In all its multi-faceted glory, it is important to understand all aspects of Singapore and its diverse voices in order to really bond with it. As Singaporeans, we do not always have to agree but we do have to appreciate and respect diversity and this should extend beyond race, religion and sexual orientation to different ideologies as well.
For that reason, a film such as “To Singapore, With Love”, presenting the life stories of Singaporeans who remain unwaveringly Singaporean in their hearts, is an important narrative that offers more than just an alternative account of history. It is a tapestry of the intricate lives of Singaporeans who lived very different lives from us in very different times.
The decision by the Media Development Authority for banning it in Singapore is thus an indescribable shame. With the threat of communism long past, is an account of the personal experience of a Singaporean communist really that much of a threat?
Were any of these individuals so damaging to Singapore that their views can never be heard? Especially now that Singapore is an established country and the threats of yesteryear long gone. Are we not entitled as Singaporeans to watch a film made by a Singaporean about Singapore? Are we not permitted to make up our minds ourselves?
Moreover, many of those depicted have contributed much to society, either while they were in Singapore or in their adopted homes. With the passage of time, surely they are more a credit to Singapore than a threat?
Some might argue that this is a threat to national security – but is it really? The recounting of those dark days have been made many times over – way before the film was even made.
Try as I might, I could not see the breach of “national security” element in this film. All I could see was a very interesting snapshot of the lives of Singaporeans living overseas – the only political overtone was the knowledge (which I possessed before watching the film) that all of these individuals have lived in exile because of political or ideological differences with the government of Singapore.
Indeed, is the banning of this film a national security issue or an insecurity issue?
As I write, PM Lee has given his justification as to why the film was banned:
“Many Communists - even long-serving leaders - have returned to Singapore, and "lived and died" here after accounting for their actions…And there is nothing to stop the exiles in Ms Tan's film from doing the same… Well, they have chosen not to do so, so that's their prerogative. But if they have chosen not to do so, why should we allow them, through a movie, to present an account of themselves?”
This seems to be a slightly odd line of reasoning. There are many reasons why people may go into exile. They may fear for their safety or there may be conditions laid down for their return that they simply cannot in good conscience concede. It is therefore too simplistic to dismiss their reasons for not returning, as “they have chosen not to so that’s their prerogative” without giving an explanation as to how and why others were allowed to return and the conditions they had to meet in order to return.
In fact, it is precisely because there is a myriad of reasons why these exiles feel they are unable to return that they should be given the right to share their story – and more importantly that we as Singaporeans have the opportunity to make up our minds after hearing both sides. Surely, that is only fair?
History is very much a human experience and in order for us to understand it, it is incumbent on all Singaporeans, as the gatekeepers of our collective future to listen to all sides of the story. This gives us the tools to make an informed choice and above all, allows us the chance to be a part of history and to have a stake in its future.
The knowledge that non-Singaporeans have the ability to watch a film about our country when we are denied the same chance deeply rankles. Why is it up to the government to decide what we can and cannot watch? This is not a movie about bomb making or the creation of incendiary devices. Is there really a need to over react as such? Does the government doubt our ability to discern fact from the spurious? Frankly, it is rather insulting to be doubted as such!
PM Lee added that the movie is “not of documentary history, objectively presented, (but) a self-serving personal account, conveniently inaccurate in places, glossing over facts in others..."
On what basis is PM Lee saying this? Given that we are not given the right to watch and judge for ourselves, there is no objective basis for us to assess this statement. History has proven over the years to be subjective in interpretation. It is high time we accept this fact and trust the people with the right to decide for themselves.
I had a chance to speak to Tan Wah Piow about the film and he made a very thought provoking point – as we near the 50th birthday of our nation, what’s the next chapter? Will it be more of the same? While what has been said in the film is not new, how it has been dealt with is disappointing and has given us much food for thought on what we want for the next 50 years.
Personally, I cannot comprehend the ban. Nothing said in the film was really earth shattering. Far more damning statements have been made in books that have not been banned.
Perhaps it is the human element that is so threatening – that these exiles are no longer just words and statistics but people with faces and names; individuals who have thoughts, dreams, feelings, families, lives and who have obviously paid a heavy price for their ideals. Perhaps it is harder to justify isolation when there is a face to match the pain.
The banning of the film has made it more popular than ever – as Tan Wah Piow said when I asked for his thoughts on the ban: “It was the most (un)successful ban ever”. The ban has been counterproductive to say the least.
On the other hand, a chance for Singaporeans to love and embrace Singapore, and to be proud of our country and its citizens has been lost. We have also misplaced an opportunity to learn from Singaporeans who have seen Singapore with different eyes and possess unique perspectives. They can offer constructive alternatives on how to bring our country forward but now we are denied the chance to hear their voices.
And to what end? Is this about national security or party security?
Top image - Screen capture from STOnline.
Read also "Part 1: A film about life and patriotism" for a basic review of the film.
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