The Cure

Chee Soon Juan
8 Sep 06

Like maggots feeding on rotting flesh, despotism eats away at the nation’s body politic. This, in turn, erodes the economic and social health of society.

In such a condition, all the gloss that the PAP paints about this island being a global city is little better than the slapping of gobs of rouge and lipstick on a cancer-stricken patient.

There is a cure. When citizens actively participate in the political process, the country is strengthened.

In such a circumstance not only are the needs and grievances of the people addressed but the bonds between citizen and country are fortified, a process crucial in nationhood building.

By “actively participating in the political process” I mean Singaporeans taking part in peaceful assemblies.

The overwhelming majority of you reading this article understands and appreciates the need for peaceful protests. You see the imbalance and injustice that exists in our society. You know that the foreign talent policy is misguided. You realize that our CPF system leaves us with little to retire on. You struggle with the high cost of living in your everyday lives.

But you also know that without the coming together and the show of strength by ordinary citizens, the PAP will never pay heed to our grievances regardless of the number of petitions, blogs or forums we may organise.

I’m not disparaging these efforts. They are crucial. But as I have said many times before, by themselves these activities are insufficient to bring about political change.

What about change through the ballot box? Without a free media, an independent election commission, and political freedoms it is foolish to rely exclusively on the voting process for political change. You just don’t vote out a dictatorship.

The only viable way is to demand, through mass peaceful protests, that the PAP reforms the system. No country has gone from an autocratic/dictatorial state to a democratic one without the mass participation of the people. What makes anyone think that Singapore is an exception?

The fear of evil and the evil of fear

There is, of course, one obstacle that stands in our way. Okay, it’s a huge one. And no, it’s not the PAP. It is our own fear – our fear of getting into trouble with the law, our fear of being ridiculed and ostracized by our family and friends, and our fear of offending the PAP.

They are legitimate fears, to be sure. But the one question that we must ask ourselves is: Are we citizens or are we serfs? Only serfs live in fear of their government.

Nevertheless, I have to acknowledge that fear is a very powerful emotion. It makes the most rational of us irrational. It immobilizes and cages us. It brings out the worst in us all. It is also something that rulers exploit.

But didn’t fear exist in other societies and with other peoples? Of course, it did. So how did they overcome their fear?

The first step is to recognize that we need to be courageous in the face of repression. Equally important, we need to know that the opposite of courage is not the absence of fear. It is the overcoming of fear. In other words, courage is the deliberate act of going ahead with an action despite our fear.

Someone once said that “Courage is doing what you’re afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you’re scared.” Or as the late Hollywood actress Dorothy Bernard so elegantly puts it: “Courage is fear that has said its prayers.”

When we do something despite being fearful, we learn to control our fears. In time to come and especially when the action is repeated, our experiences will reduce the fear.

The challenge, therefore, is to not let our fears freeze us into inaction. When we let our fear prevent us from doing what we know to be right and just, we surrender to cowardice. But for cowardice, the world would be a much safer and more humane place. To cite the oft-quoted Edmund Burke: “All it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.”

Worthy citizens of democracy

In this coming WB-IMF meeting let us find our courage, my fellow Singaporeans. September 16, 2006 can be a momentous occasion that provides us the opportunity to prove ourselves to be worthy citizens of a democratic Singapore.

Or will we let our fears get the better of us again and forever condemn ourselves to living timidly under the diktat of a small group of people who know neither grace nor tolerance, and who continue to mock us and insult our intelligence.

Peoples all over the world know how to protect themselves and their societies from self-serving politicians. Let it not be said that Singaporeans were complicit in engineering, through fearful inaction, our own downfall.

Let us seize the day and start to rid ourselves of the injustice that we have allowed to fester for far too long.

Let us empower ourselves.

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