It is No Longer Enough Just to Fight Our Own Causes

Singapore

Even when I cross-examined the Singapore prime minister in court, I felt no fear.

“You are so daring,” the guy who just found out about my case told me.

But it is not about being brave.

“It is because I saw the prime minister as an equal,” I told him.

“Even if he is a prime minister, I still saw him as ust another person like me.”

“And also, my conscience is clear,” I said.

When I was interrogated by the police a few weeks ago for yet another “offence” – one in a series of persecutions that I have been facing from the Singapore government for the past two years – I fought back.

But when they raided my home later to take my things away, I grew tired.

I stopped fighting.

Till today, I feel guilt. Why did I not fight back?

It was not guilt towards myself though. It was guilt that I did not protect the other people whom I had chatted with before via my social networking profiles and chat applications – the police had also taken my laptops and phone. But I have since changed my passwords and disabled the chat apps from the phone they took away.

After sharing my experience of the police violation and harassment at a forum last week, a participant came up to me.

“You are very kind and willing to share about what happened,” she said.

I was. I shared how I did the handle the situation with the police well and how I gave up fighting. (You can watch the video here.)

“I wanted to share my experience, so that others can learn from it as well,” I had told the audience.

IMG_0590

Photo credit: Yun You

“But I think you did not fight back because you are just someone who does not want to create trouble,” she added. “You just want to let things be easy for everyone.”

She understood me, and I was thankful.

How was I to tell people I did not push back because I was being nice? And not because I wanted to be nice to the police.

“You are right. I do not like confrontation,” I told her.

And the current Singapore ruling party – the People’s Action Party (PAP) which has been in power for more than 50 years (and has hijacked and repurposed government for itself, I would add) – they know this.

They know that I am nice, and this is why I am an easy target for them.

That was why among the many people whom they could wrongly accuse of committing an offence, they targeted me.

(My offence, by the way, was because I and another elderly lady Teo Soh Lung had posted our personal views on the day before a recent by-election, which the police say is an “arrestable offence”. We continue to affirm that we are innocent. Soh Lung was also politically imprisoned by the PAP government for more than two years in the 1980s on fabricated charges.)

“They picked on you because they know you are easy,” one activist told me. I knew that too.

Part me sympathised with why the police has been made used by the PAP to harass me – I said at the forum that it could be because I suffered from the Stockholm Syndrome (as another person suggested to me).

But there is a part of me which truly empathises with them. I have always believed that we can find amicable ways to make things work together – but that is in a fair and just environment, of course.

“I feel a great swell of pity for the poor soul that comes to my school looking for trouble,” Professor X told Erik in ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ (I just watched the movie.).

That is how I feel too.

Professor X had said this in response to Erik’s question: “Doesn’t it ever wake you up in the middle of the night? The feeling that one day they’ll come for you, and your children?”

“It does indeed,” Professor X said.

Indeed it does.

But in the end, what is more important is that our conscience is clear.

Hate begets hate. Love begets hate. Why hate the people who do harm do you, if it makes you not like any other?

X-Men Apocalypse

Photo credit: Nerdist Talking X-Men: Apocalypse Secrets on the Set with Bryan Singer

These past few years, I have only acted according to what my heart tells me – and what I believe is right.

“You should change the way you write,” some people advised.

“You should not attack them so directly,” others opined, referring to the PAP.

“But if it is our money they took to use, then why must I hide the truth about what they did,” I ask referring to the government.

Naivety perhaps. Stupidity, to some – that I keep speaking up against the PAP so fervently.

But to me, I did what I know is right. I am honest and I think, at the end of the day, I can live up to my own conscience.

It means I am poor at playing politics. It means I expose myself to harm from the Singapore PAP government. But you have to live with some of these if you want to be genuine to yourself.

However, I am tired now – which this article really started as being about actually.

I realised that it is because I have lost faith in life.

I am just cruising along nowadays because it has become more of a routine to live inside this body.

I can still write and critique – it has become a part of me that has an inbuilt functionality to think and write.

But the passion that got me started to expose the wrongdoings in the system, and the fervour at which I had to fight for change, has seeped away.

In fact, the energy left me after the recent by-election where the PAP won yet again.

I expected the election result. Singaporeans are not ready for change. There is too much fear.

They are too delusional, as someone remarked to me today. They are “taught to blame themselves and think all is good,” he said.

I concur.

Which is why the irony of the government’s latest attack against me. I would have quietened down without their latest aggressions anyway but it is because of their counterattacks that got me up in arms and giving it back to them again.

To be clear, I would never stop writing or expressing myself out of the fear of persecution. I would only do so, if I no longer believe in the cause I fight for, as I have.

Which makes me an easy target – hit him at his lowest and wipe him out, they think.

But that makes it petty and despicable of them, don’t you think – to hit a man when he is at his lowest?

“Are you afraid of jail,” a woman asked me. “It is not a laughing matter, you know?”

But to that, I ask, “Would you rather live in an imprisoned mind or would you be jailed but where your mind is free?”

Even Erik – Magneto – set himself free in ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ and stopped destroying the world.

“I betrayed them,” he admitted, referring to his comrades, and then set forth to put things right.

Would we have the honesty to face up to our thoughts and beliefs and work to make things better?

PinkDot 2016

Photo credit: Pink Dot SG Press Release: Heroes Send a United Message of Love and Understanding at Pink Dot 2016

Recent events – the Singapore government warning foreign companies not to participate in Singapore’s annual gay event PinkDot, the government asking an international musical Les Misérables to remove a kissing scene between two men, and how two men kissing could have also led to to the worst terror attacks in America since 911 – where a gunman killed more than 50 people inside a gay club in Orlando – and the Singapore government’s response to it reflects the continued denial by the Singapore government of the society that confronts them.

There is only a limit as to how far you can engineer a society to be socially conservative, as society moves ahead of you.

Clearly, the PAP wants to mould the thinking of Singaporeans into one that is conservatively-minded so that a populace which is made to think conservatively is more likely to vote for a self-styled conservative party.

The Singapore PAP government’s curbing of the rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer (LGBTQ) individuals via preventing them from gaining further support and momentum, and the demonising of their lifestyles, while at the same time allowing conservative groups to have a louder voice not only empowers but legitimatises these hate groups, but which implicitly allows the PAP to make use of these conservative groups to further entrench their own political power.

The main reason why I stopped writing on this blog, My Right to Love, for the past few years was because I felt that there were larger social issues at hand that need more urgent hearing.

Singapore’s poverty rate is high – estimated by academics and economists to be as high as 35 percent. Singapore has one of the least adequate pension funds in the world – leading to elderly Singaporeans having to work until their deaths. And Singaporeans have to pay the highest out-of-pocket healthcare costs in the world and one of the highest childcare and university fees in the world, leading many to drop out of care or not be able to further their studies because they simply cannot afford it.

“Your government gives a lot of scholarships to foreigners,” a foreign friend who is studying in a local university remarked.

“More than 80 percent of my cohort of foreign students got scholarships,” he added.

“Yeah, but based on my calculations, only less than 6 percent of Singapore residents can get scholarships,” I told him.

He was shocked.

“The government treats Singaporeans and foreigners differently,” I told him. “It treats foreigners better because they do not yet understand the system.”

“It wants to attracts foreigners in but once you become a Singaporean, you are stuck here.”

“Do not convert to becoming a Singaporean,” I told him.

Foreigners can come to Singapore to work for a few years and then have a place to go back to – back home. “It is very good for foreigners,” I told him.

But Singaporeans have no where else to run to. When you are stuck here, the government just keeps taking money away from you.

This is a side that foreigners do not see in Singapore. Unfortunately, you need to become a Singaporean for several years before you realise the situation here. The ones who understand early have either gone back to their country or moved on to greener pastures in another truly developed country.

As such, I felt that it was urgent to write on the social issues in Singapore.

You see, once there is equality for all Singaporeans (and all people of the world), there will be equality for other groups of people.

Thus at this point, I am more concerned that the general population should have their social and economic livelihoods and rights taken care of.

I am proud that as a gay person, I have fought for issues on a broader level. Some people ask me why I am not advocating for gay issues as a gay person. There was a time I did but there are many people who are more up to the task than I am today.

There just aren’t that many people who would speak up about the broader social issues in Singapore and it felt like I should do something about it.

Roy Ngerng CPF Protest

Photo credit: Zimbio Singaporeans Protest Against Central Provident Fund (CPF) scheme

“But why do you speak up on the CPF – Singaporeans’ pension funds – when you are not old,” some people ask.

But it is not about whether I am old and so pension funds would only be an issue when I become old.

“It is about justice, fairness and equality,” I would always say. “This is why we fight.”

“And when I grow old, I would need healthcare and pension too. If I do not fight for these now, I will be the one who suffers when I grow old,” I would always add as well.

But this is how the PAP has imbued short term thinking into Singaporeans (or perhaps it has become a learned myopia that people have due to the by-product of instant gratification that capitalism brings). We are taught to think that as a young person, what matters to the elderly does not matter to us. As a middle- or high-income earner, what matters to the low-income does not affect us.

But it does.

Inequality causes many social problems – lower social mobility, higher imprisonment rate and a more self-centred population – all these which research has shown have afflicted Singapore because Singapore has become the most unequal country among the developed nations.

Gay people have often been at the forefront of activism in today’s age, and not just for same-sex rights but about rights for others as well.

I have spoken up for the Malay and Indian populations in Singapore, who have increasingly become more and more marginalised in Singapore due to a Chinese hegemonic government and its policies. I understand that some people who are Muslim and Christian do not believe they should accept gay people but that it their choice. For me, I will still continue to speak up for their rights because rights are rights. You cannot deny people their rights simply because you disagree with them.

And as I have always said, if you believe in equality, you have to believe in equality and you have to believe in it for all.

Indeed, when Owen Jones took part in a TV discussion on Sky News about the Orlando shooting, when one of the presenters kept referring to terrorists as “lunatics” and “bad”, he told her not to “use these words”.

For me, people who are marginalised may eventually practice violent behaviour as a retaliation to the oppression that they are facing, which means that we have to have a greater empathy to their situation to alleviate the social inequalities that they face instead of labelling them as having mental disorders but without working to prevent these inequalities from happening, which if so means we are party to the violent behaviour that arises because of our inaction and lack of recognition of the discrimination they face and which we inadvertently perpetuate.

In a way, it does at least make me feel comforted that for the different groups of people who have looked at the fight I have taken on the CPF and who know I am gay, that they would realise that gay people do actually care for society and want to help improve society as a whole – and not just for gay people.

In recent days, LGBTQ people are seeing more and more affinity in their advocacy for same-sex rights and the social and economic difficulties that other Singaporeans are facing.

The same government which would not spend more to help the poor and to provide more social benefits for the unemployed, as well as for those who fall ill and the old, is also acting against LGBTQs more aggressively now.

If we are to understand the operating ideology of the PAP, the same conservative right-winged tendencies that would not increase social spending to protect Singaporeans will also deny the rights of other minority groups – LGBTQs being one of many.

As such, it is no longer enough for the different groups to stand aside from one another, with each advocating on a singular issue. The same resistance faced by animal groups, nature groups, LGBTQ groups, and other minority groups from the government follows a consistent thread.

And if we believe that our society should become more equal and that people should be protected, then it means we have to identify with the other person and the other causes, and to recognise that our collective rights and freedom, and equality, will only come to Singapore when we are able to work together and string together the common song of equality for all.

Change for the better and greater equality will only come to Singapore, when we finally understand what it really means – a people united for common good.

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