They stand tall among us

November 16, 2009
Singapore Democrats

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Singapore Democrats

Full house at the book launchFormer ISA detainees Dr Lim Hock Siew, Dr Poh Soo Kai, Tan Kok Fang, and Mr Tan Jing Quee spoke at the launch of their book, The Fajar Generation, which was launched last Saturday. The 400-strong crowd was so large that many attendees could not get into the hall at the Singapore Medical Association.

The book recounts the incredible cruelty that was inflicted on the detainees by the PAP which had collaborated with with the British colonial government to kill the birth of democracy in early modern Singapore. It was sold out at the launch with several people buying multiple copies.

The Fajar (the Malay word for ‘dawn’) Generation were a group of young Singaporean men and women who had fought for anti-colonialism, democracy, multi-culturalism and social justice in the 1950s and 60s. formative years of modern Singapore.

The authors stand in contrast to other detainees some of whom had since capitulated and joined the establishment to collaborate, directly or otherwise, in the writing of another book, Men-in-White (MIW), published by the Singapore Press Holdings. Unlike The Fajar Generation, MIW largely extols the virtues of the PAP.

This was clearly seen in Dr Lim Hock Siew, now in his 80s, who stood defiantly at the podium and spoke against the regime who had incarcerated him for two decades without ever charging him of anything

This makes him the second longest serving political prisoner in Singapore after Mr Chai Thye Poh (32 years).

Dr Lim refuted the idea that ideals only come when one is young. He encouraged those listening never to surrender one’s ideals and never to give up working for them. His moral authority was not lost on the audience.

He also reminded those listening that it was not for “the culprits” to be magnanimous, as is often portrayed by the establishment, but rather for the detainees to demonstrate magnanimity by forgiving their captors.

Dr Lim spoke with poise and dignity, showing everyone how Mr Lee Kuan Yew, despite all the cruel power, could not make him bow down before the Minister Mentor. (Watch video here, courtesy of Mr Martyn See.)

Far from being defeated, former ISA detainees have been writing their memoirs and telling their side of the story. One suspects that the triumphalism exhibited by the PAP may just be a indulgent and brief moment in history.

Mr Said Zahari, who was detained for 17 years, has published two volumes of his story, Dark Clouds At Dawn and The Long Nightnare. Mr Vincent Cheng and some others detained in 1987 wrote That We May Dream Again and Our Thoughts Are Free where they recounted how they were tortured during their detention.

These books are available at Select Books, Tanglin Shopping Centre.

Read also: New PAP book neglects founding members detained for 19 years