounds sick, no?). I follow the rules and do my best all the time, so that I have the legitimacy to air my disagreements (in the capacity of a citizen) with conscription, being a mechanism for violence on behalf of the state and also discrimination against minorities (sexual minorities and ethnic minorities) among other wider issues in compulsory conscription.

When I criticise the authorities, relevant organisations and agencies, I do so in the capacity of a citizen. I also often do so with suggestions, because in Singapore nobody, especially the government, likes criticism without solutions and suggestions for improvement.

Bloggers need to be aware that there are bits of information that may not be helpful to their criticism of the organisations with which they are affiliated with. You should do so in the capacity of a citizen who has observed something you disagree with. There is no need to state your rank, workplace/unit, your responsibilities with respect to the workplace/unit, and so on. If you are critical of some procedures known to the public, do not juxtapose them with your own experiences. Just criticise them in isolation.

The "public relations and communications specialists" of the state will always wait for critics to make the wrong move, so they can find a way to legitimise your silencing, humiliation (in the mainstream media) and incarceration.

If you are really pissed off, there are proper channels to air your opinions, just like that Lee Hsien Loong's son did in the army (as reported in the press) - email EVERYONE within the organisation, or rather everyone who mattered.

Sometimes when you are pissed off, you post things in cyberspace that will come back to haunt you, haunt you like a policeman knocking on your door just because your views are interpreted to cause something illegal to happen, but actually simply causing embarrassment to the ruling party, but they can't say that, can they?

If you disagree with practices in the armed forces, civil defence or police force, let them know. They have the proper channels for communications by the way. If you disagree with what is reported (known to the public) concerning these organisations, you may air your criticisms in the capacity of a citizen, without invoking/revealing your position with respect to these organisations. These are the rules and you have to play them right. You know, when you are wearing the uniform of, say, McDonald's, you certainly do not criticise McDonald's. Just continue flipping your burgers. Once that uniform is off, you can run your mouth, but know the rules.

Nevertheless, in a country where the state only has the right to use metaphors (from classics such as Lee Hsien Loong's "fix the opposition" to Lee Kuan Yew's vintage comparison of Singaporeans with dogs peeing in the elevator), the rest of us citizens have to watch our tongues as we are governed by punishment and the symbolism of others being punished. Tongues are only meant for praising and licking the scrotum of the government, not criticism.

Time and again, there will be overreactions and the media will report stories of people being arrested or called into question by the police. These are symbolic in the sense they represent what will happen to the rest of us if we tried to contribute to the democratic process. This is enough for my parents to tell me "politics is dirty" and "don't ever get into politics" and "your life can be taken away from you". We are all scared dogs. Scared dogs will obey and not blog shit about the ruling party.

Singaporeans sometimes do not know the right avenues and channels to air their grievances. Of course, sometimes the people they engage through the correct channels offer not help at all, and this exacerbates the problem. This is why people end up going to their MPs, or writing to the press, or shooting letters way up the chain of command a la Lee Hsien Loong's son in the army. These in turn are reflective of the deaf and uncompassionate organisations that fail to address the issues and concerns of the aggrieved.

I think there is always room to be optimistic. Singaporeans can and should criticise, but do so with a view to help make things better, rather than having a scenario in which the put-down (citizens) are continually putting down (as in dissing/criticising, not the killing metaphor OKAY?) the government, and nothing gets done but a series of arrests to save face. Use facts and use history and display them prominently, and even scared dogs will sniff out the truth.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Police arrests Singaporean netizen over YOG remarks: Time for chilling effect to take its course

Abdul Malik Mohammed Ghazali made it to the fourth page of the New Paper today (Aug 25, 2010), given the calibrated newsworthiness of the Youth Olympic Games.

Although the news story was about him being arrested, the story was under the banner "News: Youth Olympics 2010".

According to the New Paper, Malik had participated in a Facebook group concerning the Youth Olympic Games, titled "I hate the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Organising Committee". He aired his opposition to the way the YOG has been organised.

It was reported that Malik was unhappy with "a series of incidents connected with the games" and turned his attention to the auntie-killer Minister with the gender-ambiguous name Vivian Balakrishnan, doctor of many Chinese auntie's hearts.

Malik had posted a comment, with regards to the incident in which 21 staff and volunteers suffered food poisoning. It was reported that he wrote "that the incident showed it was time to 'burn' the minister".

His post was not replicated in the report, and Malik was reported to have "called on the public to 'rally together'". However, it should be noted that the context in which he made these comments are not reported, and hence not known to the wider public.

According to the Temasek Review, a site that plagiarised a couple of my blog posts over the years but only practised linking back after I complained to them, several netizens had been called into question by the police in a series of raids. However, this news has yet to be confirmed.

The New Paper reports that three plain clothes police officers arrived at Malik's workplace August 24, 11am. In the process of calling him in for interrogation, Malik reportedly mentioned that the police were focused on a few words taken from his online comments.

This is indicative that the police may have taken Malik's words out of context, literally interpretating them so they can make a legitimate case out of it. Malik indicated on Facebook that his charge was for "inciting violence and public disorder".

By the way, Malik has erroneously indicated on Facebook that this charge is under "Section 267 chap 244", an unchecked fact reproduced by forums and other websites. It is Chapter 224, which is the penal code. And Section 267C which involves:

Making, printing, etc., document containing incitement to violence, etc.
267C. Whoever —

(a) makes, prints, possesses, posts, distributes or has under his control any document; or

(b) makes or communicates any electronic record,

containing any incitement to violence or counselling disobedience to the law or to any lawful order of a public servant or likely to lead to any breach of the peace shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 5 years, or with fine, or with both.

The police interpretation of "burn" appears to show that there is a difference in enforcement when it comes to a Prime Minister that speaks of "fixing" the opposition. "Fix" may be read as using underhanded ways to put another party at a disadvantage. "Fix" may also be read as torture or assassinate.

In Malik's case, the authorities see "burn" as having only one meaning and that is to set alight with fire. I believe that even if Malik used "grill", he might also be arrested because the police has already set their sights on him.

It makes me wonder if the police are there to actually protect Singaporean citizens, or are merely part of a wider public relations management team for the Youth Olympic Games.

It is also undemocratic and unconstitutional if people are not allowed to "rally together" to air their views or voice their disapproval (nonviolently).

Speaking of constitutional, Singaporeans have the right to express their opinions. And the job of the police is to protect this, not arrest them. We are not talking about liberal democracy (United States) or soft authorian illiberal single-party democracy (Singapore), but about constitutionality. In Singapore, when you speak up, the police surrounds you not to protect your right to speak, but to take that right away from you.

The laws of incitement to violence and public disorder are enforced without the commonsensical understanding of the social and political context of the country. How many Singaporeans will even be drawn out of their social and political apathy, do the generally irrational thing and commit professional suicide and be engaged in violence and any other activity the ruling party may interpret as public disorder?

In fact, the interpretation of public disorder may even extend to a person standing on the streets carrying a sign indicating disapproval of something or another. Imagine the possible difference in enforcement when you have a PAP MP or Minister versus Chee Soon Juan or Seelan Palay doing the same activity. Well of course, when the PAP MP or Minister does it, no one will give a shit, so they will have to mobilise bodies of grassroots softsoapers, I mean volunteers, to make it look like a legitimate spectacle. The PAP is so white. I shall return to this later.

The only act of "disobedience" in the eyes of the authorities, is when people have enough information in their hands minus the blackouts and censorship, and are able to peacefully voice their opinions without fear, and/or cast their votes. This disobedience is a democratic right, is a constitutional right.

Moreover, the heavy-handed police standard operating procedure of confiscating the information communication devices (e.g. laptops, desktops) is a very potent psychological weapon of thuggery intimidation. This tactics also create a chilling effect in online speech made by Singaporeans

In reality, when it comes to cases involving online speech, speech is made and stored in the domain of cyberspace, and not in the tangible equipment the police demand to seize. Is the law able to catch up with these trends, or are the police going to act on their interpretations and dated standard operating procedures for their handling of such cases?

Any way, all these stand in stark contrast to the whiteness of the PAP. They are free of sin and free of scrutiny. As pointed out in a research by Leong in "Sexual governance and the politics of sex in Singapore" in the Terence Chong (2010) edited book "Management of success: Singapore revisited", the whiteness of the PAP reflects their scandal-free, heterosexual, full-of-virtue persons. Perhaps there are concessions made for PAP members when it comes to enforcement and protection. The media is also tightly controlled and with the amount of legal resources and contacts most party members may have, issues can be silently settled out of court. This is classical optimal public relations management, in which your good image will stick forever. Of course, these are all just speculative. I am sure everyone in Parliament is heterosexual and scandal-free and have never had a run-in with the law or a close relative who had a run-in with the law, on paper. The whiteness of the PAP is here to stay.

Now, contrast this with the systematic destruction of alleged dissidents, or persons whose views are contrary to the establishment.

1) Character assassination: The media, with information from the police, army, and public officials (whispering into their ears), has long played a pivotal role in making certain personalities look less human, disingenuous, compulsive liars, recalcitrant, insane, etc.

This is one of the most effective approach when the media is used as an apparatus to destroy the credibility of a person, using a selective concoction of facts and histories oriented towards a character assassination in the favour of the ruling party.

In Malik's case, he admitted that he was once jailed, but character assassination is not merely inferred from the form of the news but also the function the news serves. In its "form", the reporter stated that Malik had admitted, indicating he voluntarily stated his previous offence and jail term. However, the consumption of the news itself, and how the news "functions", is up to readers' interpretation and they will see that Malik, because of his criminal record, is less credible.

2) Police and secret police tracking: It is an open secret that resources and technologies have been used to track Singaporeans who have been redflagged by the PAP government as possible threats to peace and public order.

The PAP government has an interesting interpretation of "peace and public order", and it appears that their political legitimacy and public image have been silently subsumed under the legal rubric of "peace and public order". Most democracies engage in this form of citizen surveillance here.

But do the Singaporean police and ISD officers track Ministers and PAP Members of Parliament, or exercise surveillance on their phone calls and internet downloads? Our government is one of the least corrupts governments in the world, but shouldn't the police continue to make sure it remains the best government by exercising surveillance on them?

I am sure that the scenario of a corrupt government official will have far greater social, political and economic repercussions than a skinny Seelan Palay standing alone with his placard in some random place in Singapore. So shouldn't the police take the preventive measure and do the right thing (in the utilitarian sense, for the greater good)?

Of course, there is always the ethical issue when the government watches itself, because the idea of B being employed by A to watch A simply does not make sense. You cannot bite the hand that feeds you, and you certainly cannot bite the hand that could pull the plug on you and your family.

The police and ISD should understand that the alleged Singaporean "dissidents", who constantly voice their disapproval of certain governmental decisions, are not anti-Singapore. They are not anti-Singaporeans or anti-people. This is why they do not use violence or force. It is the police who use force and intimidation to get confessions from these "dissidents". We cannot blame the police, because they are employees themselves.

It is really sad to know that the Singaporeans who speak up for other Singaporeans and the inequalities some face, are treated like animals. If there are Singaporeans who really fucking hate the PAP government, let them speak, don't jail them just because of image, face and arrogance issues.

3) The fact that the PAP government has created a system in which lives can easily be destroyed with one "wrong" move: Looking at this sociologically, Singaporean life is oriented around having materials, paying for a home, possibly raising (and paying for kids), having insufficient retirement funds because CPF has reduced employer contribution over the years, having influx of foreign talents to drive down wages, the reduction of the emphasis and role of social welfare, etc. One "wrong" move, and you are blacklisted for life. So Singaporeans thinking logically in the way the government wants them to think logically, and stay away from politics and engaging the government. This is a system to control Singaporeans, and most of us willingly obey.

Our obedience is a rational choice born out of fear. This is a legitimate fear that once you are marked by the government or the secret police, your employment will somehow be affected. In the process, the government spins its own story by reading this obedience as genuine support. At the same time, look at National Service, with the minimal incentives as well as threat of incarceration, Singaporean men appear to be "supportive" by enlisting. Families cannot speak up against National Service either, simply because the media would not give them an avenue, or they fear further repercussions for their Singaporean sons. Same goes for the elections, when the gerrymandered GRCs see no opposition contest, the PAP assumes that Singaporeans support the PAP. Given the truckloads of intelligent people who run the nation, it is very odd that we are fed uncritical and non-reflexive rationalisations that make no sense whatsoever.

Any way, coming back to Malik's arrest, I agree with Malik's comments that people should rally together, in the sense, that like-minded sufferers should peacefully voice their views to the government and make the government live up to its words as one that listens and appreciates its people.

However, I personally find it difficult to appreciate the "burn" comment, in whatever context it was used. Obviously, PAP MP for Yio Chu Kang Seng Han Thong was at the receiving end of a vicious attack in which some pissed off sacked cab driver set him on fire.

Singapore is a country that cannot appreciate metaphors. Singaporeans see things literally, and so too does the government. And this is why whenever a public official's statements are "taken out of context", there is substantial public relations corporate communications follow-up to provide a detailed clarification, fighting the PR fires and showing Singaporeans the context in which the statements were made. Yeah, right.

That said, "burn" is not the best choice for a word. Unlike Lee Kuan Yew and his army of public relations communications specialists (and lawyers) to help clarify statements made by him that might have caused public uproar, Malik has nothing. I just hope he is treated with respect and dignity as investigations go on, even though the confiscation of his belongings and raiding of his home already constitute violations of these principles, and on top of that, are indicative of a strategic psychological warfare engaged against him by the state.

This arrest should not scare Singaporeans who genuinely care about how things are being run in the country. If Singaporeans are unhappy, they should voice the reason for their unhappiness, and suggest what can be done to make things better. Surely, that is not an anti-Singaporean sentiment. All the more, the police should be protecting these Singaporeans who choose to speak up. It is very perplexing that our Singaporean police do not protect the constitutional right of Singaporeans to voice their opinion, moreover in a peaceful manner.

The reality that the state uses force and physical and psychological intimidation where/when Singaporeans don't, is indicative of the state of mind the PAP government is in. Singaporeans know that they stand to lose a lot and have their futures put in danger should they step out of line, but they also have the right to peacefully articulate their opinions and disapproval, even if it meant making the government look foolish. Making someone look foolish, by the way, has nothing to do with defamation.

If the government does a good job, it cannot expect praises. Just like a referee who does a good job, a good government will enjoy freedom from negative criticism and scrutiny. But if there are Singaporeans voicing their disapproval and asking questions, the government has the responsibility to engage, and given its position in authority, it has to do so with grace and poise, not force and intimidation.

It is only with force, intimidation and heavy/high-handed tactics, that will generate poor public opinion of the state and its various agencies. And the state should not allocate resources (i.e. manipulate the media, use heavier police enforcement, etc.) to make itself look better in the eyes of the public, but actually humbly address its own shortcomings and improve from there.

Like the police, the media cannot be lapdogs to the government. As I have mentioned in previous posts, the media coverage of the YOG is a severely blatant overexposure, which is good for the athletes, but also serves to make it look like a successful event. Even the media and information semi-literates can smell this calibrated news propaganda from a mile away. Only the editors will know the truth though.

It is only natural with mainstream media exposure, we force a counter-discourse in online media, in which people air their differing views on the games. And what does the government do? Arrest Malik, and probably others. More surveillance. More control. Doesn't make sense at all.

I do not agree with the organisation of the Youth Olympic Games, but as I have continually emphasised, I feel it is very important for our local athletes to get the competition and media coverage. Only time will tell if our local athletes will get the same kind of support and media coverage in the future, similar to what they are getting now. Only time will tell if National Service will (and continue to) rob a large segment of our male athletes' dreams and they disappear from the sporting world.

The government may see it as "Singaporeans want more and more", but I see it as "Singaporeans deserve better".

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Abstinence: We need a condom for religion

How ideological is the preaching of abstinence? That was the question that ran through my head after reading David Chan's Straits Times Online Forum letter (August 23, 2010).

How safe is 'safe sex'?

After reading the special report on sexuality education on Saturday ("Sex education: Too little, too late, and too vague?"), I am concerned as a parent of two children in primary school.

To what extent is "safe sex" truly safe in preventing unwanted pregnancy and sexual diseases? Even if it is relatively "safe" in the physical and temporary sense, how safe is it in the long run, when there are possible negative moral, emotional, psychological, social and spiritual consequences?

Unless a school can convince and assure me that the sexuality programme is truly safe in terms of its values, attitudes, principles, behaviour, skills and methods, I cannot afford to take a gamble on my children's safety and future. I can't allow them to learn how to practise "safe sex" before or outside marriage.

Instead, my wife and I will learn to be caring, responsible parents and teach our children abstinence through open, honest logical reasoning, real-life stories, case and character study, personal experiences, counselling and discipline.

We will teach them concepts like self-control and the postponement of gratification, and unconditional love.

The idea of "safe sex" is confusing, misleading and self-defeating. For any success in teaching our young about sex, it takes the combined effort and commitment of family, school, government and community.

David Chan

You see, the demographic with the biggest voice is not the middle-to-upper class, English educated, ethnic Chinese, Christian Singaporean, but all of the above plus the fact you can claim on paper you are a parent.

This is old school identity politics, vintage exploitation of rhetoric, to influence public opinion. What connects you with others, other than your bourgeoisie-ness, English educated-ness, Chinese-ness, Christian-ness, is the image of you as a family guy. And by family, we are talking about husband, wife, some children, possibly some grandparents and happy in-laws, more the merrier.

This is the "family" card some can play. In the Censorship Review Committee focus group, we are all engaging in a deep discussion on media censorship, when some guy opened his short monologue with a qualifier "speaking as a parent...". The room goes silent, either out of respect that he's a family guy, or we were screaming "FUCK" in our minds.

This is calibrated altruism, a political and ideological process in which one propagates a view/suggestion and make it seem like he/she is doing it for the next generation, and it appears to be of no benefit to him/her, but to others. I am especially reminded of this after reading David Chan's letter. Of course, I'm also reminded of George Lim Heng Chye's epic declaration in 2003 that he is a heterosexual man, married to a heterosexual woman, and having heterosexual children (and the closet runs very very deep by the way), but now isn't the time for our favourite George Lim.

Within the frames, domain, walls or bunker (whichever is cosy enough) of whichever ideology David Chan subscribes to, his concerns are very legitimate. It is true that most parents do not want their children to be harmed (although they don't have to spine to oppose National Service, oh wait, their sons will be the ones who'll go to jail, not them haha. Silly me).

It is very difficult to tell if the invocation of the rhetoric of family and children is actually serving to protect and preserve the alignment persons like David have with their respective beliefs. And normally these days, a belief system is only legitimised by the presence of group, and when people come together to instate and preserve a set of beliefs, you can bet your last dollar this is a political process.

In the Old Testament, the God of the Bible (most versions, he has a male pronoun "He" with a capital H by the way because we have to use cultural and linguistic cues to emphasise reverence) commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son, a test to see if Abraham was God-fearing and abiding. In modern society (with alleged "open, honest logical reasoning"), the rhetoric used by people, suspiciously with the goal of ideological adherence and preservation, appears to parallel this fable.

It is the repetition of history, when we observe children being used as swords and shields for the "greater good" that is ideology. Remember the catchphrase "think of the children"? That rhetoric is up there with phrases like "speaking as a parent..." and "do you want children to see this?"

The act of speaking up for children, or appearing to do so, actually draws attention away from the ritualistic process of reinforcing one's ideological subscriptions in society. What is it about your beliefs and your relationship with your system of beliefs that makes you "speak up" for children? What is is about the relationship between your belief system and the rest of society when you talk about, for instance, abstinence being the best solution in sex education?

On the one hand, perhaps, children do become empowered to say "no" (which is a good thing in some cases by the way). On the other hand, people begin to think the same because everyone appears to share/impose the same mechanisms of thought and rationality. And what does this imposition serve? It serves the preservation of ideology, whose members demand social and political dominance and supremacy, and what better way to ensure longevity of ideology than to make it appear as universal and uncritically adopted by the next generation.

Of course, religion cannot take full credit. The narratives of abstinence and the postponement of desire are all part of religious and (post)industrial discourses.

In religious discourse, obviously policed by social norms, people believed you can never multitask. Therefore, pleasure and desires were seen as adversarial to faith and worship; they displaced one another. Dichotomies and boundaries work very well for the masses. So throw in "purity/sin" and make rules to draw the lines for desirable and undesirable human behaviours. You know, previous dichotomies used to include that of logical thinking being associated with men, and emotional thinking being associated with women, and these were institutionalised. But of course, who cares about history when it comes to a religious fervour that practices censorship?

So, the activities of pleasure, like heterosexual intercourse, or homosexual frottage, are read and deemed by religious authorities to be contrary to being pious. Well, there are religions that beg to differ, believing that you can still be pious, god-loving/fearing as you are engaged in sexual intercourse. The heart of matter is how authority (hierarchy of human beings wanting to be in power and stay in power) rationalises the organisation of society and demands specific types of human behaviour, based on the belief that pleasure and worship exist as imaginary poles on an imaginary continuum.

This religious discourse overlaps (or rather, influences) the industrial discourse. When we industrialised, people began working in factories, having bosses and hierarchies in the workplace and all. It led to a paradigm shift in how we approach leisure time. Suddenly, "weekday" and "weekend" meant something, so did "working hours". The times to be productive have been determined, and this displaced the time to be engaging in leisure and pleasure. Leisure time had become rationalised and compartmentalised.

The industrial reality of wage work also contributed to how people see leisure and enjoyment, and since they (leisure and enjoyment) were/are rationalised, they could certainly be postponed.

Well, the examples so far have been rather Eurocentric. Even in (East) Asian societies, the idea of discipline encouraged the postponement, if not suppression of desire and joy. I am not so informed in this area, but this is what we have in Asian martial arts. Of course, we had Samurai inter-generational homosexual sex. THAT'S ASIAN VALUES FOR YOU, MY CONSERVATIVE ASIAN FRIEND!

But you see, the East Asian idea of learning something to achieve something, involves the disassociation with things men assumed to be pleasurable, like sex. Therefore, discipline and desire/pleasure exist a polar opposites in this rubric. To save/prevent you from critical thinking, vocal religious fundamentalists will combine Western evangelist ideology, Victorian morality and the biggest lie that is "Asian values" all into one simple yet insidiously universal principle and shove it down your throat.

Any way, back to the postponement of pleasure. It is one of the greatest mechanisms of social control. That is why reward/punish systems work, or why the idea of "eternal life/damnation" work too. Pleasure will come at the expense of something more ideologically important. Yes, ideology does create a more cohesive society because people will reprioritise and postpone their selfish desires, yet ideology itself is a masquerade used by a more equal people (see Animal Farm) seeking dominance. They will use physical mechanisms of torture and death, psychological mechanisms of guilt and fear-mongering, and social mechanisms of excommunication and stigma, to ensure ideological alignment a.k.a. obedience.

As mentioned, the invocation of the rhetoric of family and children to claim a dominant position in a moral discourse, is in itself a political process. It is a reality that family and children are part of social life, and probably will always be, unless you're Taiwanese. At the same time, the discourse of family dovetails with the discourse of monotheistic abidance and nationalism. Hierarchy and authority must be observed and obeyed, unless you are Lee Hsien Loong's son with an email account.

Any hint of disobedience might pose a threat to the whole system because each subsystem is microcosmic of the supersets. People with unequal relationships always seek to replicate their interpretations of religious scripture in the domains they inhabit (look at the political system of the ancient Greeks vis a vis Greek religion). The demands for sexual abstinence are articulated within such a framework, circumscribed by human interpretation of religion, which according to some is itself a human creation based on the human interpretation of the natural world.

My concern is not about the constructedness of religion, but the use of rhetoric and the engagement of certain discourses which constitute a political and moral process that has social and political implications. The non-adherence to sexual abstinence is seen as affront to religious authority.

But why? Why do religious authorities want to control sexual behaviour? Why do people internalise these rules? There is a difference between others wanting us to be "good", and that of others wanting us to comply such that a unity of thought and action will contribute to the longevity of authority.

The want to control sexual behaviour draws attention away from efforts to provide people with useful advice to protect themselves and to be responsible. Saying "no" does not make you more responsible, but to some extent, makes you walk away from real problems.

We should be focusing on ways to ensure that sex education is conducted with the aim to equip the young with the skills, confidence and information, pertaining to emotional and sexual well-being, among others. Remember, if you really cared for your children, you will realise that they are growing up in an environment of multiple ideologies, different views, with emerging and varying social and sexual phenomena. Don't be an ostrich and stick your head in the ground. You will do more harm to your children if you only equip them with the skills to deal with some domains and some environments. Sure, you will just tell your kids to stay away from subcultures and minorities, right? This creates more social gaps and misunderstandings that will lead to distrust and stereotypes, but I guess that would be fine because it is all about ideological adherence.

In fact, you will probably be imparting your low degree of well-adjustedness onto your kids. You demand obedience in/from them, just for them to mimic your obedience to whatever constitutes authority to you. Instead of giving them the skills to deal with the wider world, you give them the same space authority gave you in the bunker. The idea of values to you is about continuity because ideology needs continuity, but it is always constantly under threat of being out of touch with changing social phenomena. And then, you will lean back on the prescribed purity/sin dichotomy and being to categories and demonise certain social phenomena and people, just to ensure members with the same ideological subscriptions will fall in line.

Does the preaching of abstinence hold water in changing society? Yes, but only if it is treated as one of the many techniques to protect our young. Abstinence is one technique, but not the main one. Sexual abstinence is the reason why we have oral sex, frottage, masturbation, anal sex, because authority is always (only) concerned about policing penile-penetrative vaginal intercourse. This concern is also built on heteronormative assumptions, that are oriented towards the productive nature of procreational sex.

Here, the prescribed norms gain moral ascriptions, and become guarded by an authority of "more equal" people. In this case, heterosexual vaginal intercourse is the only act that constitutes sex. Oral sex is not sex, just ask Bill Clinton.

The (ultra)conservative folks who champion their brand of sex education, only believe in the taming of the penis and the vagina. That is why they believe abstinence should be observed. The penis and vagina can only interact when authority says it can, and this shows how much penile-vaginal interaction has been ritualised and heaped upon layers of moral meanings inscribed onto it by human beings. Let us also not forget the Victorian moral belief that women and children (up to a certain age) are asexual, and this puritanical belief has obviously corrupted some Singaporean minds, who in turn seek to replicate it. It is truly a political process.

The problem with authority and order is their inflexibility and inability to adapt. They neither consider nor anticipate change or the possibilities of change. This quality is obviously appreciated by people who cannot deal with change too, and would bunker in at any experience of the slightest change. Change brings about uncertainty and diversity, because people become persons and begin to think differently and in turn form bonds to become other peoples. They cannot deal with the fact that abstinence is no longer the single most important solution to everything sex.

There is also the inability to reconcile one's ideological subscriptions with the changing nature of society, and this is manifest in strategies which involve the (very political) use of rhetoric to gain legitimacy in a discussion. There is the stealthy religious invocation of the rhetoric of family and children, something that also connects to the non-religious, but passed off as a universal principle. In Singapore, moreover, the non-religious receive no protection, which is why any English-speaking pan-Asian-looking ethnic Chinese Singaporean is not spared from proselytisation and the law will never recognise proselytisation as "injuring the religious feelings" of the non-religious. Some Singaporeans are definitely more equal than other Singaporeans. Hmmm.. If only we had a "condom" to protect us from religion.

If only among those who are religiously informed and preach (only) abstinence could be just upfront with their ideological positions, and say "We should have abstinence because my religion said so, and I adhere to it, and I believe it is a good thing that other people adhere to it too, because it shows that the values of my religion applies to many other people too, and because more believe believe in these values, my religion will enjoy ideological longevity." Keep it real, guys. Don't disguise your views with vague narratives, or use family/children rhetoric to mask your ideological preferences.

But remember, the next generation will live with and probably have to clean up the shit we have created for them. So it is better that we prepare them to be ready for the world, and not just dig a shallow hole in the ground for them to place half their heads in.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Instil confidence

Instil confidence

'It is ironic that in a country with a low fertility rate, we are generally sexually ascetic and sex negative.'

MR HO CHI SAM: 'I read with interest Saturday's special report on sexuality education. The issues raised hit the nail on the head. There should be a way to teach sexuality education without the vagueness and moralisation. It is ironic that in a country with a low fertility rate, we are generally sexually ascetic and sex negative, indicative of strong religious and moral persuasions. Sexuality education should be taught with a view to sharing information and improving body confidence, minus the moralisation.'

Add: It is very sad the more important parts of my letter are not featured. I guess that is not within the "agenda" of the Straits Times.

Any way, isn't "instil" the American spelling for "instill"? The Straits Times appears to flip-flop between American and British spellings in its writing style. That is odd.

Here's the original letter:

I read with interest Saturday’s reports on sexuality education (Aug 21).

Some of the issues raised hit the nail on head.

There should be a way to teach sexuality education without the vagueness and moralisation.

It is ironic that in a country with low fertility rate, we are generally sexually ascetic and sex negative, indicative of strong religious and moral persuasions.

Because of this, we will never be better placed to share information with regards to sex.

I propose that sexuality education be taught with a view to share information and improve body confidence, minus the moralisation.

Sexuality educators first need to recognise that the singular idea of sex as procreative and productive is not only moralistic, but also one out of touch with what is happening on the ground.

Educators who express reluctance to teach or to have an open mind, should reevaluate their own moral positions with respect to the matter.

The problem of sexuality education lies not in the emerging problems Singaporean youths face, but at the level of syllabus and the fact that various educational stakeholders want to make it a moral issue.

It is furthermore ironic that sexuality education does not critically delink the flimsy relationship between sex, gender and sexuality, as education provided is premised on the fallacious assumption that all three seamlessly correspond.

Sex is what we are born with (male, female, intersexed), gender is the learned and performed social behaviour (masculine, feminine, androgynous), and sexuality is emotional, physical and sexual preference (heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, pansexuality, and more).

The reality that any sexuality education material in Singapore does not include the differentiation of sex, gender and sexuality, is already indicative of failure from the get-go.

The assumption of a correspondence between sex, gender and sexuality, is already a moral process in itself.

Certain beliefs already morally outlaw certain sexual identities, gender identities and sexual practices, which disallows a full discussion on the issues concerning sex, gender and sexuality, which are key components of sexuality education.

I believe moralisation should take second place. Teach first, and then provide the buffet spread of various moralisations, since each set of views are always clamouring to be heard and demanding to be superior.

Ho Chi Sam

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Sexuality Education AGAIN: Same old story

Sexuality education will always be an issue in Singapore because of two main factors: One, the fact there exist various moral and religious stakeholders clamouring for ideological legitimacy and supremacy; and two, which is partly overlapped with the first point, the fact that Singaporeans are generally uncomfortable at being open in discussing sex.

There are a host of issues, in no particular order, that I would like to discuss pertaining to sexuality education.

One problem with sex education in Singapore is not sex, but the processes behind education. It is a reality that we need to have information and materials ready to deal with existing and emerging phenomena pertaining to sex, gender and sexuality. But the process of gathering information, materials and creating a syllabus to teach sexuality education is a political and moral process, something that educators and moral/religious stakeholders will readily fail to see and acknowledge.

Rather than asking "why is premarital sex wrong" and "why should abstinence be taught", we should be asking "what is it about these educators and moral/religious stakeholders that make them think this way and want to make Singaporean youth think that way?", "what is it about their predispositions and ideologies that make them ask these questions?", and "what does it say about those who assume a seamless correspondence of sex, gender and sexuality, and their assumed natural cisgenderism, cissexism and heterosexism?"

Well, well, well, these are the questions a feminist will ask. Yes, that includes the enlightened Dr Thio Su Mien, who sees herself as a feminist. Apparently, her brand of feminism excludes and silences other women, and conflates gender and sexuality into sex.

In teaching sexuality education, educators and moral/religious stakeholders become invisible. This is all the more dangerous in a society whose government claims to be multicultural and multireligious, because some views will be passed off as moral universals. The rhetoric put at the frontline is that "sex ed is for the younger generations", in reality drawing attention away from the scrutiny of the ideological motivations for social engineering by respective socio-religious organisations.

We need these socio-religious organisations to be more upfront and accountable. After all, they are constitutionally protected, more so than people without religions, because in Singapore, having a religion means you are more protected than those who don't, and that's true. Be upfront and say, "Abstinence is wrong because our set of beliefs specifically say so, and this is how we interpret it, and we need group compliance to ensure cohesion, to ensure the survival and sustenance of our group. People who don't believe in abstinence pose an ideological threat to our group, but since it is illegal, we cannot use violence to coerce them to subscribing to the same sets of beliefs we adhere to."

It is precisely the sex-negative predispositions and taboo-isation of sex by socio-religious organisations, that drastically cripple sexuality education in Singapore. They are too preoccupied with wanting to win the (moral) ideological war, seen to be integral to the survival of the respective sets of ideologies they adhere to, rather than to actually empower Singaporean youths to be informed on sex, gender, sexuality and body confidence. The "empowerment" of Singaporean youths with regards to sexuality education, for these ideological and political supremacy-seeking groups and individuals, is always couched in the discourse of ideological survival, continuation and dominance, but thickly sugar-coated with secular narratives.

Sex education can be straightforward. For example, teaching about the condom and its usage. "This is a condom. It is one of many devices for contraception. It is used to prevent pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted infections. It can break sometimes. It is xx% safe. This is how you use it (show using videos or Mr Woody demonstrations). Some religions, such as A, B, C, frown upon its usage because they do not believe in the use of contraceptives. Any questions?"

Sexuality education invisibilises orgasm too. Invisibilisation is a political and moral process. You see, some ideological groups want to terrorise youths into believing that sex is not for pleasure - again, this is a political process. But these ideological groups craftily align themselves with the nationalist discourse of procreation, and frames sex in terms of production, focusing on sex's productive nature.

As a result, male and female masturbation and orgasms are omitted. Youths are not told about their erogenous areas. I am sure teenagers are mature enough to be told that the cock and snatch-rubbing antics of young children are mechanisms to keep them calm or happy, even though they don't consciously know it, because these are sensitive erogenous zones.

Feminists, definitely not Dr Thio Su Mien, have long pointed out the omission of the female clitoris, specifically its sexual function and role in orgasm, in normal sex education. This is because sex education has been corrupted by the Western influence of Victorian Christian morality. Talk about negative Western values, huh?

Victorian morality assumes asexuality on the part of children and women. Yes, assexual, just like how we once wanted Nanyang Girls High students to have short hair (perhaps to defeminise and desexualise girls by removing the socially ascribed marker of femininity that is long hair). Oh wait, we still do that to most foreign domestic workers!

Seriously, what is the point of being a member of a multicultural and multireligious society, when you have moral/religious organisations that do not want to be part of the team - i.e. have their views on sex and sexuality be presented as one of many other views, neutrally on the same level? They just want dominance, simple as that, which is why they would disagree with a polycentric approach to sex education, which is what I have long been suggesting.

A polycentric approach allows firstly, for sexuality education to be taught objectively. For example, openly teaching "this is what", "this is what it does", "this is xx% effective", "this is how you do it", "this is what you can do to say no". At the same time, the polycentric approach allows for the participation and representation of moral and religious positions, e.g. "this is what religion A thinks about this matter", "this is not encouraged by religion B because...", "religion C believes masturbation is wrong, because..." etc.

Hey, the polycentric approach already breaks its back to accommodate religious positions, but it steers away from moralisation because it provides different views from different ideological stakeholders, each readily accessible. For religious organisations that disagree with this polycentric approach, it will only reveal their maturity as a teamplayer and member in a multireligious Singapore, and how "ready" they are to be part of the picture versus them actually wanting to be in a position of dominance. Well, the government has already put its foot down on secularism, so it is very generous of the polycentric approach to accommodate religious views on sex, no?

Another key issue on sexuality education in Singapore is the assumption that sex, gender and sexuality all correspond. That male, masculinity and loving all things female and feminine is the natural order of things, as with being female, feminine and loving all things male and masculine. It fits penis-into-vagina, I mean hand-in-glove for most people who subscribe to heteronormativity.

Sex is what you are born with, simply put. Chromosomes (XX, XY, and others), balance of hormones (oestrogen and testosterone), gonadal sex (ovaries, testicles or both), anatomical sex (breasts, hair distribution, penis, clitoris, etc.), legal sex (male, female according to the doctor who sexed you at birth), are examples of sex identity.

Gender is not inborn or natural, but something you "perform". To an extent, it is psychological sex - who you think you are. You can be feminine or masculine or anywhere within the imaginary continuum of femininity and masculinity, or beyond it. You wear clothes to signify your membership to a certain gender category, and clothes, just like fashion are contingent on space and time (just look at the 1970s). There are also specific sets of social behaviours to be learned and displayed to indicate your membership to specific gender categories, in respective societies. Learning about gender is important to body confidence, as it allows for teenagers to understand that the idea of beauty and sexiness has a huge cultural dimension, and that we have the choice not to live up to the pressures of conforming to desirable body images.

Sexuality is your emotional and sexual preference, or rather, with whom do you want to fuck. You see, emotional and sexual preference might not be fixed to a specific sex or gender. This is why some heterosexual men prefer women who are slim with long hair (feminine/femme), as opposed to athletic with short hair (tomboyish/relatively butch). But both still constitute "woman".

Sexual identity comprises a host of factors, best covered in the following non-exhaustive set of questions: Who do you want to have sex with? How do you want to have sex? Where do you want to have sex? Who do you want to spend quality time with and how? What are your sexual fantasies? What turns you on?

You will realise that the answers to the few questions above might not correspond. You might want to spend quality time with someone intelligent and articulate like Ho Ching, but you might frivolously fantasise about young strapping male bodyguards. I NEVER SAY ANYTHING AH!!! I NEVER SAY AH!!! ONLY AN EXAMPLE OKAY??!!

So you see, sex, gender and sexuality are far different entities. Sexuality education should be premised on this delineation.

Teenagers should not only be taught the productive aspects of sex, but also the recreational aspects of it, as well as its dangers, OF COURSE. Yes, erect penis enters vagina, coughs out some semen, sperm travels to egg and SHAZZZZAAAMMMM!!! God creates a female foetus that will either stay female or develop a penis. Must be Judaeo-Christian-Islamic-centric, otherwise you don't know how violent monotheistic religions can be, nevermind if they "injure the religious beliefs of others" and who gives a shit about the non-religious Singaporeans any way (since they have once less reason to be protected by the constitution and law).

Sex-negativity stems from the moral agenda to omit sexual pleasure. This is because according to some beliefs, sexual pleasure figures as one pole opposite to religious piety. Yes, very rational, very logic indeed. A bit abstract, but very rational and logical. Yup Yup Yesiree-do!

Hey, there are children all around the world dying, there are Singaporeans who are destitute and ill, there are natural disasters and people aren't helping enough, and there are many old Singaporeans who can't even use their medisave to foot certain bills, BUT IT'S MORE IMPORTANT FOR RELIGIOUS ORGANISATIONS TO TALK ABOUT SEX AND POLICE IT. What does this say about these organisations and the individuals who vocally promulgate their restrictive views on sex?

They appear to be more (monotheistically) hell-bent on censorship and omitting sexuality education material, and putting moral slants in the way sex education is presented. Why is this so? What does these tell you about these people and organisations? Are their suggestions for "the greater good" just mere apparitions distracting us from "their greater good"?

Sexuality education is just an ideological battlefield. The Ministry of Education probably does not have the testicular fortitude (in the most masculinist sense) to govern or moderate this, because the ruling party is scared of losing votes. Just like you can try asking the government to implement littering and arson laws during the Hungry Ghost month, or implement traffic and parking laws on Friday afternoons on roads near Mosques. The government sees its responsibilities as being the middleman and should shit hit the fan, these vendors will take the fall.

We are in a precarious position with our multireligiosity. Because of modern day politics and our laws, religions cannot go "old school" on one another and use violence. Remember, religion survives and thrives on membership, and people are limited resources. In the spirit of political correctness, as expected in a multireligious setting with numerous levels of state protection, the (monotheistic) belief that other religions are less right, less true and perhaps less moral, is driven underground and manifested in narrative and rhetoric in the public setting.

Sexuality education is one vessel for religion for seize control and ideological dominance. The state probably could not care less, because following the erection of a multireligious society, the secular state has effectively removed religion as a political threat to its power and legitimacy. Religions have to look elsewhere to battle for ideological supremacy, and the domain of sexuality education is one of them.

Rather than let this fester underground, I feel it is important to let religions have their say, openly, rather than have their views disguised as universal views - this is also an obvious strategy to gaining supremacy when you market a body of values as universal and essential. That is why we need to have a polycentric approach to sexuality education. We already have the multireligious infrastructure, so we can definitely discuss openly the various religious views on sex and sexual practices. This way, we will not guilt-trap teenagers into believing what they do is outright universally wrong. We can let them know what is wrong in the eyes of religion and the Singaporean law, and so on. They need the information, not the moralisations passed off as a neutral information.

Speaking of guilt, shouldn't sexuality education be oriented away from making people feel fearful or guilty? That's the job of religious/ideological authorities wherein fear and guilt are used as mechanisms to ensure group conformity. The job of sexuality education, I believe should be about teaching sex and sexuality with the aim of promoting information on sex, gender, sexuality, promoting body confidence, personal responsibility, sexual health and a knowledge of the secular laws of the land.

I am surprised that the Straits Times have revisited the issue of sexuality education with reports by Tan Hui Yee and Eisen Teo. I guess this is the issue they will want to cover for the next 2-3 weeks and probably open discussions on sexual rights and citizenship in Singapore. We will probably see more George Lim Heng Chye's in the press in the following days.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Petition to give Yong Vui Kong a second chance

Hello, feel free to read the following and sign the petition to give Yong Vui Kong a second chance.



The deadline is on August 26, 2010, so do take the time to read and sign.

Feel free to share the links with your friends and family.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Singapore can be a safe place for our LGBT friends and family

(Unpublished - August 14, 2010)

Unknown to most Singaporeans and blacked out of the mainstream media, this month of August marks the sixth time IndigNation is organised.

IndigNation is a month-long series of events organised by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, comprising talks, forums, film screenings and recitals.

A large portion of these events are aimed at increasing awareness on issues LGBT Singaporeans confront.

They also serve to empower LGBT and LGBT-affirming Singaporeans to create safe spaces for LGBT persons in Singapore to become confident and contributing citizens.

It is a deadly combination of bigotry, ignorance, irrational hatred, lack of firm antidiscrimination laws and their implementation, state-enforced negative media portrayal of queer people, purposive mainstream media censorship, and the resultant internalised fears and hatred by LGBT persons themselves, that have led to the LGBT community to be Singapore's dirty little secret.

I believe IndigNation need not be the only avenue for the LGBT community to speak up and be understood. The mainstream media plays a role too.

There remains an unjustifiable, outright discriminatory and blatantly unconstitutional regulation on media representation of LGBT people, in which positive portrayals are disallowed.

This not only destroys the voice LGBT people have, but also trivialises the lived daily realities they face and cannot articulate in the public domain. This media regulation demeans LGBT Singaporeans and does nothing to debunk the myths and stereotypes held against LGBT people.

Moreover, non-LGBT people like myself do not have the opportunity to speak up or represent our friends and family, and share with the rest of Singapore the implications of certain policies, social attitudes and political rhetoric on the lives of LGBT Singaporeans.

LGBT-affirming people like myself make the effort to create dialogue and safer spaces for LGBT Singaporeans to participate, but have ended up being silenced. For example, our letters to newspaper editors have mostly been disregarded in favour of homophobic and transphobic opinions perpetuating hatred and fear towards LGBT people.

The only window for opportunity for LGBT and LGBT-affirming Singaporeans to speak up in the press is when the mainstream media decides it is newsworthy following any relevant statement from prominent public officials or an event of great public interest.

Because of insincere and intermittent media coverage of LGBT Singaporeans and issues, the mainstream media is complicit in the marginalisation of queer-identified Singaporeans. LGBT people have too long been treated as fodder for news, rather than using news to improve social awareness and debunk stereotypes and malicious myths.

The media regulation barring the positive representation of LGBT people is another perplexing barrier, which encourages the wrongful villainisation of LGBT people.

This regulation has to go, and in tandem with that, the mainstream media have to understand their ethical role in journalism and put Singaporeans in a better position to be heard, understood and respectful to one another.

Ho Chi Sam

Add: I guess the Youth Olympic Games is a more pressing social issue than rights of Singaporeans. I hope there is no ST Forum blacklist and even if there's one, I'm not on it.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Farcical Youth Olympic Games and Disingenuous Press

The Straits Times sports section has always been market determined. Singaporeans love their English Premier League and Champions League. They enjoy following their favourite teams and a fair portion of them enjoy gambling. When there are competitive games and your stereotypical ethnic Chinese looking for some thrill, there will be gambling. These shape the market forces of news and newsworthiness, which explains why during the regular football season, the most widely read English daily in Singapore will feature Premier League and Champions League news as top news.

As rare as the alleged freak flash floods in Singapore, the Youth Olympic Games appear to have perverted this newspaper's (re)presentation of news. It appears the Games and local athletes suddenly become overwhelmingly newsworthy. Is this market determined?

It points to the interventionist stance of the government, trying its very best to create buzz and hype. The Ministry of Education has reportedly bought 80,000 tickets, money obviously taken from the education kitty, and schools have reportedly "volunteered" their students to be Games volunteers and spectators. This is simple economics, where you spend to keep the wheel of the economy spinning at optimal speed. In this case, money is spent to organise the games, and money is spent by parties independent of organisers to make the games look good. If not for the unpaid labour, the budget of the Games would probably be unimaginable and perhaps deplorable.

Back to news. One component of newsworthiness is public interest. Is there substantial public interest generated to warrant gratuitous media coverage of the Youth Olympic Games? It appears that some government official might have hinted at the editors and higher-ups in Singapore Press Holdings, and the message, or order, is sent to assignment editors and then to footsoldiers of journalists and reporters. And presto, the Youth Olympic Games is newsworthy!

It is a shame, as I have mentioned in a previous entry, that previous generations of Singaporean youth athletes did not get the same media exposure as this batch. This shows disingenuousness on the part of the national press, who are presenting our young athletes because they have to make the Games exciting and create interest.

Singaporeans are not cultural dopes. Overexposure and oversaturation of Youth Olympic Games news on television and in the newspapers will only turn more people off. Surely there are more important news affecting the daily lives of Singaporeans, but the Straits Times appears to have shirked its responsibilities as a news-seeking newspaper and transformed itself, once again, into a mouthpiece of the much feared PAP government, proving press releases for the farce of a party which it has organised.

I would not have been so harsh in my criticism, and would not have been so bitterly disappointed in the Straits Times, if it had actually provided more coverage of local sporting personalities and youth athletes on a regular basis. The government also shares the blame, as it could be investing more in our local athletes, and not just tier our sports according to medal hopes and achievement. It is because of this tiering that some sports and organisations do not get sufficient funding. Moreover, the government shoots itself in the foot with National Service, which destroys many a young sportsman's career and development. Deferment is only for a short period of time. Perhaps it could benchmark its National Service deferment policy for athletes with countries like South Korea. Assuming the government is consistently evil, I feel it is important to look at the spineless concubine that is the mainstream media.

The mainstream media is to be blamed for exacerbating social inequality in Singapore, thanks to techniques of invisibilisation, trivialisation and misrepresentation. Just look at the representation of LGBT Singaporeans in the press. They are infantilised and rendered to look either insane, diseased or perverted.

The handcuffing of the evening Chinese newspaper's photojournalist Shafie Goh is symbolic and represents the state's eagerness to control information, even using force without hesitation. It represents how the PAP have systematically controlled the press and decimated press freedom, reducing the media from the role of watchdog to lapdog.

The state's control of the media obviously allows for what the PAP sees as stability, and in this context, political stability. It can then build on this by proceeding to create any event it deems a worthy media spectacle, regardless of public interest. Furthermore, public interest can be manipulated to create a spectacle, thanks to a subservient minion of a lapdog in the mainstream press. Of course, the Ministry of Education can share the credit as they are also responsible for this big lie, planting students in relevant positions like Jewish slaves oarmen on a Roman battleship, rowing to the sound of the PAP drums.

Even Low Wei Jie, 12, for all his genuine interest and exuberance, has been milked and manipulated in an attempt to turn all of us into something like him. It is perfectly fine to capture a segment of Singaporeans who give a shit about the Games, but it is utterly deceptive of the mainstream media to omit the views of Singaporeans who do not really care, or are even opposed to the organisation of the Games in Singapore.

The framing of news reeks of government intervention, yet we cannot say it is, because this is power being exercised with subtlety. Government officials may only need to wink or put a finger across their necks at editors, for the editors to get the picture and start framing news in a way that is favourable to the government, that portrayals a favourable image of Singapore, the government and how we organise the games. The athletes are just secondary, or tertiary, or footnotes, and this is despicable.

Take tennis for example, it is sad that Singapore's number one girls' tennis player lost in the first round. She's Stephanie Tan by the way, and she's quite a talent. For everything there is present and visible, we forget about the invisible. Where are the male tennis players? They are only good till they are 18 before they serve National Service. They probably cannot turn professional either. Where is Singapore's great tennis hope Sylvester Wee, an awesome talent and great character? NS. His generation of tennis players comprised one of the most talented bunch of tennis players Singapore has ever seen. Rich in quality. Very competitive. Many of them could be professionals today, touring and playing tournaments. They are the few of the many forgotten male athletes. If their stories are to be public, they will probably make the government look really bad, and with respect to the government's plans to make Singapore a sporting hub, look really stupid and hypocritical.

Stephanie Tan should be given consistent media exposure. When the profile of an athlete is raised, he or she will be in a better position to get sponsorship, and not only be rewarded with sponsorship due to sporting performance. Yes, they are sporting talents, but the media has a role to create personalities out of them (not celebrities), and sponsors might be interested to have these personalities represent them.

You don't have to wait for some excuse like the Youth Olympic Games to start raising the profile of athletes. It is very hypocritical and unfair to the many generations of youth athletes that have been silenced or underrepresented. Only time will tell if the Straits Times, for example, will cultivate the habit of profiling youth athletes, regardless of big events of (alleged) public interest.

The Singaporeans who are generally unhappy with the Youth Olympic Games and its organisation, are just too well aware of that this farce is just part of the macrocosmology of all things PAP. The idea of "volunteering" subordinates to make an idea look good and well-supported, fits in well with the preservation of "face" of our higher-ups. The putting-the-cart-before-the-horse approach to organising, saying yes, pumping in money, then later mobilising footsoldiers and make them look like willing parties. Only in an authoritarian regime will you get fake public exuberance, fake autonomy, fake free will. All calibrated and imagined by the state to be easily calibratable. Well, that's how you eventually get things done any way.

I really wonder, with respect to the uncharacteristic overexposure of an event of suspiciously inflated public interest, whether our journalists' hands are actually tied, whether heads will roll if assignment editors felt this farce was not truly newsworthy and that growing negative internet sentiment could be remediated in the mainstream press. How low can our press go?


add: I wonder if there will be gag orders given to "volunteers" and relevant parties, not to speak about the nature of their work and "volunteerism"...