By Kok Rabin
Can a Singapore citizen also be a citizen of the world? “No” answers Mr Ravi Philemon in his article, ‘Total Defense and implications of divided loyalty of new citizens.’ Mr Philemon seems to argue, in my view wrongly, that new citizens should not be allowed to participate in the politics of the lands they were born in.
Mr Philemon begins by rightly highlighting that the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), famous for recently winning political control of the Indian capital Delhi, may have broken the law. Under Section 5 of Singapore’s Public Order Act, public gatherings of the kind AAP was hosting require government permits.
The AAP actually held a closed-door meeting with an Indian politician, in a private location. However, the AAP’s use of Facebook to organise their get-together could lead to it being deemed a public event by the authorities.
Mr Philemon alludes to a similar legal hoo-hah in 2011, when filmmaker Martyn See was questioned by police for organising a closed-door meeting with foreign politicians using Facebook. Not only have the AAP’s activities cause a stir here; they have also been accused of breaking India’s own election laws by using India’s Republic Day celebrations in Singapore as a platform to raise money.
Clearly, the manner in which the AAP has gone about raising funds is questionable. More so, however, is Mr Philemon’s suggestion that the (possible) presence of Singaporeans among AAP members “would be very troubling because their loyalty to the nation is not only perceived to be divided, it would actually be.”
Now, I was born and raised in Singapore, and might never fully know what it means to be torn between loyalty to an adopted home and the land of my birth – other than from the recollections my many foreign friends who were born elsewhere, but went to school, laughed, cried and loved in Singapore.
That being said, I am pretty sure that loyalty to Singapore and fealty to a motherland need never be at odds. Why? Because to me, citizenship is not about competition, or singular loyalty to a single creed.
Rather, we who are citizens of Singapore have declared – by oath or by action – that we treasure the values and memories we have of this country enough for us to commit to its people and place them first in our hearts. Paying taxes and performing National Service are some ways in which we do this. That should never mean we should have no place in our hearts for other foreign communities whose lives and memories remain intertwined with our own.
A more practical way to look at this is by analogy. If we care for our relatives overseas, or accept the moral necessity of giving foreign aid, surely we should aim to better these communities as well? And what better way to help than by supporting political systems that might improve the lives of millions? It is both unreasonable and heartless to expect new citizens who still have strong emotional ties with their homelands to do otherwise.
Of course, citizenship entails some special obligations. Mr Philemon correctly points out that new citizens should never do anything that jeopardizes the national security of their adopted home. But staying in touch with politics back home doesn’t automatically mean that these citizens want to sell out Singapore to foreign powers.
This is where Mr Philemon’s reference to then-PM Lee Kuan Yew’s comments in the 1990s about Malays in the SAF is disingenuous, for even at the time many Malay-Muslims who would never dream of betraying Singapore were shocked.
Loyalties can live side by side without being divided and new citizens who act otherwise should be viewed as the exception, rather than the rule.
The involvement of new citizens in politics overseas in no way weakens Total Defence. To the contrary, it gives us a chance to show the world that the Singaporean spirit can never be penned in by the boundaries on a map.