As a crazy rich Asian, I am deeply offended that you guys are offended by Crazy Rich Asians.
When I saw the trailer drop yesterday, I was so excited that I nearly spat oolong all over my fourth-best Chanel dress. Finally, I thought, a movie that depicts life in Singapore as I know it. Tears of joy streamed down my cheeks when the drone flew over Bukit Timah.
This is home, truly, where the Audis always flow.
However, you guys just had to ruin it for us, didn’t you?
My maid Felicia was nearly done editing my Instastory response when a viral post popped up on Facebook. Mothership isn’t my usual cup of tea but they were talking about Crazy Rich Asians too, so my finger was already hovering over the like button, until I saw the comments:
“Why must make movie about Rich Asian, make fun of us poor people issit?”
“Complete fail in terms of representation.”
“Disappointed with the lack of Singaporean accent in Crazy Rich Asians”
“Watched the two minute trailer and saw only 2 brown ppl”
Are these people kidding? I was so angry I couldn’t think. I had to cancel yacht-viewing for some alone time to compose my thoughts.
Okay, first and foremost, this movie is not racist. How dare they watch a two-minute trailer and assume the entire movie is racist? That’s like seeing one picture of my flawless, custom-built walk-in closet on Instagram and assuming that it’s my only closet. You don’t know the half of it. I have to share space with my husband’s golf club collection.
But that’s beside the point. The point is that us rich people are a persecuted minority too, just like the Wakandans in America. Although we contribute so much to Singapore’s economy, the country refuses to even acknowledge our existence.
If you want to know what it’s like to be truly invisible, try being a Crazy Rich Asian.
Every time you turn on the television, it’s always heartland, heartland, heartland. There are a million and one shows about ‘average’ Singaporeans doing HDB things in Toa Payoh or whatever, but not a single episode on how hard it is to book a last-minute flight to Milan.
Our politicians are no better. When the Ministers make speeches, all they care about are ‘everyday’ problems like water prices and GST vouchers and Smart Nation. It’s as if us rich people don’t even appear on their mental radar.
What about parking in landed estates? Or the jams along Bukit Timah road every morning? My husband missed a shareholder meeting on Tuesday because he was trapped in his Maserati, but my MP laughed it off when I raised the issue at his meet-the-people session.
Is there no ‘I’ in people? To think that I’ve wasted an evening at his tiny office when I could be watching my daughter’s violin recital!
Do you see why I’m so angry about Crazy Rich Asians now? WE finally have a movie to call our own, where WE are being represented fairly on the big screen. But all you people do is nitpick. Instead of celebrating this win for true minority representation, you choose to take what little we have away from us.
We ignored all those jibes about being high-SES.
We kept quiet when Jack Neo’s movies featured not a single High Net Worth Individual.
We even stayed silent when everyone mocked us for not speaking proper Singlish despite our best efforts to leh.
Those days of silence are over. I am tired of having my rights trampled on by the flip-flops of so-called regular Singaporeans. I’m tired of being excluded from our national narrative on account of my fabulous wealth.
Our country needs to know that crazy-rich Singaporeans are Singaporeans too, and not some elite, shut-off tribe that exists as a punchline for your Mediacorp sitcom.
I don’t think that poorer Singaporeans can understand just how hurtful their attitudes are. The other day, I was fetching my son home from ACS Barker when he piped up from the backseat: “Mom, someone called me atas in school, what does atas mean?”
My pulse raced, and I had to ask my chauffeur to pull over. In my naivete, I believed that an inclusive institution like ACS would shelter my children from such offensive slurs. I believed it would protect my kids from society’s privilege-shaming.
But I was wrong, and I cannot see a day when my yoga studio and his polo classes will ever be accepted.
So I hugged him and told him the truth: “Anthony, listen to mommy. Never let anyone tell you that you’re not Singaporean because you’re crazy rich. You have a place in this country, same as everyone else. Polo lessons and swimming pools are nothing to be ashamed of.
Until the day you leave for Yale, you’ll always, always be a Singaporean.”
On stage inside the Singapore Expo hall, a Christian leader from the US proudly addresses the 2000-strong crowd: “The Muslims are taking over the south of Spain. But I had a dream, where I will raise up the church all over Spain to push back a new modern Muslim movement.”
I’m at Kingdom Invasion, a mass evangelism conference that is in its sixth year running. On its website, the event is described as a platform to activate believers and churches to “take up the Lord’s mandate” to “bring the Kingdom of God into our world”. The conference also “acts as a catalyst for the prophetic destiny of the nations around Singapore”, fulfilling the prophecy of prominent American evangelist Billy Graham that Singapore would become the “Antioch of Asia” – the theme of this year’s conference.
In simple words, it means that Singapore is destined to be the base from which the words of the gospel and humanitarian aid would spread to neighbouring countries.
A ticket for the three-day conference costs $220, with the night sermons open to the public. On Tuesday night, March 13th, during the first sermon before the event officially begins the following day, it’s full house inside the hall.
Teenagers, young adults still dressed in office attire, families with young children, and the elderly have all congregated here, all eyes and ears on the American who has come to deliver a jolting message from God.
The man in the spotlight is Lou Engle, co-founder of the Christian organisation TheCall which advocates political change through prayer and fasting. Over the years, he has been embroiled in controversy after controversy for his homophobic and Islamophobic comments. He once spurred the Detroit base of his movement to pray all night long “because it’s when the Muslims sleep and all over the world right now Muslims in the night are having dreams of Jesus, we believe that God wants to invade with His love Dearborn with dreams of Jesus”.
He is also known for using his influence to galvanise the anti-abortion movement in the US.
I have come to Kingdom Invasion to investigate whether Engle’s speech would be as controversial as the ones that have cemented his reputation, and especially since he’s featured prominently on the conference’s website as a guest speaker.
Sitting in the audience, I cannot believe my ears when it actually happens.
Immediately, it occurs to me, “Isn’t the mention of other faiths at a religious event sacrilegious in Singapore?” If an imam had made comments about Christianity at a Muslim conference, no doubt there would be an uproar.
Last year, an Indian imam was fined and deported to his home country for making offensive remarks about Christianity and Judaism during a Friday sermon. Yet here is Lou Engle, aggressively stoking the emotions of the audience, almost spitting as he singles out ‘Muslims’.
The context is incredibly suspicious; he seems to suggest that Islam is a threat to Christianity, and that there needs to be an urgency to curb it.
Attendees, many of them Singaporeans who have pledged themselves to be one united people regardless of religion, applaud to show their apparent affirmation for this need to counter Islam.
Engle’s contentious viewpoints do not end here. Two days later on Thursday afternoon, he urges the audience in another sermon to be united in their endeavours to end abortion, again to rousing applause.
Engle first came to Singapore as a guest speaker for last year’s conference, which has been held annually since 2012 by Cornerstone Community Church (CSCC). So surely, he has been briefed by his hosts on the strict laws pertaining to religious harmony here?
In fact, he seems fully aware of the restrictions of religious speech here, and skirts around them by recounting his experiences overseas without directly mentioning the state of affairs in Singapore.
But extremist views, sandwiched between Bible verses and interpretations, are still fundamentally extremist views, and there’s no mistaking what I hear.
He does not appear to restrain himself either, delivering his sermons in a booming, gravelly voice while rocking back and forth vigorously on stage, as though a powerful divine force has taken over him.
It’s one thing to do so at regular sermons, where such a tone of voice is often used to invoke love, compassion, and Jesus’ name. But to bring Islam into the picture is something else.
I email Pastor Yang Tuck Yoong, senior pastor of CSCC and main host of Kingdom Invasion, to clarify Engle’s comment on pushing back “a new modern Muslim movement” in Spain. Did Engle try to put down Islam at a Christian conference, in the same way he has unabashedly incited Islamophobia in the US, or had I missed something?
A spokesperson for the church replies that the American was referring to the rising ISIS propaganda that has become an increasing threat in Europe, including Spain.
Yet if this was indeed about ISIS, Engle should have said so that night in the Singapore Expo hall. If a “modern Muslim movement” represents radical Islamic fundamentalism, then Engle is either making a gross oversimplification or a targeted attack on Islam—both of which, I would argue, are equally dangerous.
Engle’s admission into Singapore also raises a curious question: how did someone so radical in his religious beliefs slip past the rigorous vetting processes of the authorities and land on our shores for a second year running?
You only need five minutes on Google to open a Pandora’s box of Engle’s tendentious exploits, including supporting a bill in Uganda authorising the imprisonment of homosexuals and the death penalty in some circumstances.
It’s not as though the authorities grant permission to anyone who wishes to speak on religious matters in Singapore. Last year three foreign Muslim preachers were banned from entering Singapore over their hardline and divisive teachings that were “unacceptable” and “contrary” to the values of Singapore’s multiracial and multi-religious society.
Two foreign Christian preachers who had applied for short-term work passes to speak here were also denied entry due to their heavily Islamophobic statements outside of Singapore.
Furthermore, such entry bans can be meted out regardless of the size of the preachers’ followings here, or whether their comments were made in relation to Singapore.
So it’s perplexing that Engle, for all his controversy, has gotten a free pass. Twice.
The Ministry of Home Affairs and police did not respond to my queries on why Engle was granted a permit to speak in Singapore, given his notorious background. They also did not clarify what the rules for speaking at religious events were.
This lack of transparency and clarity is distressing, and gives the impression that double standards are exercised in the treatment of the various religious groups, especially when the authorities have lately been clamping down hard on Islamic extremism.
The Kingdom Invasion conference attracted Christian followers from 47 nations, including predominantly Muslim nations like Bangladesh and Brunei.
Reverend Miak Siew of the Free Community Church says that strict laws may not guarantee the preservation of our multi-religious society.
“Lou Engle’s theocratic ideas are very dangerous in Singapore. You may be able to prevent someone from coming here, but ideas do not need visas, they can still spread via social media and the Internet,” he tells me.
“I think the best way to counter dangerous ideas is by encouraging critical thinking and open dialogue. Banning them only drives these ideas underground where they will fester.”
That said, Lou Engle and his audacity to say what he spoke at Kingdom Invasion represents a larger concern: the growing influence of the Christian right in Singapore’s society.
In the US, the Christian right firmly believes in a non-separation between the church and state, and advocates for the presence of religious institutions within the government and the public sphere.
While Singapore has always maintained its secularism, the voice of the conservative Christian community has been growing louder. The homophobic movement We Are Against Pinkdot and its fervent desire to block the repealing of Section 377A of the Penal Code is primarily driven by this minority segment of the population.
Last year, we also reported on how sex education in Singapore schools is still founded on conservative Christian values.
Pastor Yang, whose church has a congregation of more than 5,000, has used his position as a religious leader to propagate his views on homosexuals. Recently, he aired his support for US president Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, saying that it was “non-negotiable”.
With his views very much aligned with that of Lou Engle’s, it’s no wonder that the latter would be invited as a guest of CSCC for Kingdom Invasion.
And it seems the movement is gunning to wield an even stronger political influence in Singapore, emboldened by the prophecy that Singapore would become the Antioch of Asia.
More than once, conference speakers emphasised the need to “transform governments”, which seems to suggest the hope for a religious takeover of our political institutions. While this, according to the other preachers, fundamentally comprises the spread of good values and doing good for the community and society to encourage governments to follow suit, Lou Engle’s speeches are more complicated than that.
He repeatedly cites TheCall’s movements in the US to encourage Singaporeans to do the same; namely, using the power of the church and prayer to effect political change. More than once, he recalls how his prayers led to then US President George W Bush appointing Supreme Court Justices who upheld the ban on partial birth abortions in 2007.
This outright contravenes the strict laws of the Maintenance of Religious Harmony (MRH) Act which governs the separation between religion and government. In its reply to my queries, CSCC stresses that the “heart and message of the Kingdom Invasion conferences are essentially to encourage and strengthen churches and believers alike to make a positive impact on society and their communities for good”.
It adds that attendees have the “common understanding that the teachings and statements made during the conference were given within a specific and spiritual context based on sound biblical principles”, which should not be taken out of context or misconstrued.
But it did not clarify the political agenda that Lou Engle and the Kingdom Conference seem to be pushing on their congregation. This does not bode well for the integrity of religious harmony in Singapore, when religious events of such a scale like Kingdom Invasion’s are able to proliferate far-out views.
Then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew said in his 1987 National Day Rally speech, in the wake of worldwide escalation in religious extremism:
“Churchmen, lay preachers, priests, monks, Muslim theologians, all those who claim divine sanctions of holy insights, take off your clerical robes before you take on anything economic or political. Take it off. Come out as a citizen or join a political party and it is your right to belabour the Government. But if you use a church or a religion and your pulpit for these purposes, there will be serious repercussions.”
The need to maintain secularism is unequivocal in Mr Lee’s words. But lately, religion has seeped into the political fabric. The original decision by the Ministry of Communication and Information and the National Library Board to pulp a children’s book with supposed gay themes was in part motivated by the Christian conservatives.
More notably, Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin shared a Facebook post seeking divine strength after he had been asked by the prime minister to vacate his ministerial post.
MHA’s refusal to comment on Lou Engle and Kingdom Invasion also points to the possible existence of a grey area in which religious leaders are allowed to operate.
In his essay Religion and Politics in Singapore: A Christian Perspective, Dr Roland Chia of the Trinity Theological College writes that the MRH White Paper is vague and allows for various interpretations, which does not help clarify the relationship between religion and politics.
“While the Church has no political ambitions, it is profoundly concerned with issues of justice, equality and peace. Put differently, as part of the larger political community, the Church is profoundly involved in the life of that community. The Church has always spoken out against injustices and the violations of the dignity of the human being. This prophetic act, which is a part of the Church’s witness in society, can be easily construed as politically motivated.”
While CSCC could defend Lou Engle by saying that speaking out against abortion is part of a Christian’s duty, it is his strong hardline push for the agenda, as well as the apparent targeting of the Muslim community, that crosses the line.
And this could set the precedence for a more politicised religious community in a secular country, especially when preachers like Engle are still allowed to spread their radical views here.
Says Dr Mathew Mathews of the Institute of Policy Studies, who has done extensive research on race and religion in Singapore, “Singapore’s government does tap the views of religious leaders and groups, as part of efforts to update or refine its policies. The contribution of religious groups to the development of good policy in some areas has been welcomed and doesn’t cross the line, for example when religious leaders submitted their suggestions to the recent Select Committee on Deliberative Online Falsehoods.
Religious groups also contribute to attempts to transform society to be more gracious – less materialistic and more conscious of values such as mercy, kindness, generosity and love.”
But more significantly, he adds, “It is not acceptable for religious groups to work to take over institutions and force a certain kind of agenda.”
Don’t make the mistake of thinking you have free will – a book by a US academic has analysed the unconscious, evolutionary instincts driving modern society and the results are a chilling indictment on how far we are yet to come.
As the year’s end draws near, many of us look back and reflect on what we got right and got wrong during the past 12 months. For some, this will be a less agreeable experience than for others, but however you feel about your behaviour in 2017, you will almost certainly assume that the choices you made were your own.
You could not, according to John Bargh, be more wrong. The Yale psychologist has just written a book, Before You Know It, about the eye-opening extent to which our actions are dictated by forces within us to which we are almost entirely oblivious. Who knew, for example, that we feel less hostile to people different to ourselves after washing our hands? Or that the reason why you’re feeling so friendly is the cup of piping hot coffee you are holding? Or that parents who want to encourage their children to be generous will have more success by turning the room temperature up than by telling them to share? Bargh’s book, as Malcolm Gladwell puts it, “moves our understanding of the mysteries of human behaviour one giant step forward” – not least in helping make sense of some of the big stories of 2017.
The 62-year-old American is a big, smiley man, but his demeanour is at odds with the rather depressing message of his work. Human beings’ brains, it explains, are primed by prudent and rational evolutionary instincts to trust people who look like us, and to fear those who look “other” as a threat. This goes some way to explain why, despite all of modern society’s efforts to promote progressive values of openness and equality, and for all our stated intolerance of prejudice, social progress is so agonisingly slow. That’s pretty dispiriting, isn’t it?
“Yes, I hate to say it, but yes. Democracy is an advance past the tribal nature of our being, the tribal nature of society, which was there for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years. It’s very easy for us to fall back into our tribal, evolutionary nature – tribe against tribe, us against them. It’s a very powerful motivator.” Because it speaks to our most primitive self? “Yes, and we don’t realise how powerful it is.” Until we have understood its power, Bargh argues, we have no hope of overcoming it. “So that’s what we have to do.” As he writes: “Refusing to believe the evidence, just to maintain one’s belief in free will, actually reduces the amount of free will that person has.”
If unconscious racism is an ancestral legacy, it is also reinforced by contemporary culture. Bargh offers a study of popular prime-time US TV shows – Grey’s Anatomy, CSI, Bones – in which participants who had never seen the programme before were shown scenes in which the main character interacted with either a black or white character. The scenes were edited, however, to show only the main character. The audio was also removed, so that participants could see only the main character’s non-verbal communication – facial expressions, gestures, body language – towards the off-screen character. They were then asked to judge how the visible character felt towards the unseen character.
“These are shows, remember,” Bargh says, “that intentionally tried to have equal-power black and white characters. It’s not like the black people on the show are all the criminals, and the white people are all the detectives. They have the black detective and white detective; they actually have equal power.”
The findings were chilling. The main character was consistently judged to be conspicuously more positive towards the show’s white characters, and more negative towards its black characters.
“They don’t script it that way. And it’s not intended by the producers or actors of the show. There are programmes that do intend it – but we’re even talking about the ones that don’t, and it still has this massive effect. It’s conveyed so powerfully to people watching that, after they see it, they have more negative automatic attitudes towards black people. The research found that the more they see of shows like that, the more they have more of a racist attitude.”
Anyone who has ever wondered why minorities often object about what colour a doll comes in, say, might reconsider their scepticism about the importance of culture after reading Bargh’s book. He presents a study of two sets of Asian-American five-year-old girls, who were asked to perform maths tests after being “primed” with activities designed to trigger their unconscious sense of identity. One group was asked to colour in pictures of Asians eating with chopsticks; the other to colour in pictures of a girl holding a doll. The first group dramatically outperformed the second in the maths test. By the age of just five, they had absorbed the cultural stereotypes that Asians are good at maths and girls are bad.
“These Asian-American girls are not hearing at home that girls can’t do maths,” Bargh points out. “These are Harvard preschool kids; the parents are, like, tiger mums and dads. A lot of them brought the children into the study thinking that being in this Harvard study at age five would help their girl get into Harvard at age 18: that’s how motivated they are. They’re not the ones who are telling the girls they can’t do maths. It’s in the culture we soak up, without even knowing it.”
Bargh decided to test his own unconscious racial bias, using a complex system of word association and physical reflexes devised to eliminate any possibility of him consciously dictating his responses. He was dismayed to discover that his unconscious associated “white” with “good” and “black” with “bad”. However, he found he could override his bias by deploying the power of imagination. He sat the tests again, and got opposite results, “simply by really trying to feel as if I was a black person. Now obviously with no experience, it’s laughable that I could try – but I really did try to convince myself temporarily that OK, I’m a black person. And I reversed the results.”
In a fascinating study conducted by Bargh, participants were invited to imagine they had a superpower that rendered them safe from all physical harm, and were then quizzed on their social attitudes. Half the participants were liberals, and half conservatives. The imaginary superpower had no impact on liberals’ social attitudes. “Feeling physically safe,” however, “significantly changed the conservative participants’ social attitudes to being similar to those of liberals.”
This worked, he explains, because research has found that “conservatives have larger fear centres of the brain. They’re more concerned with physical safety than liberals.” Once we feel afraid, our own fear can further distort our perception of actual danger. For example, research has found that when people become new parents of a tiny, vulnerable baby, they begin to believe their local crime rate is going up, even if it is falling. “That happened to me,” Bargh admits. “After my daughter was born, suddenly we felt that the neighbourhood was getting so dangerous that we had to leave.”
Even more pertinent to current world events is Bargh’s research into sexual harassment. In the 1990s, an esteemed law professor had studied supreme court cases of sexual harassment and concluded that 75% of the accused genuinely did not realise they were doing anything wrong. Intrigued, Bargh devised a study to see if this could really be true.
Participants were asked to fill out an anonymous questionnaire devised to reveal their willingness to use power over a woman to extract sexual favours if guaranteed to get away with it. Some were asked to rate a female participant’s attractiveness. Others were first primed by a word-association technique, using words such as “boss”, “authority”, “status” and “power”, and then asked to rate her. Bargh found the power-priming made no difference whatsoever to men who had scored low on sexual harassment and aggression tendencies. Among men who had scored highly, however, it was a very different case. Without the notion of power being activated in their brains, they found her unattractive. She only became attractive to them once the idea of power was active in their minds.
This, Bargh suggests, might explain how sexual harassers can genuinely tell themselves: “‘I’m behaving like anybody does when they’re attracted to somebody else. I’m flirting. I’m asking her out. I want to date her. I’m doing everything that you do if you’re attracted to somebody.’ What they don’t realise is the reason they’re attracted to her is because of their power over her. That’s what they don’t get.”
Perhaps the single most confronting revelation of Bargh’s work is its implications for consumer capitalism. It’s not that our economic model makes us sad – although it does – so much that making us sad is good for consumer capitalism.
He describes a study by a Harvard social psychologist. “It found that sad people not only buy more, but they pay more. They’re willing to pay more because, basically, when we’re sad, we want to change state.” Someone feeling sad would rather spend £100 than £10, “because it changes the state more. And stores know this.”
Ever wondered why shops like to pipe out mournful music, or why Walmart plays Céline Dion on a loop? Well, Bargh grins – there’s your answer.
“They don’t want us to be happy; they want us to be sad. Politicians want us to be fearful. All these things are not in our own interests at all. They’re manipulating us for their own interest, and against our own, and I think that’s horrible.”
Before You Know It; The Unconscious Reasons We Do What We Do, by John Bargh, is published by Penguin Random. To order a copy for £17 (RRP £20) go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders minimum p&p of £1.99.
This has prompted comments from all quarters, including a passive-aggressive statement from the Ministry of Home Affairs.
Well, one subsection of America that seemed genuinely happy to see Amos Yee in the land of the free is the subreddit, The Donald, which comprises some of President Donald Trump’s most fervent supporters.
They are also quite anti-refugee, specifically refugees from countries that Trump is pushing to put on the travel ban list.
With that in mind, a post claiming “What An Actual Refugee Looks Like” got upvoted to the top of The Donald, getting thousands of upvotes.
FYI, according to them, this is what a refugee looks like
The general consensus on the thread was that Yee shouldn’t have been persecuted for criticising Islam.
And they were glad he was out of Singapore.
Which is apparently super liberal!
Now, fervent Amos Yee scholars would realise that Islam is by no means the only religion he criticised.
The thing is, most of The Donald didn’t.
Until someone pointed out Yee’s impressive bibliography of insults.
On the same day, after the initial hoopla, another post trying to clarify the situation was put up.
Apparently, Yee had badmouthed Christianity too, among his other crusades.
Which, for some reason, changed everything.
Not all free speech is worth listening to.
Go to the original article on mothership.sg to see the screenshots for yourself.
Organiser of the Singapore Palestinian Film Festival 2017, Adela Foo, sheds some light on war-torn Palestine and what drew her towards the region.
More than two years after the war, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict left its citizens displaced and unable to resume their daily lives. Citizens of both war-torn states have experienced immense grief and loss, and Israelis living in border towns have lived their days fleeing from rockets fired from Gaza into Israel. It is a fact that the average Singaporean cannot possibly imagine life on either side.
This is why Adela Foo intends to open our eyes on life in Palestine.
Adela Foo is the organiser of the Singapore Palestinian Film Festival 2017, which aims to dispel common stereotypes surrounding Palestinians living in Palestinian territories in the Middle East. The media often depicts Palestine as an unsafe and unstable state, but the truth is far more nuanced than that.
You might wonder why Adela is so drawn towards Palestine and the Middle East, but spend a little time with this Arabic and Classics major at Bard College, a private New York liberal arts college, and you’ll understand why. Admitting that she’s the only one in her class majoring in both Arabic and Classics, the zealous girl lets on: “because really, who wants to learn Arabic and then Ancient Greek on top of that?”
Adela turns serious: “However, I have always been in love with Classics and knew that I wanted to major in it, especially after taking Daniel Mendelsohn’s class on the ‘Odyssey’. As for Arabic, I was particularly interested in learning more about the region after studying about the Arab-Israeli conflict in junior college.”
Arabic is an extremely intricate language and difficult to master. Yet, Adela dismissed thoughts of giving up learning Arabic after “running away” to Egypt last summer, and her parents had since set aside their disgruntlement about her majors. “To clarify, I didn’t actually run away, but simply did not tell my parents that I would be attending the Arabic Summer Intensive Program at Al-quds Bard (AUB). After my father found out, I actually think he was slightly impressed by my commitment to pursuing my studies,” says Adela.
“After running away to Egypt, I realised what a rich and incredible history this region has from times of antiquity to our present day and age. How could I ever give up studying either subject?”
Even though Adela grew up post-911 and witnessed how the image of the Arab world became associated with hostility, she never believed that people could be born as terrorists: “Perhaps that seems idealistic and naive, but it’s just something that I never really bought.” Let’s hear more from the dedicated 21-year-old.
Doyenne: Tell us about the complexity and diversity of Palestinian culture.
Adela: This is what Palestine is to me: babies with the bluest eyes, girls with curly, red hair and liquid brown eyes; when we’re roaring across the highway, there’s a 50% chance that you’ll see the craziest kinds of rock formations and there will always be a flock of goats or donkeys under the flyover.
The worst thing that someone can do is to invite you into their homes for tea, cooking an entire meal for you, and then giving you a bed to sleep in for the night without even knowing your last name.
D: Do you think that the media often portrays Palestine in a bad light?
A: Well, that really depends on what media you subscribe to, doesn’t it? I think in general, the media tends to cover stories in Palestine that are either about rising tensions between both parties in the conflict, or the inability of either side to come to an agreement about resolving the conflict. Either way, I think people’s takeaway from the media’s portrayal about Palestine is that the entire country is unsafe, unstable, and inherently dangerous.
When I was living in the village of Beit Sahour in the West Bank in Palestine, I felt very safe. The atmosphere of the neighborhood was calm and the only ruckus was when children were playing football in the streets and neighbours placed their chairs at the gates of their homes to chat.
However, I am also very aware of the fact that this is one aspect of Palestine that I had the privilege of experiencing. What I experienced in Beit Sahour cannot be taken to echo all of Palestine.
D: Are your classmates also passionate and outspoken about this topic?
A: My classmates are even more passionate and outspoken about this particular topic. Because of the Palestinian diaspora and the fact that my college has an exchange program with a Palestinian university, there are always Bard students who are Palestinian. Perhaps this human factor allows the community at Bard to see the conflict in a more humane light, that these are people too whom we should care about.
Additionally, there are student-run clubs such as Students for Justice in Palestine, which constantly invites speakers to come and speak out against the conflict. Another interesting club is the Bard Palestinian Youth Initiative, which is committed to sending a group of Bard students to Mas’ha, a small village in the West Bank to teach high school students through our “Language and Thinking” program. It is an introduction to the liberal arts and sciences with a strong focus on writing.
D: You’ve gained quite a bit of traction online in a short span of time. How do you feel?
A: I feel incredibly grateful for the amount of support shown by Singaporeans towards supporting the first ever Singapore Palestinian Film Festival! My greatest hope is that even after this festival ends, Singapore’s society will become more permeable with regards to being more informed about the Palestinian conflict and hopefully, taking a stand with it.
D: Doesn’t tackling a complex issue scare you?
A: Not particularly. I constantly remind myself of the bravery of a lovely feisty old grandmother whom I lived with last summer in Palestine. If she could live through it all, what do I have to fear?
Date: 19 – 22 Jan, 2017
Venue: The Projector
Films that will be screened: Speed Sisters, Sling-Shot Hip-Hop, The Wanted 18, The Time That Remains, Broken Cameras.
Trade agreements are often promoted as a means to keep prices down and employment up. The matter, as one might expect, is not so straightforward especially when political freedom is not part of the equation.
The Singapore experience with free trade agreements is, perhaps, instructive. For years, human rights in the city-state have been dirty words, it was taboo to speak of them.
This has not, however, stopped Western leaders, both in the economic and political spheres, from continuing to disregard the lack of democracy and the abuse of human rights in Singapore in favor of trade and commerce.
In 2003, Singapore signed a trade pact with the US. At that time, the US-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (USSFTA) was touted as a job creator and that the world needed more, not less, free trade. The US Ambassador to Singapore at that time said that as many as 50,000 jobs would be created in Singapore by the trade pact.
I wasn’t so sanguine. Without clauses to guarantee human rights and rights of Singapore’s workers, the agreement would just help the business elite in the US and Singapore to exploit cheap labour. And I said so when I visited the US then. Of course, given the might of the corporate interests, I couldn’t get in a word edgewise.
That was in 2003. Ten years have since passed and the results are in:
Income inequality in Singapore is higher than that in the US. While the city-state has the highest proportion of millionaires in the world, nearly 5 percent of its workforce have an annual income of less than US$5,000.
Despite the Economist Intelligence Unit ranking Singapore as the most expensive city in the world, there is no minimum wage law in the country.
We have a pension savings system that is broken. An entire generation of workers is in danger of not having sufficient income to retire on.
As for the younger generation, there is significant underemployment and limited opportunities for graduates.
The rich in Singapore, in contrast, have never had it so good. The island, out of 23 economies, ranks 5th on the Crony-Capitalism Index compiled by The Economist.
It is clear that the benefits of the USSFTA have not accrued equitably. One reason for such a skewed outcome, at least for Singaporeans, is, as I’ve mentioned at the outset, the lack of democratic rights of the people.
The labour movement is under firm state guidance (the umbrella National Trade Unions Congress is headed by a cabinet minister), the print and broadcast media are owned by the government (Singapore ranks 150th out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom index — even Myanmar is higher at 145th), the ranks of the political opposition and civil society have been decimated through decades of state harassment, and fundamental freedoms of speech, assembly and association are severely proscribed.
More free trade in the pipeline
The European Union (EU) is about to sign its own FTA with Singapore. The proposed agreement makes extensive provisions for the protection of the rights of businesses, but almost nothing in it speaks of the protection of the rights of workers.
The US has also embarked on the expansive Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) which seeks to, among other things, “support the creation and retention of jobs.”
I understand the importance of trade. Without it, modern world comes to a standstill. I also understand that in an imperfect world, no one expects perfect equality.
However, extremes in income inequality does not conduce to society’s well-being. Without freedom there can be no free trade; without democracy there can be no workers rights’ and without workers’ rights, FTAs are only tools for exploitation.
If we are going to ensure that trade remains sustainable, then we must strive to make trade pacts beneficial for all — from the lowliest worker to the mightiest CEO. For this to happen, free trade agreements cannot continue to ignore human rights.