Thoughts : Singapore (Human Rights & Freedom) : Apathy of Singaporeans Towards International Affairs

Mr. Liew Kai Khiun, in his letter “No meaningful debate here on globalisation” (23 Nov) has rightly pointed out the great apathy shown by Singaporeans towards issues (e.g. Global capitalism, War, the Environment) that have affected many around the world and led them to voice their opinions through public demonstrations. As a passionate supporter of such demonstrations (when I study in Sydney) and also a believer that the many international issues ought to be debated and discussed more widely in Singapore beyond the academic arena, I am disappointed that few of my fellow Singaporeans show any interest whatsoever in these important political issues. Disappointed, but not surprised.

For since when have Singaporeans been greatly interested in politics? Or if at all, since when have they looked beyond their borders. Even as the opposition parties slowly grow from strength to strength, political discussion here in Singapore is still very much confined to local and (perhaps when looked from a broader perspective) petty issues. Many Singaporeans are greatly concerned about the price hikes but I think if we all understand the great suffering and oppression people in the third world face (either due to capitalistic exploitation or military oppression), they will start to see their “suffering” in proper context.

I’m not saying that outrage over the recent price hikes is not justified. Just that I would like to see more Singaporeans understand how blessed we already are and maybe take an interest in the fate of those less fortunate than them. I’d like to see the press give more emphasis to international political issues, and allow more letters on these issues to be published.

As I said, I am not surprised to see Singaporeans apathetic towards international politics. After all, the education system isn’t geared towards producing students interested in global affairs or those who would think critically about these important topics. The sciences have always been promoted above that of the social sciences and humanities – for political, economic and ideological reasons. I’m hoping that the new education system encourages greater reflection on the global world today.

The fact that public external demonstrations are not allowed is another way the government suppresses the flow of information and makes sure debate about international politics is kept to a minimum. One of the reasons people demonstrate is to raise awareness of certain important issues. The fact demonstrations are not allowed means that less people will become aware. Thus I’m not surprised that not many Singaporeans know about child labourers, sweatshops, the root causes of terrorism (which is surely NOT mere religious fanaticism but more importantly political injustice in the Muslim world) or big debates over the WTO, World Bank and the IMF. Do many Singaporeans know that the U.S. attacks in Afghanistan have led to more innocent collateral deaths than the number who died in America on September 11? Or how about the deadly effects of U.S. supported economic sanctions upon the children of Iraq? Or the theft of Palestinian land by Israel (supported by the U.S.) – which is probably the greatest political cause of terrorism in the world today.

The government’s justification for not allowing public demonstrations and protests needs to be debated. Equating demonstrations with violence or rioting is simply dishonest. Everyone who has ever attended any rally would know that more than 99% of the people (including the organizers) actively promote non-violence. And even if traffic were to be disrupted (which doesn’t necessarily always occur and can easily be prevented), the benefits of demonstrations and the raising of awareness of issues that comes along with it, I believe, far exceeds any such benefit that will come through the Government’s obsessive fear of disorder. They should know by now that what the doctored ordered for a more creative culture is not more order and rules, but more allowance and leeway for the expression of one’s views and for dissent.

Like Mr. Liew, I look forward to the day when Singaporeans not only become more politically aware but also when they become more globalized in their outlook and more compassionate to those throughout the world who suffer from the current global capitalistic system.

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