JBJ: Students should be at the forefront of change

October 7, 2008
Singapore Democrats

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Singapore Democrats

He may be dead but J B Jeyaretnam’s voice is still finding its way to current issues. Ten years ago, the late opposition leader was interviewed by The Ridge, the student newspaper published by the National University of Singapore (NUS). NUS officials wanted to censor the interview. Sounds familiar?

But the student-editors stood firm and after a month of wrangling, the university administration relented and the piece was published.

Ten years on, have things changed? Now it’s the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) that is playing the game of censor-thy-publication, prohibiting reports of Dr Chee Soon Juan’s visit to the school.

While the players may have changed, the message remains the same. The universities are stifling the academic development of our students for the sake of helping the PAP maintain its hold on power. This was also the the message Jeyaretnam tried to put across.

He said: “In other countries, students are in the forefront of political change, for example in Indonesia. Not in Singapore. But I can sympathise with you because the University might throw you out…The University is wrong in clamping down on student participation in politics.”

Did he believe that the general apathy in Singapore is due to the political culture here?

“There is only one culture here – that of fear. Everyone knows that they have to be frightened and mustn’t speak out. They can’t do anything that displeases the government.”

And what message did he have for students?

“…the future of any country lies in those who are going to take over from their parents. Something has to be handed over to the next generation. This is what I have asked the people and the voters – what are you going to hand over to your children?”

Yet there are those who insist that Jeyaretnam’s fight was irrelevant to society. If that is the case, why did what he say ten years ago remain so salient in the latest episode of the NTU students protesting at Hong Lim Park?

Jeyaretnam was also accused for basing his political fight on personal attacks and not debating the issues. Does criticising the NUS for clamping down on students and exhorting our youths to think about the kind of society they will hand over to their children sound like a personal attack?

Read the entire interview here and see for yourselves if Jeyaretnam sounded like an out of touch and vindictive politician out only to attack his opponents personally.

Ironically, in that interview he was asked whether he was out of touch with the younger generation.

How did Jeyaretnam respond? “That was something that the papers put out. Whenever I walk along the streets sometimes I get even school students who come up and say, ‘Sir, may I shake your hand? We admire you so much.’ So, have I lost touch? I don’t know.”

What we do know is that JBJ would have been proud of the NTU students who demonstrated the courage of their convictions by standing up for what they believed in at Hong Lim Park on Sunday.

Even in death, he remains very relevant.

(By the way, the poster above reads: “Censorship causes blindness. Can you see who is blinding you?”)