Amidst the drama of the cancellation of the Dissent and Resistance programme which was supposed to be held at Yale-Nus and led by renowned playwright Alfian Sa’at, it seems the certain factions online have decided to launch an attack on journalist Kirsten Han.
Ms Han was slated to appear as a guest facilitator for one of the activities in the programme called ‘Democracy Classroom’ which would be a discussion on a particular topic that had yet to be decided on.
When the event was cancelled, a debate was sparked about the nature of the programme and what it hoped to achieve. The Facebook page Singapore Matters even released a video saying that the programme should not be held as it was “aimed at advocating civil disobedience, i.e breaking the law to advocate a political cause” and that it “glorifies the illegal protests, even violent ones” like in Hong Kong.
Coming out in defence of the programme, Ms Han took to Facebook to question the point of releasing such a video filled with “claims about the programme and line-up of activities that are untrue” given that the event has already been cancelled.
Following that, another Facebook page called FActually Singapore responded to Ms Han’s comments by alleging that she “does not hide her desire for Singapore to be like Hong Kong”. The page also shared a clip from a speech she gave in 2016 to suggest that she wants Singaporeans to protest in the street.
Ms Han, then shared a blog post in response which clarifies the message of her speech. In our article in which we reported these exchanges, we highlighted a paragraph from the blog post published on Medium where she wrote:
“Our goal right now is not to mobilise thousands to go marching in the streets. Our goal right now is to reach out to people, to build relationships, networks, trust and solidarity. It’s easier said than done, but it’s necessary, and there’s a role for everyone. There are so many access points, so many ways for us to exercise our democratic muscle, and to encourage others to do the same.”
The blog post was about Ms Han’s disappointment over the results of the 2015 General Elections and her trying to figure out what happens next for social movements in Singapore. She had mentioned the Movement Action Plan by American political activist Bill Moyer who argued that successful social movements go through eight stages, from status quo through to victory and a continuation of the struggle to further extend successes.
“When I look at Moyer’s description of the eight stages and match it against my experience observing and participating in Singapore civil society, it’s clear that, when it comes to issues like political rights, civil liberties, democracy and human rights, we’re at a fairly early stage. Recognising this immediately makes one realise the absurdity of trying to compare Singaporean civil society to that of more politically mature and developed societies.”
Latching on to this, a different Facebook page, Critical Spectator, lashed out against her yesterday (17 September) for saying “Singapore is less mature than civil societies in other countries because its people do not take to the streets by the thousands like in Malaysia or Hong Kong.”
Critical Spectator directed its post to Ms Han, saying “Dear Kirsten, if you’re reading this, here’s a top tip: Before you call yourself a “journalist” of any sort, it would be good if you understood a thing or two about the world. It helps to prevent making a total fool out of yourself.”
The post continues on to compare Singapore to Malaysia and Hong Kong, noting that if conditions in Singapore were as bad as in those two countries, then maybe citizens would take to streets to protests.
However, it said, “Lion City is among the world’s elite – wealthiest and safest countries on the planet, with world-class education, healthcare, infrastructure and public transit, free from corruption and crime, whose inhabitants live surrounded by greenery in their very own spacious apartments, generously subsidized by the state.”
“In consequence, it is easily one of the most mature societies in the world, because its citizens are able to focus on self-actualization, living largely worry-free lives instead of spiting each other in public.”
The post then went on to further attack Ms Han by calling her “immature” and “ungrateful” saying, “Perhaps if you yourself lived a life of any meaning, doing an honest, value-generating job, instead of grovelling for foreign funding for your blind “activism” which clearly lacks fans in this place, you would understand the globally unparalleled accomplishments of this country and its society that you so disparagingly look down on.”
Responding to these online attacks, Mr Sa’at took to Facebook to defend Ms Han. He said in a Facebook post late last night (17 September), “Let it be absolutely clear that I bear sole responsibility for designing the programme. I only asked Kirsten in as a guest facilitator for a Democracy Classroom,” adding that the topic of the classroom hadn’t even been decided yet.
He went on to say that democracy is not a foreign import and that it is symbolised by one of the stars in Singapore’s flag and is even part of the country’s national pledge.
“So those people who are trying to mobilise nationalistic rhetoric by calling people like Kirsten a ‘traitor’ and yet at the same time trying to turn ‘democracy’ into some Western bogeyman—choose one. Better still, no need to choose either. Ask yourself: what does it achieve?”
He then asked people who have issues with the Dissent and Resistance programme to leave Ms Han alone and direct their hostility at him instead.
He added, “She’s a strong person but I think she can do without your character assassination and hysterical fearmongering. At some point, it’s just harassment and bullying.”
He also highlighted that some people have pointed out that the reason Ms Han is being attacked more ferociously than he was is due to the fact that she is a woman.
To that, Mr Sa’at said, “And it’s not because you think women are weaker and more easily pushed around. It’s because she’s a woman and she has more guts than you can even dream of.”
He ended by asserting, “Mobs go after those who expose some truth about them. And I think this is what accounts for the violence of your reactions.”