by Jeremy Yew Ern (13A01B) and Regina Marie Lee (13A01B)
We bring you exclusive previews of the upcoming edition of Eagle Eye, which will be distributed to all staff and students at the end of the month. Jointly produced by RI’s Corporate Communications Department and Raffles Press (Yr 5 – 6), Eagle Eye is the school’s official magazine.
National Day is an undeniable facet of our Singaporean identity and some may say the Parade is necessary fanfare that masks our identity confusion. But rather than go through the motions during this period of hyped-up patriotic fervour, we have decided to look beyond the lights and smoke and reflect on the nature of our relationship with the state. It is a good time to pause and hold back from asking ourselves ‘what is the best way to celebrate National Day?’ or ‘how am I going to display to others my love for Singapore?’
Rather, we should be musing upon the crucial question ‘why do I love Singapore?’ as well as the equally important ‘what don’t I love about Singapore?’ If we want to develop a genuine, enduring national consciousness among Rafflesians, one which extends beyond a superficial grasp of national issues and bite-sized knowledge of statistics to be slipped into one’s General Paper essay, we need to look at the specific reasons for and areas of national pride (or the lack of it) in RI.
Among our interviewees, the commonly observed boons of a Singapore existence included well-built infrastructure, peace and security, safety, political stability, religious harmony, as well as the efficiency and reliability of the government. Ashlynna Ng (13A01B) said, ‘Being Singaporean means that I enjoy a great deal of security and comfort in terms of a safe environment and world-class, stable infrastructure. It is something we take for granted, far too often.’
We also asked Rafflesians for their take on what being Singaporean means to them. Rei Lim (13A01A) said, ‘Being Singaporean means identifying with the people and society around me, simply because I am a human being. [In Singapore] I can be exposed to different cultures and groups of people, and am thus given the chance to challenge my own beliefs, prejudices and behaviour to better appreciate diversity.’
While it is pleasant and easy to expound upon the strengths or appealing qualities of Singapore society, it is equally important that we examine our shortcomings and flaws.
A commonly expressed point of disapproval was for the relentless, ruthless pursuit of economic progress and consequent disregard for other ‘soft’ or cultural aspects of progress.
Surprisingly, the students interviewed eschewed abstract or political concepts such as an imperfect or flawed democratic system, or the shortcomings related to a ‘First World Parliament’. Instead (and perhaps to their credit) they focused on more immediate and pressing concerns of society, such as Antariksh Mahajan’s characterisation of Singapore’s alarmingly high GINI coefficient as ‘disgraceful’, reflecting ‘shameful inequality in multiple spheres.’
For some, being Singaporean entails a more abstract philosophy of service. Ashlynna posed this question, ‘Would I feel a civil duty to serve another country if I had not been born here? And the answer is often yes—but due to several reasons.’
How then, do Rafflesians want to improve Singapore? It is perhaps natural that at Singapore’s current state of development, our people, especially young people, with their basic needs satisfied, and having greater expectations, look towards loftier, more abstract ideals that do not just involve policy change.
Alumnus Mr Viswa, a former Nominated Member of Parliament, concurred, ‘Just because we ask ourselves these questions doesn’t mean we are being enemies of the state. I would rather we ask inconvenient questions than be bo-chup.’ In August 2009, during his maiden speech in Parliament as a NMP, he did just that, by speaking up for what he believed in: racial equality. He motioned for a reaffirmation of commitment to the tenets of the National Pledge, specifically ‘one united people, regardless of race, language or religion’, especially when debating national policies. He argued that Singaporean society needed to address ‘apparent contradictions and mixed signals’ that needlessly emphasised racial differences and categories, citing policies concerning Malay-Muslims in the Singapore Armed Forces, for example.
The next day, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, speaking during a debate for the first time since 2007, refuted what he termed ‘false and flawed’ arguments, stating that the government had a duty not to treat everyone equally due to its responsibility of caring for racial and religious minorities (as in Articles 152 and 153 of the Constitution). Despite being personally refuted by the Minister Mentor, Mr Viswa still stands by his principles today, telling us that ‘Singaporeans must not be afraid to speak up, even if they are eventually put down.’
In the end, Mr Viswa’s motion was adopted by the House with amendments.
So perhaps our love for Singapore must be the foundation of our hopes of creating an even better country in the future. It is fruitless to only dream of an ideal Singapore; Rafflesians must also include themselves in their picture of the future as contributors to society and not mere recipients of change. It is time to remember that Singapore is ours to love — and to build.
To find out what a whole host of Rafflesians have to say about being Singaporean, including controversial newsmakers Mr Siew Kum Hong and Mr Viswa Sadasivan, read the print edition of the Eagle Eye.