In its latest attempt at explaining why the film by Tan Pin Pin, “To Singapore, With Love”, is not allowed to be shown in public settings, the press secretary to the Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs minister, said this is because allowing it “would be like allowing jihadi terrorist groups today to produce and publicly screen films that glorify their jihadist cause.”
Mr Yap Neng Jye, the press secretary, was writing to the Straits Times’ forum page on 14 October.
His letter more or less regurgitated what various ministers have said in recent weeks about the film – that it is a “threat to national security”, and that it contained “self-serving” views and claims by the protagonists, alleged former members of the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM).
What is strange about Mr Yap’s explanation this time round is his analogy that Ms Tan’s film is akin to a “jihadi” film.
Mr Yap seems to say that this was one reason why “the film received a classification that disallowed public screening.”
However, while he seems to draw parallel dangers between Ms Tan’s film and a “jihadi” film, Mr Yap nonetheless goes on to say:
“Individuals can still view it in private screenings, if the copyright owner of the film allows it.”
This is quite a strange thing to say – that while the film is as dangerous as a “jihadi” film, members of the public can still view it, “in private”.
Can members of the public view, with the state’s approval, “jihadi” films, even “in private”?
What then should one make of the Government’s warnings about people who become “self-radicalised” terrorists precisely because they watch such films “in private”, especially over the Internet?
One would hope this is not what the Government is actually saying.
Even so, to compare Ms Tan’s film to a “jihadi” film is laughable if it wasn’t also dangerous.
For a start, Ms Tan’s film is about an event 50 years ago, and not an ongoing struggle.
If allowing Ms Tan’s film to be publicly shown is like “allowing jihadi terrorist groups today to produce and publicly screen films that glorify their jihadist cause”, then could not the same be said of films which allow the People’s Action Party (PAP), and in particular Lee Kuan Yew, to glorify their past associations with the communists?
The PAP, as its Facebook page says, was formed "with a group of English-educated middle-class colleagues and pro-communists trade unionists.”
"It was a necessary combination as the English-speaking minority in Singapore needed the mass support that the Chinese-speaking pro-Communists could provide...,” the page explained.
But if allowing Ms Tan’s film is to allow alleged former CPM members to glorify their associations with the communists, then wouldn’t allowing films in which the PAP portrays its own associations with the communists as a “necessity” also akin to letting them “glorify” their past associations with the communists?[See here, at the 4:50th minute, in which Lee Kuan Yew explained the alliance with pro-communist trade unionists as one in which the founders of the PAP “had no choice”.]
Be that as it may, the more pertinent question is: if the history makers of the past are not allowed to share their side of the story with a broader audience, how would we come to a deeper understanding of our collective history?
Surely, Singapore’s beginnings are more complex than the singular narrative which the Government has been putting out, and which increasingly is being called into question by the release of secret documents elsewhere, such as in the United Kingdom, and by historians who look back and plough through the different available historical documents.
In short, what makes the PAP’s version or Mr Lee’s version the absolute truth of what transpired during the birth of our nation?
It is simplistic, and ridiculous, to first deny the release of official historical documents on flimsy grounds that such release “may not lead to good governance’, and then to say that films such as Ms Tan’s are “a threat to national security”, and films by Martyn See are “not in the public interest”; and then to claim that the version by one man will provide a “reality check” to the different accounts.
And while these alternative accounts are banned from being made available to a wider audience, the same Government which bans them lament that Singaporeans are “navel gazers” who aren’t too interested in our past.
It is really not a complicated thing to do – to release documents and to allow different accounts to be made available to the public, and to let the public decide for themselves.
Even if we reprint “The Battle for Merger”, let us not forget that these radio broadcasts are but the opinion of one man in an era of complexity.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong slammed Ms Tan’s film as ‘self-serving”.
But his father’s radio broadcasts in “The Battle for Merger” have also been slammed for exactly the same.
"The 'Battle for Merger' section is the most self-serving section in The Singapore Story," said Michael Barr in his book, "Constructing Singapore: Elitism, Ethnicity and the Nation-building Project".
Mr Barr has written extensively about Singapore, including about the Government Investment Corporation.
“The Singapore Story” are the memoir of Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first prime minister.
Each side and version of our history will be contentious.
This is precisely why Singaporeans should be given access to as much information about their history as possible, so that they can decide for themselves.
PM Lee calls the views in Ms Tan’s film “self-serving”.
But Lee Kuan Yew’s radio broadcasts are also described as “self-serving”.
Who then shall we believe?
Shouldn’t both sides be made accessible to the public?
Why ban one and not the other?
What is there to hide?
Why should the PAP’s past association with the communists be glorified as a “necessity”, while others’ are banned from even being aired?
The inconsistencies have given rise to what we see today – a PAP Government grasping at straws to rationalise such bans, resulting in it offering ridiculous excuses involving “threats to national security” and of “jihadi” films, and of how while these films are like terrorist productions, they can nonetheless be viewed “in private” and be shown to students of tertiary institutions.
Stop the circus show, please – and let us have our history back.