“Majulah” video is blatant propaganda

Majulah?

A melodramatic, emotional video plea asking Singaporeans to unite has gone viral. It’s meant to be an introduction to a new movement: We Are Majulah. But what does this movement do, and can national identities even be constructed?
What does it mean to be Singaporean? How can the people of Singapore come together and stand united for their country? Is there a word, a belief that unites all Singaporeans?

A new ‘social movement’, We Are Majulah, believes there is.

Spearheaded by former radio deejay and television personality Divian Nair, the campaign references long-standing ideals – such as “liberté, égalité, fraternité” in France and “freedom” in the United States – that are recognisably associated with particular nations, Nair calls on all Singaporeans to rally to one word that all Singaporeans can live by: MAJULAH.

“I hope one day when I’m at a coffee shop, I can just say ‘majulah’ to a coffeeshop uncle while ordering a coffee, and he will reply in kind,” he told the press.

It’s a strange campaign. Apart from the grammatical disaster that is “We Are Majulah” – what the heck does “We Are Onward” mean? – the message is vague. The campaign wants people to “come together”, but for what purpose?

It is not the first time that someone has called for Singaporeans to come forward and commit themselves to some ‘national identity’. In his video, Nair references the shared beliefs of France and the US – he presumably feels that they are countries that, unlike Singapore, have national identities.

But what is a ‘national identity’? How can we ever assume the existence of one thing, one set of ideals or beliefs, that everyone subscribes to, even if they come from the same country?

Does Nair really believe that citizens of a country like the US all subscribe to one unifying concept? At a time of movements like #BlackLivesMatter, of anti-racism rallies and protests held by black students across the country and of rants by presidential candidates about building walls on the Mexican border, can anyone really be naive enough to believe that Americans are as one in their belief in freedom?

There are things that many Americans might identify with. There are experiences that many Americans might share. But at the end of the day every American will have his or her own idea of what it means to be an American, based on his or her own experiences. There is nothing wrong with that, and Singapore is no different.

Singapore is stratified, unequal and diverse. We should not erase this fact. The call to end “cynicism” is often code for putting an end to critique, questioning and skepticism, even though these three things are important parts of active engagement with society and the state. In fact, such engagement in national affairs is far more likely to foster a sense of ownership over one’s country and its issues than empty platitudes in a YouTube video.

Identities are fluid, nuanced and complex. Our range of identities – influenced by gender, race, nationality, age, sexual orientation, etc. – ebb and flow as we move through time and space, and can never be pinned down as one thing or another. The organic way in which identities develop and evolve defies definition.

A ‘national identity’ created by a campaign is not an identity. It is propaganda. When you try to foster an environment in which people say ‘majulah’ to each other over a cup of kopi you are not creating a shared ideal, but a political slogan.

The more I think about We Are Majulah the more uncomfortable I feel. It is not apolitical; its call for unity and oneness is political in the way it erases differences in thought and experience. It replaces the need to struggle against inequality, discrimination and injustice with some amorphous form of consensus. It is less solidarity, more indoctrination. And Singaporeans don’t need any more of that.

By Kirsten Han, for Byline
Singapore 18 Feb. 2016

SDP questions MOE’s ‘politically neutral’ argument

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Photo: CNA

The SDP wrote to the Ministry of Education (MOE) as well as secondary schools, junior colleges, polytechnics and universities for its party leaders to conduct talks with students.

The MOE rejected SDP’s offer saying that “schools will not be acceding to the request as our schools are neutral places for learning and not platforms for partisan politics”. They received the statement from Lianhe Zaobao who asked us for comments. The MOE did not reply to the SDP’s email.

The following schools also turned down their offer:

  • St Joseph’s Institution
  • Methodist Girls’ School
  • Catholic JC
  • Nanyang JC
  • Innova JC
  • Victoria JC
  • Tampines JC
  • St Andrew JC
  • Republic Polytechnic
  • Temasek Polytechnic
  • Ngee Ann Polytechnic
  • National University of Singapore

The Singapore Management University said that it would refer the offer to the relevant student clubs. The rest have yet to reply.

The SDP says it is gratified to learn that the MOE feels that schools are “neutral places for learning.” This is why they are puzzled that history textbooks approved by the MOE for secondary school students are so partisan, starting off like this:

“There was always a significant Chinese-educated faction within the party that held a different political view. From its founding, this faction was led by Lim Chin Siong, who adopted violent strategies through riots and street demonstrations. As this division developed, it split the party into two wings: the non-communist wing led by Lee Kuan Yew and the communist wing led by Lim Chin Siong.”

Describing Lee as someone who “championed the causes of ordinary people and gained their trust and respect,” the book goes on to enumerate some of Lee Kuan Yew’s political activities that brought him to prominence.

One such activity was Lee’s cooperation with the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) who wanted to work with the PAP “because Lee Kuan Yew was reliable and his name inspired confidence.”

The textbook also teaches that the constitutional talks in 1955 happened because as “major leaders such as David Marshall and Lee Kuan Yew both demand[ed] self-government (and merger with the Federation of Malaysia), the British were forced to increase the speed of reforms.”

But the British, apparently, found David Marshall to be a “weak and indecisive
leader” and were thus “reluctant to grant self-government to such a leader.” This, the text says, was the reason why the London talks in 1955 were unsuccessful.

Then there was the crackdown on the PAP’s leftwing in 1957 after Lim Chin Siong’s faction won the leadership of the PAP. The book left us with no doubt that “The communist success in this party election…was achieved with some deception.”

As a result Lee Kuan Yew and five of his closest supporters resigned from the executive offices of the PAP “in disgust” which meant that “the PAP, a legal party, was now captured by the illegal communists.”

The text adds that this was “the classic strategy that the communists called the ‘united front'” and that “this incident explained why the PAP leadership regarded election as serious business even till today.”

Following the resignation of David Marshall, negotiations with the British to grant self-government went much smoother because, with Lim Yew Hock as Chief Minister, prospects of reaching an agreement on how to “deal with the threats posed by the communists” were much better.

There was no mention of Operation Coldstore.

And the correct answer is…

Another book, a self-study revision programme for Secondary 2 students “based on the New Syllabus by Ministry of Education”, compiled a series of study notes and questions. Correct answers were provided at the back of the book.

Some of the multiple-choice questions went like this:

I. The ______________ in the PAP supported the Communists.
(1) radicals
(2) liberals
(3) proposers
(4) proponents.
Answer: (1) radicals

II. Which statement about the man in the picture is incorrect? [Picture of LKY]
(1) He was the one who wrote the Singapore’s national Pledge.
(2) He was Prime Minister of Singapore from 1959-1990.
(3) He changed Singapore from a third world country into a first world state.
(4) In 1956, he stood as a PAP candidate in Tanjong Pagar Constituency.
Answer: (1) He was the one who wrote the Singapore’s national Pledge.

III. The party symbol of the PAP is __________.

Answer: (c)

IV. The PAP had a _________ plan for Singapore and it was an honest party.
Answer: comprehensive

What is your opinion about Lee Kuan Yew? Students were asked to read extracts and then answer questions.

Extract A:
“And we needed somebody like Lee Kuan Yew, who can be strong and firm when needed to be, to get things done. I think Singapore was fortunate to have men like Kuan Yew and Goh Keng Swee at the helm in 1965 to do what was needed. It was Lee Kuan yew’s’ [sic] characteristic [sic] – when you accept to do a job, do it well – or else don’t’ [sic] accept the position if you are incapable of doing it.”

Question 1:
In your opinion, to what extent is the above write up true of Lee Kuan Yew correct (sic)? (5 marks)

Answer:
I feel the above extract is very true. He was Singapore’s first Prime Minister. He held that post from 1959-1990. He is widely acclaimed by Singaporeans and people world over as the architect of Singapore. He is responsible for transforming Singapore into a modern city. He made Singapore stable and secure. He saw Singapore through the years of merger and separation. He fully understood the challenges a small independent nation would face. Singapore had no natural resources. Singapore had limited land. The only asset Singapore had was its people.

To make an island with any constraints prosper must have been a challenge to him. His philosophy was if you take on the job, you have to do it well without any excuses or “ifs” and “but”. If you feel you cannot handle a particular job, then don’t take it.

The Singapore after the Japanese occupation, the Singapore after its separation from Malaysia was one full of problems, full of challenges. He, as Prime Minister, at the helm of the government, was worried but not negative in his thinking. He knew Singapore had to survive as an independent nation and he was determined to make Singapore succeed.

It is true that we needed someone of Lee Kuan Yew’s calibre to steer Singapore at that time. It is also true that Singapore and the people of Singapore were fortunate to have him at the head. What we are enjoying today, all the comforts, high standards of public health, education, housing, transport and communications are all the results of the dedicated, untiring, unselfish work of Lee Kuan Yew and his team of leaders.

Question 2:
Enumerate some of the qualities of Lee Kuan Yew that you can infer from the passage. (3 marks)

Answer:
Strong character. Firm when one has to be firm. A man with a vision. An optimist. An untiring worker. Determined and dedicated. One who is not daunted by problems or challenges. One who executes whatever job he takes well (sic). One who sets a goal and works towards that goal.

Extract B:
“Indeed, the traits by which Singaporeans are known today are the very same ones that characterize Mr Lee Kuan Yew. Like the man, the country and its people are known for being pragmatic, law-abiding, hard-working and fond of a clean, clinical environment be it in business rules or physical landscape.”

Question 1:
What traits of Mr Lee are mentioned in this extract?

Answer: He is pragmatic, law-abiding, hard-working, corruption-free (clean). He is a man of integrity.

Question 2:
What is your opinion of the above extract?

Answer:

The extract gives a very true picture of Mr. Lee. His government is a clean one. The hand of the law come hard (sic) on those who commit offences or resort to corrupt practices. His hard work is evident in all sectors. We are enjoying a trouble free life because of his hard work. Singapore is clean and green city (sic). The honest leaders have succeeded in attracting foreign investors to invest their money in Singapore. What is more than all these is:- The leaders have set a good example and have passed on all their good qualities to the people of Singapore. Most Singaporeans are hard working, law abiding and honest in their dealings – be it business or personal commitments. I fully agree that all the peace, stability and security that the people of Singapore are enjoying today are the result of our hard working, honest and sincere Prime Minister and his team.

Source: SDP 
If you have other examples of what schools are teaching in history lessons, you may post them to SDP’s facebook page and join their online discussion.