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Much Ado About Exploitation October 7, 2007

Posted by Ned Stark in Uncategorized.

Several rather interesting letters have appeared in the ST forum recently. To sum it all up, these letters share a common content; all of them talk about the situation in Myanmar; in addition all of them are, explicitly or implicitly, critical of Dr Chee Soon Juan’s organisation of a petition against the military junta and the Singapore government. Simply put, these letters amount to an accusation that Dr Chee is “exploiting the situation“.

And all these accusations reminded me of an old post, made during the aftermath of the furious debate regarding minister’s salaries. After that rather acrimonious debate PM Lee’s announcement that he was going to donate part of his increase to charity was met with scorn and accusations that it was all for show. Of course it may very well be all for show but at the end of the day one could say that everything a person does is for show. What has happened in Dr Chee’s situation and perhaps in Mr Lee’s situation is the work of preconceived notions which prejudice a person’s mind and makes men misconstrue their actions.

Perhaps there is some truth that Dr Chee is leveraging on the situation in Myanmar; although this is contrary to M M Aung’s and some others belief that he is doing it as part of his long running battle with the PAP; the fact that the petition to the Singapore government is a petition to stop arms sales, to do more in this crisis, disproves the idea that Dr Chee is getting innocent people involved in his feud with the PAP. At most one could say that Dr Chee is trying to gain international recognition for his efforts in Singapore; but is this wrong? Is this exploitation? 

I daresay few people actually embark on a course of action without hoping to gain from it. In fact even a person who does charity for the sake of charity can be said to “gain” intangible benefits, though thats a rather extremely example. In any event if one were to accuse Dr Chee of “exploiting the situation” to his own benefit one might as well accuse the organisers of the Myanmar Awareness activities from NUS, NTU and SMU of exploitation. You could accuse them of exploiting this incident so as to curry favour with their professors and impress future employers. And if doing anything related to Myanmar is exploitation why end there? Might as well accuse Aaron of blogging to gain the notice of the powers that be so as to improve his standing in society. Might as well accuse Mr Brown of “exploiting” the people’s dissatisfaction. Might as well accuse Ned Stark of exploiting the ST and society so that Ned can gain fame in the blogging community.  The list of accusations go on. And just a few months ago was not Lee Hong Yi accused of exploiting his position to gain a reputation in society?

In any event, it is rather difficult to define exploitation in these instances, easier to define exploitation in terms of forced labour. Anyway exploitation or not, what matters at the end of the day is the consequences, the end. There are instances where the end justifies the means and perhaps in this instance it can be said to be so, assuming of course that the so called accusations of exploitation is even valid in the first place.

* Unfortunately it appears that ST has refused to give Dr Chee the right of reply, and so the majority of Singaporeans will continue to perceive him as an opportunist.



1. Tan Ah Kow - October 7, 2007

Bravo, Ned, well said.

2. Caught in the Crossfire « Chemical Generation Singapore - October 8, 2007

[…] and the SDP has learnt to play along to increase its power and reach. It is obvious that SDP seized the chance to protest at the embassy to establish its presence. Unlike the MIW or the WP, I don’t think it has any […]

3. Daily SG: 8 Oct 2007 « The Singapore Daily - October 8, 2007

[…] I like that phrase – All and Sundry Singapore: Burmese Sanction Unnecessary? – Winter is Coming: Much Ado About Exploitation – Pseudonymity: 24-hour Protest Today Outside The Istana – The Online Citizen: Chee Soon Juan’s […]

4. Sai Kor - October 10, 2007

Chee has unsurprisingly usurped the opportunity to amalgamate domestic party politics with foreign policy. We can all be expecting him to wait for the moment for ASEAN to send any positive signal on the morality of civil disobedience. But I sure hope governments don’t get locked in that eternal debate with Chee because protests, masks and flag-burning are surely not the only avenues for expressing remorse or anger. Nothing wrong with that, its just a lot more messy and chest-thumping.

A friend told me about micropolitics. That he had been spurred to do his bit for the environment by recycling on his own, by not littering on his own, by cutting down on his own use of plastics, and by growing his own mint leaves. He asked me what Myanmar’s main exports were and I replied “wood, camphor, and gemstones”. He replied, “no more gemstones and camphor for me then”. I hope for his sake that his wife prefers diamonds and air fresheners.

As for me, I hope the monks find peace without recourse to self-immolation, the junta chills and Chee continues waiting for Godot.

5. Kai Xiong - October 10, 2007

Thanks Ned, you have eloquently spoken my mind.

I think the fact that Dr Chee is a politician in addition to being an activist distorts perception tremendously.

By being a politician, all your actions can be easily construed as attempts at elevating your own political standing.

In fact, this can always be done so it is ultimately meaningless.

Instead of judging intentions, why not judge effects, which are more concrete, instead?

It seems to me that SDP’s recent gambits (the protests at the Myanmar embassy and at Istana) have paid off tremendously – people are starting to talk about peaceful assemblies and our constitutional rights to hold them.

It also forces the ruling party’s hand who has been keeping up with its bluffs for way too long using a combination of fear mongering and police intimidation.

Would-be activists can also learn from their experiences on where the line really is for free.

All of which flies in my book.

6. Cool - October 12, 2007

Thanks Kai Siong.

Yes, they are awakening.

To have my photo taken by the cops and not to be bothered by it when I signed the petition at Burma Embassy was an experience brought forth by the courage shown by the Chee siblings and Martyn See. Not forgetting elder bravehearts like Chia Thye Poh, Said Zahari and others.

Times . . . they are a changing.

7. Entrepreneur - October 12, 2007

But what is wrong with taking the opportunity to get your voice heard, especially if you are a politician?

I mean, when would it be right to say something? When no one is listening and no one cares about what you’re talking about?

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