Commentary: To The Devotees of Western Democracy and Human Rights

For a very poor Editorial, Ho Cheow Seng’s To The Devotees of Western Democracy and Human Rights has one of the most devastating opening paragraphs I have read in recent times:

“It is one thing for one to have read about Singapore’s Early History as a nascent, sovereign Nation and quite another thing to have lived through that period and to play a crucial role in Singapore’s struggle to stand on its own two feet and fend for itself.”

I don’t know where this came from and how it connects to the rest of his article. Is Ho saying that if you have not lived through that period and was not a participant, your judgments and opinions are by default, compromised and inferior? If that’s the case, I move the motion that we make the Young PAP obsolete and set up the Old PAP. Perhaps we should even deprive the non-independence fighter from voting in elections. And when the remnant of the old hands of Independence has finally gone, maybe we should start a revolution (or else where would we have the wisdom to run a country?).

Starting an article with that kind of paragraph is like a woman starting a debate with a man on women’s rights saying, “I bleed. You don’t. Shut up.”

Can you imagine the British saying to us, “It’s one thing to read about running a country and actually running one, so your plea for independence is denied” and us accepting that argument?

Ho’s structure for his Editorial goes like this: Singaporeans know better. The West wants us to copy them wholesale. The West very bad. Asians very good. America very very bad. Don’t be a cultural banana or Gandhi and the Great White Lords will hate you.  And because a black man is the POTUS the wheel has come full circle for all the colored people of the world (this last bit is just astonishing)!

I have so many questions for Ho.

How do you define the model of governance for Singapore, the Singapore system if you like? Is the Singapore system characterised by the occasional bankrupt and exiled Government critics, a press more interested in ad space and Singaporeans returning their trays at food courts rather than asking the Government tough questions, ever-shifting electoral boundaries and a Prime Minister who is spending all his time thinking of fixing the opposition?

How is the “well-being of our people” different from the well-being of OTHER people? Oh, I forgot, Asians are better, as Ho argues so convincingly in his Editorial.

According to Ho, there are “other successful systems of governance”. I’m interested to know what these are. Are these complete systems that we should copy or do we learn aspects from it? If let’s say we want to learn one aspect from America, does it make us a devotee? Or does America has zero qualities we can learn from? Which are the successful Asian systems we should learn from? North Korea and Myanmar perhaps (if Ho can pick the Worst of the West, I can pick the Least of the East)?

Ho writes “the observation has been made that it is those countries in the West…want to teach us how to govern ourselves following their model wholesale.” I want to know who made this observation. How wholesale is wholesale? Has an American come to us and say we should be Democrats and Republicans? Has the publisher of the Guardian offered to take over the Straits Times? Has the West threatened to bludgeon us unless we have an independent elections department (good heavens no!)?

Some readers have commented on Ho’s spotty knowledge of China’s imperialistic ambitions. For me, it’s much simpler, why attack another country when you have so many of your own people to shoot and run your tanks over with? Asians are much more practical.

Ho used the term “cultural bananas” to describe “Westernised Asians”. I find this offensive. Are all Asians Chinese? Or does Ho propose a rogues’ gallery of fruits and vegetables to describe the Westernised Asian of every shade and colour?

Ho’s last few paragraphs are simply puzzling. I don’t understand them. Because Obama became President, “the wheel has come full circle” for all the colored people of the world? Ho himself must be a devotee of America, giving it such an exalted status. In any case, I don’t see how the wheel has come to a full circle, unless Obama starts selling Cheney, Bush and other white folks to Africans as slaves.

Ho addressed this Editorial to “The Devotees of Western Democracy and Human Rights”. What exactly are their transgressions? Are the ideas they stand for wrong? We have no clue. In fact, these people are hardly addressed but taken on a lecture on how bad the West is. I’m curious to know – is inheriting a British Parliamentary system indicative of devotee behavior? Does Ho propose disbanding Parliament and starting from scratch?

Of course these devotees to the West exist, but they are not in a greater number than The Devotees to the Sound of Silence and Indifference, The Devotees to Improving the GDP Statistics, The Devotees to Mammon and Materialism and The Devotees to Thus Saith the Government. Perhaps Ho should also address these devotees as well.

Let me end with 2 educated guesses about Ho. First of all, I think he is the one obsessed with America. Secondly, I think he lives in Holland Village.

Ho isn’t alone. Quite often when I talk about press freedom and greater political space, many people would interrupt with a whole tirade against America and lists everything that is bad about her (racism, lobbying, CSI Miami, toilet doors too short don’t cover enough, etc.). These people, they just can’t stop talking about the US of A when I have not uttered a single word about her. I don’t want the Straits Times to be the New York Times, I just want her to have testicular fortitude.

Creatives know to be wary when they meet clients who insist they “think out of the box” because it usually turns out that the box is so ingrained in the clients that they are the problem. I believe this applies to some of the “anti-Western” intellectuals as well.

Ho has this thing about the “great white lords”. Now I have 3 white bosses, 1 Scotsman, 2 Aussies and I don’t see no Lords. I don’t see any of them at Raffles Place and Boat Quay either, although Holland Village Shopping Center is another matter. On the 2nd floor you will find teeny Asians of every color waiting hand and foot on many plus-sized Western women in the numerous nail bars. It’s quite a sight. You can’t blame Ho for confusing that with a Colonial Comeback (The Empire Strikes Back!).

If there’s one thing Ho got right, it’s that an editorial of such quality deserves its place on the young PAP website.


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