Senior Lecturer and Professor of Practice at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Prof Donald Low remarked that the ruling government is “on a very dangerous road” in response towards the Singapore nationalism.
Sharing an article by Prof Cherian George about reproach against the nationalist rhetoric of Singapore on his Facebook page last Saturday (16 May), Prof Low described Prof George’s remarks to be “very prescient” as several prominent authors such as Prof George, Inderjit Singh, Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh, and Prof Low himself have been “attacked and defamed” by the “ugly, exclusivist, and populist nationalism” in Singapore.
Written by Prof George, the article noted that there has been “populist nationalism” emerging worldwide amidst this public health crisis, whether depreciating the Hong Kong’s governance or sneering at Taiwanese or “goading the ruling party’s internet brigade to treat domestic critics as if they are anti-national.”
However, the Singapore government ruled by the People Action Party (PAP) has seen this condition as “harmless self-expression”, while Singaporeans “have swallowed the line” especially during this challenging period that is in dire need of collective efforts.
“But there is a big difference between cultivating an inclusive patriotism — a love for country that is also open-minded and open-hearted — and an exclusive us-versus-them nationalism.
“The latter is unhelpful, and even dangerous,” the article noted.
By cultivating an “exclusive nationalism”, it highlighted that the nation tends to ask the dissenters to keep their own opinions while leaning to majoritarianism by deferring the voices of minorities and immigrants.
“It is unhelpful because it leads to the nation cutting off its nose to spite its face. It tells dissonant and dissenting voices that you show your loyalty by keeping your views to yourself. That shouldn’t be the #SGUnited way to solve complex problems.
“What’s more, exclusive nationalism is dangerous because of a global environment where destructive ethno-religious nationalism has been on the rise. We’ve seen how economic stagnation generates frustrations that are exploited by populist demagogues who pander to majoritarian sentiments at the expense of minorities and immigrants.
In Prof Low’s post, he also quoted a few passages from the article:
Singapore needs to prepare for this uglier world. The PAP must shift towards an inclusive patriotism and decisively reject exclusive nationalism. Because once you get society used to wearing us/them lenses, no number of broadcasts from the Istana will be able to control what people see through those lenses, and what harms may follow.
As tempting as it is to play the national-populist game — encouraging Singaporeans to imagine we are being let down by untrustworthy foreigners or disloyal critics — please, just stop it. I know it must be hurtful to face false allegations — as well as true but inconvenient accusations — when you’re trying to do the biggest job of your lives, but we need leaders who can set aside their own feelings and look at the big picture.
Prof George wrote the article, titled ‘Never forget, the Great Depression led to war and genocide’ on 2 May following the academia webinar that was held the day before, which also saw several Singaporean social scientists – including Prof Low – in attendance, discussing about the aftermath of COVID-19 in Singapore.
What happened to the Singaporean authors that were being accused?
On 6 May, Global Times Singapore (GTS) accused the Singaporean writers of South China Morning Post (SCMP) for having the intention to “weaken” the PAP-dominated parliament, claiming that SCMP curated the Singaporean content from a “rather narrow group of individuals with very narrow opinions”.
GTS pointed out that these authors are Singaporean prominent figures who are standing against the ruling party, including Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh, Ken Kwek, Tan Tarn How, PN Balji, Inderjit Singh, and Prof Donald Low.
“They are all Singaporeans with an anti-PAP stance. Many of these persons were ex-IPS and friends of Cherian George, the disgruntled professor previously working for NTU,” it claimed.
GTS added, “These writers curated for the SCMP have all had either some sort of conflict with the Singapore establishment before, or is linked directly to one of the opposition parties.”
The page further explained that China is publishing anti-PAP content to “put pressure on Singapore”. Therefore, with “weakened” governance in Singapore, Singapore is said to be coerced to favour on China-centric issues.
In response to this “accuse”, Prof George took to his Twitter account on 7 May, saying, “Singapore’s pro-government trolls are sniping domestic critics after SCMP ran a sharp column. And look! Suddenly I’m the hub in an international conspiracy. Am quite honoured, as every person on its hit list is a Singaporean, I think highly of…”.
He also questioned the allegation coming from a fan page that is naming itself after a pro-China publication.
Prof George went on to ask if the Singapore government would stand up for citizens against such incitement. “If not, this just adds to the suspicion that the state’s trolls, bots and fans are Singapore’s #1 source of online opinion manipulation, even as it claims to fight fake news.”
Meanwhile, Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh, the author that was involved in the controversy after writing the article titled ‘Is electioneering to blame for Singapore’s teetering pandemic response?‘, also took to his Facebook on 9 May to hit back at GTS.
“This pro-PAP group’s supporters have called me a “traitor” and said that I “should be banned from entering Singapore,” he wrote.
Though Mr Vadaketh decided not to respond initially, he ultimately decided that he “must” do so to reveal the “emptiness of this relentless campaign against people who speak out of turn”.
“When pro-PAP forces have difficulty competing intellectually, they resort to ad-hominem attacks. Take out the person rather than the argument. The easiest way is to just brand us as ‘foreign agents’,” he wrote.
Mr Vadaketh added, “What worries me is how easily some Singaporeans buy the pro-PAP line that somebody who speaks out of turn is a foreign agent.”
He also found it “hilarious” that GTS’ argument is based on that one particular opinion piece of his in SCMP, as he hinted that readers would know that he has “always personally been in favour of a PAP government” from his writings.
“Over the past decade I have written commentaries for many publications, including The Straits Times, Mothership, Rice Media, The Economist, Foreign Affairs and Nikkei Asian Review,” he stated.
“It should be blindingly obvious that I am not a Chinese agent; I am just a bloody whore.”