How significant is the insignificant “small” in Singapore?

by Joseph Nathan

“SMALL” has become the latest catch-phrase of the 4G politicians. It was fashioned by Edwin Tong when he refers to those opposing the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation (POFMA) Bill as “small” the previous week.

Just a couple of days ago, Law Minister refers those who commented negatively on his celebrity-driven video on POFMA as “small” too. Was it a mere coincident or are they trying to communicate something more significant about the insignificant “small” segment of Singaporeans?

If we were to aggregate the concerned Singaporeans against the POFMA Bill, from journalists, writers, academics, researchers, activists, alternative politicians and the casual social media users, the actual sum may be quite significant as the majority of them are voters. But if spread over the wider population to include babies, elderly and the “care-less” bunch, then their significance is definitely much lower.

This begets the question – why are they using “small” when referring to those who are against their POFMA Bill? Are their feedbacks, opinions and social-value really that insignificant?

The full argument of the government on POFMA Bill is still very vague for people like me as I am still clueless on its objective and who exactly are those Foreign Interference that our government has been referring to all these while. It could be due to the fact that I do not have access to the Big Data that the 4G politicians are privileged to access. It could also be that I lack their power “to think as they think”. I can only lament that as a nation, we have much to lose when honest criticisms and strong opinions are curtailed out of fear. The onus is on the 4G politicians to show explicit goodwill.

Missing The Gems

When concerned Singaporeans slammed the government for their lack of timely communication of their policies and issues of national interests, or more specifically in their unintended-misinformation and disinformation, the 4G politicians may have misconstrue when they bring in the celebrity-power to help them.

Using a crude analogy, no chef, local or foreign, can cook a proper meal or sushi out of a rotten fish, I hope the extra emphasis will help them see that the issues have been largely in their substance, the lack of clarity of their policies, or action when addressing issues of national interests. If there is an issue with the clarity or the master copy, then all transmission there forth cannot be any better. This has become a pertaining issue that is frustrating Singaporeans.

Anyone who can research will be able to substantially show the many good that these concerned Singaporeans have done with the empowerment of social media. From helping our authorities to catch up with law-breakers to giving grounded opinions, to exposing the plights of our children in schools, where female students have been violated for years whenever they shower, the lists can go on and on.

Permissible Foreign Interference

When the 4G ministers and PM Lee uses foreign and local celebrities to sell Singapore to potential tourists to boost tourism, the quality of their governance or articulate their political agenda or policies, they were not clear upfront, in explaining what is permissible foreign interference and what is non-permissible foreign interference.

As such, it has led probably the same “small” segment to accuse the government of being selective and behave like Kim Jong-un, the North Korean dictator where his citizens are only permitted to sing his praises or risks persecution.

I hope the 4G politicians will take note and make more effort in explaining what permissible foreign interference is and what is not permissible. This will take the lighting out of the thunder, and no one needs to be engaged in the blaming-game.

Government Cannot Tango Alone

Similar to pre-GE2011, the current ground sentiment against the People’s Action Party (PAP) 4G leaders is already getting from bad to worse. Its slate of 4G candidates is also not well received by many Singaporeans, and even from within the PAP activists, who see some of them as arrogant, insincere or even self-entitled.

As logic dictates that it takes two to tango, it is the prerogative of the 4G politicians to appreciate the legitimate concerns of Singaporeans. It is also in their longevity to understand that good behaviour matters, and that it requires good role-models who can actually walk their talks, and not just talk their talks. If so, then they ought to start learning to tango. The first step lies in their commitment in clarifying their policies and actions, and making them comprehensible for the masses.

Importance of Private Space

Singaporeans are not robots but human, and they need time and space to socialize, share and exchange opinions meaningfully with others. It allows Singaporeans to articulate their critical thoughts and ground their sense of reality. With many having to work hard just to put food on the table or from hand to mouth, the little space left become even more precious for some.

This new media space is also the critical exchange platform where the conventional MSMs are unable to transcend on behalf of the government, as exampled by Law Minister’s latest video attempt. Like the old British Club for true-blues gentlemen, everyone can agree to disagree civilly. The 4G politicians have to find the courage to play on the same playing field, and not be seen to be curtailing it to their advantage.

Are Online Hooligans Permissible?

As such, our authorities ought to be alarmed when Internet Brigades create troubles online, just like hooligans would on the street. Surely our government are well aware and ought to be clamping down hard on these trouble-makers as they would with street hooligans. If politicians are true to their call for unity, they would have also demanded that the relevant authorities act more swiftly and put an end to such online malice. Why aren’t they doing so?

Are they being clueless about what is going on online, display pure ignorance or are they simply being selective? How can these 4G political leaders earn the respect and trust of the people if they do not see this as an issue worthy of their urgent intervention?

Why is SG Courting Extremists’ Eyeballs?

If the controversial Nas, or Nuseir Yassin, is an example of “permissible” foreign interference, just like any celebrities, then there is no real issue of his selfie with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and the Meet-&-Greet session at the Botanic Garden. If the government want to use him to sell their governance to the outside world and show its liveability, enhanced, fake or stage, that is a tourism matter. But the danger of using Nas is much greater than meet the eyes.

He is a Palestinian, born to a Muslim Arab family, who travels with an Israeli passport. His current travel option remains very limited as most Islamic countries do not recognize Israeli passport. Anyone who is in his shoes will be equally desperate to find new citizenship elsewhere. I personally like him and do empathize with individuals like him who aspire for a better life.

Extremists and deadly conflicts have reduced the West Bank-Jerusalem region into probably the most unliveable place on earth. Despite the best attempts by the global superpowers to reconcile their differences over many centuries, there is still no end to their conflict. Such state of hopelessness is driving many Palestinians out of their homeland but migration is an issue as many countries ban them or make it almost impossible for them to even travel.

As such, having an Israeli passport is like a ticket out of hell. But why would the Israeli be so kind to Nas, who is a Palestinian, their arch-enemy? Who is empowering him to garner millions of online followers all these while? Here lies the legitimacy of my concern.

Why do our 4G politicians want to draw the attention of extremists onto our shore or take the risk where Nas could implode or be exploited by foreign trouble-makers, and unintentionally draw SG into their conflict? By putting Nas into the equation, the probability has been created. Is it worth the risks when extremists take advantage of his high profile to create their own high profile eventuality in SG?

If our politicians are showing compassion to a stateless person like Nas, why not show compassion to our own stateless ones who are currently living among us? Like Nas, they would say or do anything that the script-writers of our politicians put in front of them, no question asked. With money and a passport, they can migrate out of SG and reduce the financial stress on our social safety net too since they are currently unable to even work and are not economically viable unless given a second chance like Nas.

Questionable Foreign Interference

Michael Petraeus, who use the pseudonym “Critical Spectator”, is a much more dubious character that is testing the permissibility of foreign interference. During the bilateral tension between Singapore and Malaysia last November, he was actively slamming the Malaysian leaders and instigating the emotions of Singaporeans into calling for a war with our neighbour.

What is ironic is that our authorities are not even remotely concern about this foreign character interfering in our domestic affairs, especially during a time of great bilateral tension with our neighbour.

He is a Polish but has been deliberately singing praises about Singapore. By so doing, he seems to be deliberately antagonising the Malaysian leaders, as if to score a political point. Can any patriotic Singaporean appreciate or accept such a questionable trouble-maker?

When exposed, our MSMs were quick to “interview” him but no one questioned him in detail as to why would a Polish citizen, come to this part of the world without an employment, be vested in Singapore domestic and foreign affairs over many years, and why he must deliberately antagonize our neighbour needlessly? What right has he to risk our peace with our neighbour? This surely cannot be a permissible foreign interference just because he is singing praises of SG. This trouble-maker is very troubling.

He has been singing praises of SG, citing our government fabulous policies and is quite insistent that all Singaporeans must appreciate what our government is doing for us. The reverse is also true. We can insist that Poland has a great government, with good policies, and demand that he return to Poland and be more patriotic in serving his own country instead of meddling in others. Go home to Poland and stop being a trouble-maker when it comes to our bilateral ties with Malaysia. We can manage it ourselves and do not need irritants like him. We value our peace.

What is troubling is that his writing has no trace of Polish or European accentuation. That makes me wonder if he is just a front of a group of politically-motivated writers, foreign or local, with unknown agenda. If he is not under proper employment in Singapore, how on earth is he able to stay in Singapore for so many years?

How has he been able to work in between to keep himself economically viable without contravening our Employment Acts and ICA’s regulations? Are there really so many loop-holes in our Employment and Immigration Acts that foreigners can easily exploit us to their advantage right under our noses?

The 4G politicians have much more work to do in clarifying what is permissible and what is not if they want to be more credible and win the trust of Singaporeans. Small or big, all Singaporeans deserve better.

This was first published on Joseph Nathan – Hard Truths of SG’s Facebook page and reproduced with permission.

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