30 Aug 2006

A Case for Civil Disobedience

The police has rejected a permit for Singapore opposition politician, Dr Chee Soon Juan's application to stage a protest march during next month's IMF-World Bank meetings. The government has also banned outdoor protests; and demand that regional NGOS be accredited and confine their demonstrations to indoor areas.

In crafting such restrictions, it is apparent that the Singapore government is hoping to manage protests or marches. The risk and probability of riots and violence outbreak during the IMF World Bank meeting is a serious concern for the Singapore government and a police force which has had no previous experience in handling large scale demonstrations. As such, one can predict with certainty the amount of nervousness that the PM Lee government is having. After all, the whole world is watching them.

The question of whether regional and international NGOs will obey Singapore's government heavily curtailed limitations, will, of course, depends on how they organise themselves and whether they are determined to flout the rules and protest on the streets. My guess is as good as yours.

Nevertheless, the focus of my essay is not on the international NGOs. Instead, I am putting my attention on the local civil society front. It seems, with the exception of Dr Chee, Singapore NGOs seem to have remained rather quiet on this event.

Is Singapore completely immune from the effects of globalisation, environmental issues or IMF-World Bank policies? If the answer is no, we certainly have an axe to grind when the institutions hold their meetings here.

Even if we are to suspend our beliefs for one moment and believe that Singapore is not affected by globalisation, the fact that the actions of these organisations have a great impact and effect on the greater environment; including affecting the lives and livelihoods of people in other parts of the world should be enough to make us feel indignant. As such, how can we allow these global issues that affects millions, be discussed without any expression of protests, even by Singaporeans? Whatever happened to compassion for fellow human beings?

You may think my argument is a tad dramatic. But there are certainly global issues that we (that means you and me, and Singaporeans in general) should be concerned about. I am not an expert on these complicated problems but that does not mean I should do nothing or worst, keep quiet.

The IMF-World Bank meeting is a perfect opportunity for us to network and show solidarity with other external NGOs on international issues. It is the time for us to show that we do care about the world. This is the time for us to show that we want the world's largest financial institutions to hear the voices of the disprivileged.

As such, I urge Singaporeans, to come out and protest, to show concern for people from other parts of the world, particularly those in the South. Whether one chooses to protest against the multilateral debts; the imposition and promotion of neoliberal policies and projects; US Imperialism or even the Israeli war in Lebanon and Palestine, you have every reason and right to do so.

The need for civil disobedience could not have been greater.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

just curious: what would the writer be doing during the IMF meeting? not much good just asking others to take risks, right?

Matilah_Singapura said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Matilah_Singapura said...

There's always a case for civil disobedience — especially if you have a state.

Charles, it is a tad optimistic to expect Singaporeans (generally speaking) to willfully disobey authority. Societies which periodically do this have had "practice" over the course of their histories, to check the power of the state and the integrity of the government.

There hasn't been a rollicking good protest in Singapore for decades. "Civil disobedience" emanating at the individual level, is virtually unknown, although there are indications that the internet could change that.

In reality however, have a look at empiracal evidence: when the govt banned chewing gum, people quietly complied. When they introduced the 3/4 tank rule for fuel at The Causeway, people complied. No one, except a few individuals, stands up directly to the government...but they'll moan and groan about it amongst each other. The people have shown that they'd rather sacrifice their freedom for some notion of "security".

The people gotta practice being dissenters!

Anonymous said...

if he himself does nothing, hard to expect others to risk arrest

Anonymous said...

Who says Singaporeans are not making an effort. Many have submitted their smile to the 4M smiles campaign.

According to the PAP, the whole globalisation thingy is good for us so it is being accelerated by the flood of new immigrants for Singapore.

Why protest a good thing?

Ganga said...


Interesting to note that certain posts have been deleted when the site claims that it treats 'opposing views with the respect they deserve'. Addressing this particular post - a) Chee has lost credibility as a bona-fide opposition/civil-rights-activist with his blatantly irresponsible tactics. Case in point - he has applied to conduct a protest when, in this case, it has already been stated clearly that there will be none allowed. On other occasions, he has elected NOT to make necessary applications when approval was, more or less, guaranteed. b) Calling for civil disobedience just for the sake of it is very irresponsible. Asking Singaporeans - who do not exercise civil disobedience at all - to perform such an act for the mere general concern for the 'poorer people of the world' is quite ridiculous.

I suspect that the writer is not based in Singapore. I should hope so, as calling on fellow Singaporeans to conduct an act of civil obedience may be considered seditious and a threat to the nation (ie. thereby invoking the Internal Security Act which allows for imprisonment without trial).

Although far from perfect, this session of meetings will be done in an 'Uniquely Singapore' way. The traditional way it may not be (with protests, violence and colourfulness), but it will be as regal and professional as any an international seminar.

Although a Singapore citizen myself, I write as a neutral observer and would strongly advise against such an approach as this.

Thrasymachus said...

So I guess he will deliberately get himself arrested in worldwide TV and make himself the martyr? We almost cannot expect anything less or different from him....

Anonymous said...

Or one can draw another conclusion: Singaporeans are less empathetic than ignorant in the cloistered atmosphere that the the 'party' has been engendering for years. I think if you do your share of "jaywalking" and ask people what the problematics (and also benefits just to be fair) of these institutions are, you might draw a blank look. Look at our textbooks, and then look at the students who feed on these textbooks. You have a ton of hedgehogs technocrats and technical wizards, but few and far between are those who are thinking like the fox in all matters of grave social and political realities.


So if you don't know, or cannot relate to the alleged 'causal' relations drawn between these institutions and some of the abject conditions emerging through their policies, how can the people be moved beyond indifference setting aside the influence of the state here?

Anonymous said...

I think it is time to relook at who are the Singaporeans.

Many in Singapore are paper citizens. As such, their loyalties, be it sentimental or patriotic lies with their country of origin. Herein comes the problem. One cannot expect them to be greatly compelled to take up injustices done to Singaporeans who are born here, served their NS and practically have grown up in this place. There are many PCs who even add to the mockery of subserviently following draconian and ludicrous policies by spreading the social notion of 'what can we do' - a very first generation migrant mentality. Other paper citizens remain nonchalant because they have so much at stake and there is always another port to disembark come the slighest danger. All in all, these paper citizens cannot be counted to do anything for true Singaporeans and Singapore as a community and country simply because they do not belong and Singapore has always been an option. To compound the problem, their mere presence drags the rapid social development of a modern civil and egalitarian society as their numbers make the population. The conundrum is basically that, which is now very forseeable, a rigorous replacement of a population which has relations, ties to the land and network since birth to overwhelmingly one which is beholden to the migrant policies of the administration and their personal safety. Ultimately, these paper citizens has no genuine feelings and connections to society and the community at large.

There is simply nothing for them to lose and thus protest anyway.

Anonymous said...

ganga my little singapore prick, your island does not exist in the real world. If people in europe are unhappy they demonstrate, if people in singapore are un happy they just stick their heads up their arseholes, like you are doing. what a claim do it the unique singapore way.
most of your population have never heard of the IMF, they are too fond of taking makan and talking crap and boasting.

these meetings are of prime importance, delegates are used to facing demonstrations.

Ganga said...


Alas, it is you who condemn me under the cloak of anonymity whereas I have openly declared my identity. And therein lies my point. I cannot say that I am right because I identify myself or that you are wrong because you did not. It was a matter of choice. You were comfortable in expressing yourself in such a manner, as was I.

Yes, my countrymen are fond of eating (ie. makan). Talking crap and boasting, however, is a common trait among civilized societies and organizations (Singapore being more an organization than a country per se).

I agree these meetings are important and, accordingly, are being given maximum security at the expense of an incredible amount of man-hours. However, if the demonstrations were critical to the event itself, wouldn't those demonstrating (or suitable representatives) be allowed into the meetings in the past? Sadly, they have never been included (to my limited knowledge).

Even so, the authorities here have not dispensed with the demonstrations altogether but have actually modified the parameters so that they can be held indoors. If the point of demonstrations is to express a perspective, then does it matter if it is done indoors or outdoors? Does it need to be violent and colourful to matter?

I believe that the Singapore authorities have answered these questions from their point of view and have decided to orchestrate the event in a certain way. It is my opinion that it cannot be classified as right or wrong, only that it is their choice.

soci said...

"Interesting to note that certain posts have been deleted when the site claims that it treats 'opposing views with the respect they deserve'."

Ganga can I assume that you are referring to the comment above

"Comment Deleted
This post has been removed by the author. "

If you read the last word you can see that the 'author' the person who wrote the comment deleted it no one else.

Anonymous said...

Ganga,you have your say, and we have ours. Let me tell your something, it is no big deal declaring your identity if your are praising the authorithy. I,too can reveal my identity if I choose to caress the balls of the auhorithy.Maybe by doing so, I may be awarded too.

Anonymous said...

you are expecting too much from the authorities; they dont reward people just for a few cheap flattering words, unless the person is famous, in which case even a negative remark is fine because it shows the famous person finds singapore worth noticing

by the way, are you in the habit of caressing balls?

Matilah_Singapura said...

ganga: that was my comment which I deleted, because of typo errors. I have poor eyesight, sorry to have misled you :).

anon 3:39:
>ganga my little singapore prick, your island does not exist in the real world. If people in europe are unhappy they demonstrate, if people in singapore are un happy they just stick their heads up their arseholes, like you are doing. what a claim do it the unique singapore way.<

A little extreme, but there is a ring of truth.

If one wants to look at historical evidence and make "value judgements" (for whatever reason — ego, mostly) then consider this: it would seem that in Communist China, people have "more balls" than S'poreans when it comes to dissent.

Even the Chinese artists show more spirit than S'porean locals — so-called "artists" who ball-lick the state so they'll get funded and get awarded "Cultural Medallions" by the fucking boring NAC.

Yessir folks, the people get the govt they deserve, and if you trade your freedom for some illusion of security, you're gonna get screwed in the long-term. In fact, your progeny will get to experience the increase in state power, because you failed to do something about it TODAY.

I'll say it again: Civil disobedience takes practice. Feeling comfortable and living under the guise of "security" from the PAP, also takes practice.

You have to decide what it is you want and then practice it until you become competent and "in the moment" or intuitive at it.

Going by what I've observed: people have been "practicing" believing in PAP/State bullshit for so long, it is now "natural" to most people, such they'll act politically in predictable ways...

...thus the people get the govt they deserve!

Anonymous said...

Matilah, no one can explain as clearly as you in this issue.

Anonymous said...

the human brain is the most sophisticated organ on the planet. the brain is designed to question, and offer an opinion.

however it seems to me the oor singaporean has dropped a couple of crogs down the ages. From junior school onwards the poor creature if forced to learn parrot fashion, never understanding or questioning the subject. It follows it's one and only political party blindly.
so as early anon pointed out, unless the creature extracts its head from it's arsehole it is lost.

figures show the poor creature is not producing enough babies to replenish it's stocks. unless the creature starts fucking in earnest in just over one hundred and fifty years from now the singaporean will become extinct. I wonder whether or not the Lee family are going to clone themselves?
the government has suggested the solution is immigration from china india etc, however the singaporean seejms to be unhappy about two or three million chinese from china, real thinking people wandering about taking their jobs.

Jonny said...

I think that most of these comments miss the thrust of Charle's essay...

To me (as an outsider) to protest visually to the WB/IMF is needed as there needs to be greater awareness of the major issues that confront out world. The protests are not for the participants of the conference, it is for the media to show that there are people who care and who believe that profits should not be the driving force behind business.

We need to change the world slowly, to make us realise that we are killing the planet (and ourselves) in the search for greater profits.

The protest need not be civil disobedience, but by the government banning them, the government makes them illegal....

Matilah_Singapura said...

jonny: > We need to change the world slowly, to make us realise that we are killing the planet (and ourselves) in the search for greater profits.

If one is searching for greater profits, it makes no sense to kill off your market in the process.

If you look from a different perspective, you will see that humankind is living in the most wealthy period of its history, and the sovereignty of the individual, especially as a CONSUMER has never been so vast — and sadly, never been under so much threat (from those "democratic" folks who are by and large anti individual)

I'm pro consumer, the democratic state is anti consumer. As a consumer I like to own guns, watch porno, use bigoted language, chew gum, occasionally rent a female bodies to bribe business associates or give friends a treat, go to cheaper cuntries and take advantage of low-wages and corrupt governments...
...and occasionaly give to charity and support community projects.

If you consider civil disobedience a "consumer need" then you know the market can provide for that need.

Unfortunately, the govt has interfered with the market by BANNING the most obvious "market solution" to that need.

Therefore, the consumers "suffer" because although there are means to fulfil their needs, they are prevented from doing so by The State (who has ultimate decision making powers in a given territory)