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The Tragedy that is Myanmar September 29, 2007

Posted by Ned Stark in Uncategorized.
8 comments

Much has been said about what has been happening in Myanmar. At this point in time it appears that the special UN envoy has reached the capital of Myanmar.

 Of course the tragic thing is that probably nothing more will or can be done. Yes, the International community, even ASEAN has sent strongly worded protests to the Military Junta but at the end of the day, what purpose would that serve? None whatsoever. For sticks and stones may break our bones but words will never hurt us.

 Furthermore, it is known that Singapore has several dealings with Myanmar, including but not limited to arms exports and investments. Then you have the fact that members of the Junta regularly come to Singapore for medical treatment (apparently the PM of Myanmar himself is in Singapore at this moment).

What makes matters worst is that besides applying sanctions and what have you, there is nothing much the international community can do. Sanctions by themselves also make the lives of the common people worst; I have no doubt that the Military Junta have prepared for that eventuality; and given the exalted status of the military in Myanmar there is no doubt that the junta will use the resources to keep the military happy, while the rest all starve. As Mao Zedong once said, “power comes from the barrel of a gun”. There is no doubt that the junta controls the gun.

There appear to be only two viable courses of action at this time; and by viable course of action I mean a course of action which could resolve this crisis and result in the downfall of the obnoxious junta. First option would be for the people of Myanmar to continue their struggle; to continue to resist until they get their rights back. Unfortunately that would be asking a whole bunch of people to allow themselves to be shot down, and it appears that the military has succeeded somewhat as the number of protests has gone down.

The second option (which works better with the first) would be for the International community to intervene, and by intervene I do not refer to sanctions (though admittedly the effect of sanctions on arms may be greater) but to armed force. For it is only through force, be it from “people’s power” (first option) or military force, will the junta be forced to back down. Negotiations can limit the casualties but it in itself cannot begin to resolve the numerous issues which have been festering in Myanmar. These numerous issues; poverty, military oppression among others, have been festering; the hike in fuel prices was merely the spark which brought all this to the forefront. The Junta will never back down and allow the elected representatives (Aung San Suu Kyi and her fellow comrades) to rule; why should they? And given their abuse of power, a fortiori, they will definitely refuse to backdown as that could mean their doom in Myanmar. There is only one thing that could force them out and that is power of the kind that come from the barrel of a gun.

Unfortunately the second option two too is highly unlikely. Where would the military force come from? SAF? Malaysia? And with the USA mired in Irag and Afghanistan it is highly unlikely that the intervention would come from the West. Furthermore military intervention brings with it a hosts of issues, like sovereignity of a people among others.

Perhaps the above was rather callous, and I must qualify that I am as appalled by the Junta as any reasonable person ought to be. However the practical solutions to the problem are few and may turn out to be impractical at the end of the day. And that is a great tragedy for the people of Myanmar and for the world.

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Megachurches and Homosexuality September 22, 2007

Posted by Ned Stark in Uncategorized.
15 comments

Recent letters to the ST forum have placed the spotlight on the mega churches in Singapore. It all began with Dr Lee Bee Wah’s letter. In that letter (reproduced on KTM’s blog) Dr Lee talked about how a family member had become distant from them and how the family member had ignored her studies as a result of her new found faith. In response there were letters both defensive and otherwise.

This is rather interesting as it coincides with another issue; namely the spotlight on homosexuals. The spot light on homosexuals arose as a result of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s comment that the unlamented Section 377A (or lamented; depends on whose perspective you come from) would have to go. This brought about a flurry of chest beating and cries from the fundamentalists ranging from academics and the common man in the street. Then you had the revocation of Prof. Douglas Sanders license to speak in Singapore, the ban of a picnic in the Botanic gardens, police filming a run at the Singapore river and Otto Fong’s coming out.

Of course it may seem as if there is no correlation between the church leaders and homosexuals; however if one would look at this letter by Derek Hong one would realise that the two related in more ways than one, so to speak.

Notwithstanding the usual misinformation inside the letter (how homosexuals want to influence society and all that crap), this letter highlights an interesting issue. I refer to the pastor’s line that “I have been reliably informed that NOW IS THE TIME TO SUBMIT OUR FEEDBACK. ” Indeed I do wonder who was the one doing the informing and whether the person is reliable a not. In a way this is similiar to the revocation of Douglas Sanders licence, where having been given the licence it was suddenly revoked as ” based on additional information received, police saw the event as ‘contrary to the public interest’. Then look again at Mr Alex Au’s post regarding the picnic.  This seems to suggest that the Christian right has friends in right places.

And if you look at the anecdotal evidence with regards to the prevalance of the megachurches, or take a walk to one of the places where these churches hold their regular services, then it can be seen that the possible influence of these organisations is vast indeed. While the situation in Singapore is by no means analagous to that in the United States, the fact that religious organisations are protected somewhat by the Sedition Act does make a situation possible. In fact on reading Derek Hong’s letter I was minded of an old historic event: The Council of Clermont. During the council Pope Urban II called for a crusade against the Saracens in the “Holy Land”, thus setting the stage for a violent confrontation between Islam and Christianity which does seem to continue on today. Derek’s attack on homosexuals seems to be no different from Pope Urban’s sermon at Clermont. And given the potential influence of these organisations, coupled with the support of friends in high places, there is a danger that if nothing is done to redress the evident imbalance between the homosexuals and conservatives in society, instances of discrimination could increase and Singapore’s progress could be stifled as a result.

There are many bones of contention; the above is merely a tip of the iceberg. Indeed in light of Derek’s letter I truly wonder how some can still talk about social responsibility when these organisations are actively trying to discriminate against fellow human beings; but of course perhaps I am unenlightened enough to comprehend the greater mysteries of life and what have you. Nevertheless there is one viable solution to be taken and that is to repeal that ridiculous law. However it appears that 377A will be here to stay, for now.

Otto Fong and To Kill A Mocking Bird September 11, 2007

Posted by Ned Stark in Uncategorized.
2 comments

” You never understand a person until you see things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it” Atticus Finch

 Despite being published in the 1960s, Harper Lee’s novel, To Kill A Mocking Bird, continues to be relevant to society. Themes of empathy for the fellow man, tolerance continue and will remain applicable notwithstanding the changes in society.

In TKMB, an african american is convicted of a crime he did not commit; he is eventually killed trying to escape. Meanwhile, a recluse is often harassed by pesky children and demonised by gossips. Underlying both situations is a blatant lack of tolerance and understanding; the former due to pure bigotry and the latter due to a lack of respect of the individual.

Having said that, let us now turn to the situation in Singapore. While racism appears to be an isolated affair, in so far as the constitution is concerned, there is a lack of protection of other groups of people; namely the homosexuals. In fact the law at present (Section 377A) places homosexuals at the same level as criminals. The fact that there is a hate campaign against homosexuals going on from religious and other quarters make matters worst. In fact if Harper Lee was living in Singapore, it is possible that TKMB would be about “sexual” prejudice rather than racial prejudice. Atticus Finch would probably be defending a homosexual Tom Robinson; and as the trial progresses the fundamentalists would be writing letters to the forum and beating their chests with self righteous fury.

And it is this issue of prejudice which Otto Fong’s letter deals with. Prejudice against a fellow human being. The ruthless dehumanising of a fellow human being on the account of his sexuality.  Then claiming that its not your fault; that you discriminate because some supreme being willed it.

In light of the letter, the earlier quote of “climb[ing] into” a person’s skin becomes extremely appropriate. It is true that at times the debate on homosexuality gets extremely ugly, with gay activists tarring all Christians with the same brush. However before one becomes critical, it is necessary to, as Atticus puts it, see things from their point of view. And then you will start to realise that homosexuals are, at the end of it all, fellow human beings who have their own dreams, aspirations and so on. And it really galls them to be treated as scum of the earth by people who, while professing to be upright, continue to deride them and, to borrow Otto’s words, go around:

actively preying on innocent people, recruiting them to their cause by spreading fear and misinformation. I hope thinking people will quickly see that it is this small group of vocal objectionists who have a more dangerous agenda, that their fight with gay people has nothing to do with what’s right or wrong, but is merely a litmus test of their political influence.

Indeed, such a situation is analagous to the Crusades of antiquity, whereby Pope Urban II preached a holy war against the Saracens in the East. His aims were manyfold, including but not limited to: restoring political control over the Eastern Orthodox Church and  gaining control of the East. While I will not presume to know what goes on in the minds of these vocal objectionists, I do believe that Section 377A is dangerous as it gives the greenlight to these people to continue spreading misinformation and hatred. The retention of 377A essentially gives these people ammunition to launch their hate campaigns and this is not conducive to the development of a more tolerant society.

Of course, it is undeniable that aversion to homosexuals cannot disappear overnight. Society has generally conditioned its members to frown on homosexuality and the prevalence of those mega churches do not make things easier. Furthermore there is no doubt there are homophobes in those countries who have gone on to legalise gay marriages. Nevertheless there comes a point in time when society needs to take the baby step. As the Chinese saying goes, “a journey of a thousand miles starts with a few steps”. And in this case the baby step would be the repeal of Section 377A. And that is that.

The Permit, The Cycling Event and a Fourth University September 5, 2007

Posted by Ned Stark in Uncategorized.
16 comments

There is no doubt that the exchange between Mr Low Thia Kiang and Assoc Prof Ho Peng Kee has been imprinted in the minds of the netizens. Indeed many bloggers have already said their piece. Personally I found Prof Ho’s comments on Mr Low insulting; much akin to a low blow and similiar to Bhavani’s comments regarding Mr Brown’s young daughter.

But mud slinging aside this issue is merely the latest in a litany of issues portraying the authorities unwillingness to give more space for alternate views. The rejection of WP’s application for a permit merely reinforces the notion that far from being a city of possibilities, Singapore is the direct opposite. Or a better way to put it will be Singapore is a city of possibilities as long as your not homosexual, you do not touch on opposition politics, you do not touch on historical opposition figures, your constiteuncy voted for PAP, and so on. Indeed this is one more regression in a series of regressions (Mr Brown, Martyn See’s films, Alex Au and his exhibitions…) which will restrain the progress of society.

While I do think that the rational behind a permit is sound (for purposes of policing), I find that the rational for rejecting the WP permit ridiculous. Of course having been in Singapore most of my life I must say i am not surprised that the permit was rejected; nevertheless the reasoning given by Prof Ho makes no sense. I do not doubt that YPAP themselves organise such events; but of course you won’t hear of any rejections from the authorities. Furthermore by talking about how there is a potential for public disturbances, Prof Ho has committed the slippery slope argument. In any event, while there may be people who would want to get Low Thia Kiang’s signature, it does not follow that there would be a public disturbance of the nature as alluded to. If his reasoning is correct, then celebrities should not walk around in public as people might want their autographs and this will lead to a public disturbance. And his statement about the park being an open area is a red herring; there is a potential for a breach of peace everywhere.

What has happened here is an attempt by the ruling party to restrain the WP. Perhaps the events of GE 2006 have made them more wary of the WP and thus there is an attempt to reduce the WP’s reach to the general public. Unfortunately this is not the first time such has happened; certainly it will not be the last.

This showcase of intolerance brings to mind another issue; namely the development of a fourth university. An interesting to note is that this 4th university could possibly be a “liberal arts college”. Unfortunately current events and history has shown that the phrase “Singapore Liberal Arts College” is something of an oxymoron. Singapore can hardly be considered liberal, and thus this translates into the arts sphere where people like Martyn See are restrained by the powers to be. Therefore if the government is serious about having a Liberal Arts College, then there needs be a loosening up of society and a tolerance for “dissident views”. However, from recent events, it appears that such a scenario is, at present, nothing but a dream.