Thursday, March 26, 2015

Lee Kuan Yew - The Fallout

Photo from Channel News Asia


I have been sitting on the edge of the internet for a while now, watching the conversations that have been going around following the death of Lee Kuan Yew (LKY). The initial posts, a few hours to a day or two after his death, were primarily of a sad and appreciative nature. Some felt lost, sad and shocked by his death. A lot of people expressed their grief that the nation lost a great person and thanked him for his contributions.

As time passed, however, the types of response began to grow more varied as well. A blogger said that she’s sad but not too sad, because she never experienced the transformation of the nation under LKY and that she did not know him personally. Another blog post that is written in response echoed her thoughts and added that since LKY committed some questionable acts, such as political imprisonments, he should not be celebrated as much. And that not all of Singapore’s development can be attributed to him. A few on the extreme end are delighted, like one soon to be regretful Instagrammer. Others are asking for naysayers to hold their peace at least for now, considering that it is inappropriate during this period.

There is a spectrum of responses, no doubt, ranging from those who are supportive of LKY and saddened over his passing; to those who are against him, those who are criticizing his previous policies and past actions; to those who are against people showing their grief online. There are those who are crying, those who are indifferent and those who are complaining about the amount of attention that is given to him.

However, no matter type of response, there seems to be a feature that binds all these responses together. One that makes them similar and no different from each other. And that is the belief that only one type of response should be allowed and accepted while all other responses should be silenced. Either you should grieve him or you should despise him. 

Friends have been sharing different Facebook statuses and blog posts with me, and almost universally under each blog post or Facebook status, in the comments section, there is bound to be people fighting. If someone is grieving, there would be at least one comment ridiculing the person’s grief.

“Why are you crying when you don’t know him? Why are you feeling sad over someone who oppressed human rights, whom you never worked with before? It’s not your relative who died.”

On the other hand, if the person is commenting on LKY’s past action, there is bound to be at least one comment calling the person “unpatriotic” or “inappropriate”.

It’s almost as we don’t have the freedom of choice to express what we feel online without someone coming to us and telling us that it is wrong. That we shouldn’t cry. Or we shouldn’t criticize. That we should do A instead of B. But then another person would come and say B is right while A is wrong. That almost any way you choose to react or feel is wrong, one way or another.

Why are we so concerned about how people are reacting online, anyway? Why are we so eager to stop them, to tell them what is acceptable and what is not? That we should feel A instead of B? Why are we so quick to impose our belief system unto others? That we should feel, react or mourn in a particular way? Isn’t this exactly what we are so up against?

I find it ironic that not even after a week after Lee Kuan Yew’s death, many of us are already honouring his legacy by just being like him: chiding others when what they feel or what they think is not in accordance with our own views. Telling them that their way is wrong and they should follow our way. By trying to force our beliefs onto others. That you should not voice criticisms to the man during this period. Or that you should not make a big issue out of it because he is not your relative. Or that the only way to honour him is to talk as loudly as possible, to make as much noise as possible. 

Despite all our calls to have more freedom of speech, any form of opinion that is contrary to ours is knocked down and ridiculed quickly on the web. How can we expect the government to give us freedom of speech when we ourselves do not accord the same rights to others? When we are so quick to condemn an opinion that is different than ours?

Despite all the negativity that has started to surface, why can’t we choose to focus on the good instead? That in Lee Kuan Yew’s passing, Singaporeans are united in a scale that this young nation has never seen before? Look at the amount of people who turned up to pay respect to him. Braving the hot sun and the long queue just take one last look at the man. Look at the people who have come out to offer help in response, those who donated bottled waters and food, who helped keep the order. The public transport who got things right for once by offering 24-hour service.

Why can’t we celebrate the diversity that defines our society? That every person deserve their own response and their own space to express their feelings without being knocked down. That we should be entitled to our own thoughts without having others telling us that is wrong? Isn’t that exactly what we disliked about LKY, so why are we trying to censor other’s thoughts that do not align with us, when we ourselves are demanding for free speech for our own thoughts? Why can’t we just grasp the idea that it is okay for us to have different opinions, rather than having everyone fall in the same line of thought?

I find it really sad to see something so beautiful, the outpouring of emotion, the exchanges in thoughts, the unity, being turned into something ugly. Instead of a sense of collectiveness and community, some of us are reduced to bickering with each other. I find it sad, how for the first time in so many years, when Singapore seemed to find its soul through the passing of LKY, some cynical and self-righteous people are tainting the whole event by trying to judge and criticize.

Why do we find it so hard to say, “I see the point that you have there, where you are coming from, but I am more comfortable this way, so let’s agree to disagree and to each our thoughts?”

Is there a definite right or wrong to respond to LKY’s passing? I don’t think so. Argue as we might, I don’t think we can ever reach a consensus. Every person is entitled to their own truth, after all.
To me, what matters most is to do what you feel is right, but at the same time do not fall into the wave of conformity. If you feel that the man’s contribution to this country deserved to be honoured and that you would want to express solidarity with him, do something that you think will honour him. Wear black, hang a flag, pay your respects at the parliament house or write something to honour him. Whatever rocks your boat.

But if you feel that there is a need to voice critical thoughts about his previous policies, do voice it and highlight where he could have done better, and how our society today can do better, without going into personal attacks that demean others. Or if you feel that there is too much attention to the whole event and feel bothered by it, then just keep quiet and focus your attention somewhere else.

The important thing is to not to belittle others of their response. Their thoughts on what is right. Whether you are mourning for him, feeling neutral about his death or even happy that he is gone, it would be good to respect other forms of expression even though they may not be yours, just like how you would want people to respect yours as well. The people queueing in padang and braving the hot sun is not you, and the person posting nasty comments would not hurt you unless you give him the power to. Celebrate our diversity, be proud of the show in solidarity, kindness and unity that we have seen in the past few days. 

Singapore has always pride itself for being unique, for being a cultural melting pot, where people with different beliefs can live together in harmony, so why can’t we live and let live this time round? Express our own views without knocking other views down. 

If a minister wants to call his workout something, let him. If a party wants to express condolences in a simple letter, why shouldn’t them? If a person wants to queue in the padang for four hours, why shouldn’t they be allowed? If someone wants to examine LKY’s past policies and discuss how to move forward, without being vitriolic, why shouldn’t him be able to express his thoughts?

Of course, there might be those whom we may find as fake or dislike, but who are we to judge how they feel or react, as long as they don’t hurt anyone? 

At the end of the day, there is really no right or wrong in how we respond, particularly to a national event like this. Perhaps some discretion needs to be exercised since it’s both a national and personal event (for friends and family of LKY), unlike National Day Parades, but at the same time we should not stifle any form of response unless they’re hugely inappropriate.  

If anything, I prefer to look at the bigger picture and the brighter side. If there is anything that LKY’s passing has accomplished, it is how everyone is brought together through this event. His life, legacy and passing captured our imagination and attention, through those who honoured him and those who criticised him, where we are all united in our shared discussion of him. 

Rarely can we see the people of Singapore share such a burning passion for an event, and like it or not, LKY has got us all fired up for the same topic as a final contribution before he left. He made all of us care about the same thing, even discussing it together at the same time. He would be happy, I think, knowing the effect that his passing has achieved. That it brought Singapore together. Because for him, it’s still Singapore that mattered in the end.   


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