Oct 13, 10
INTERVIEW In order to define the politics and social structure of Singapore, one has to understand the fear that grips the island state, explained political analyst James Gomez.
“Its anchor is the climate of fear which continues to resonates throughout society, in spite of decades of changes,” said Gomez in an exclusive interview with Malaysiakini.
He contended that Singaporeans fear to tread where the state does not allow, fearing retribution.
Like Malaysia, the island nation still maintains draconian laws inherited from the British, left over from the Communist insurgency, like the Internal Security Act that is used to suppress, control and punish errant citizens.
Gomez (right) observed that because of this fear, Singaporeans dare not speak, act, nor involve in opposition politics, protests, and movements for reform or dissent.
Indeed, such is the fear that many citizens have already packed up and left, dissatisfied with the Singaporean way of life.
A Singaporean himself, who has studied the political and societal developments of his homeland and the region for over a decade, Gomez did not discount that the situation in Singapore today, is similar to East Germany during the cold war and a paranoia-driven America post-911.
East Germany was notorious for its highly regimented and ‘watchman’ society where everybody watched everybody under the thumb of its infamous state security arm, the Stasi.
This is being repeated in the United States by the drafting of the Homeland Security Act and the formation of its accompanying ‘watchman’ agency, the Department of Homeland Security.
“We are even asked to watch out for suspicious types in the MRT. Singapore is the modern equivalent of Orwell’s 1984,” he lamented.
“Parents watch their kids at home and society watches each other at work,” related Gomez, who is also the Monash University head of public relations.
This, is further reinforced by cameras, soulless eyes that peer into every nook and cranny of Singaporean life, while restrictive regulations encompass everything, even the consumption of chewing gum and cigarettes.
The conditioning to this fear, Gomez contends, starts from young.
“It is how they were socialised, that is the reason why the young are not interested in political activities. It’s because of their parents,” he said.
The lecturer added, that this is something that has not been openly discussed, the role of parents in creating the fear by watching their children like hawks, pouncing upon any perceptible slight.
It does not help, that the education system itself conspires to hammer out those that stand out and churn them into regimented souls.
“Education is old school, structured and regimented. An example of this are exams in Singapore which is highly invigilated.
“In the US exams are not heavily invigilated, they have the honour system,” said Gomez adding that in Singapore the system does not trust the individual.
He deemed this to be very stifling, compared to other more nurturing systems where children are taught to question and arrive at conclusions themselves.
It’s the same story in the workplace as supervisors and bosses takes over from parents and invigilating educators, to closely monitor everyone.
“Most businesses depend on government contracts. Businesses want to maintain the connections they have to the Lee family and the ruling government.
“They can be quite reluctant to have those linked with dissent in their offices.”
Malaysians part of the problem
However, other than oppressive policies and servile Singaporeans, Gomez believes that Malaysians, who made up the largest number of immigrant workers in the state, are also to blame.
“Malaysians reading this who have worked in Singapore will understand because they are consumers to this climate of fear, and are part of the cause perpetuating it.
“Those working in Singapore are part of the watchman mentality, are responsible for maintaining the status quo, and will not support those with liberal views,” claimed Gomez.
“They are part of the regime’s workforce for nigh 20 years. They continue to work with the regime and never rock the boat.
“They kept the system afloat, especially in the media, both broadcast and print, as well as in universities, the civil service and government linked companies,” Gomez opined.
He admitted that Malaysians have no vested interest in Singapore, thus the apathy.
“But they have a conscience, but choose to avoid doing anything, prioritising personal gain and self-protection,” contends Gomez.
Such apathy, he said, is regrettable as positive support from Malaysians can help to see more freedom and change happen in Singapore.
The answer to the problem, Gomez believe is to increase interaction between the people of the two countries so that the activism that has galvanised Malaysians may rub off on Singaporeans too.
“For example the online media in Malaysia, for the last 12 years continue to operate without restrictions. However they neglect news on Singapore,” he said.
Dispelling the climate of fear
Gomez believes that online media and citizen journalists can help increase awareness of the island state’s issues, giving Singaporeans access to information and help Malaysians gain a better understanding.
This is something that few in Singapore can do because of restrictive government controls not only over mainstream media but of the internet as well.
“Unlike in Malaysia, Singapore has a specific act which empowers them to regulate the internet,” said the lecturer.
The impact of such interaction, he added, may not be evident overnight but incrementally significant in dispelling Singapore’s climate of fear.
“If we continue to talk and open up a bit, I think we will see more change,” concluded Gomez.
Gomez runs an initiative to connect researchers and the academia from both countries, especially on social studies and is in Malaysia for a series of talks and dialogues with Malaysian experts and audience on civil rights and politics.
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