Coldstore Here and Now (Part 2)

Posted: February 4, 2013 in Events
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This alternative history from the gaols of Singapore may seem distant and irrelevant to some. Many  are not even aware of this dark side of Singaporean history. But just knowing is not enough, people need to care. One of my friends once remarked to me that he could understand why those affected were angry, but he could not understand why those not affected cared so much about this issue. To me, this apathy strikes me as strange. For example, if someone was cruel to a cat in a public setting you could be sure that bystanders would stop him, even though they are not the ones experiencing the cruelty and interfering could prove dangerous. Rather than apathy, empathy seems to be the natural condition in reaction to cruelty. At times it is more important we believe in the lies of the oppressor, less the truth reveals our cowardice. I believe this apathy is an artificial condition, socialized through decades of fear and propaganda that we instinctively seem to flinch away at state cruelty. Only by having the courage to gaze back can we reconnect with our human need to care.

The Dangers of the ISA

However, this need is not the only reason that we need to oppose the Internal Security Act. The primary danger of the act is that it translates political opponents into security threats. This is a major lesson to be gleaned from this alternative reading of history. There are of course other tools which can be subverted for political use, as other instances of Singapore history will show but the ISA is most virulent for its impunity. It denies someone their basic right to be judged in a court of law whether someone is guilty or not. This allows for long detentions in perpetuity. This act of repression breeds more repression as to translate a political threat into a security threat you would also need total control of the narrative through control of other social institutions such as the media, the universities and the arts. It is the tumour through which the cancer of oppression reproduces.
Ironically, the ones who should be most cognizant of this are the elites. For example, in a power struggle within UMNO the ISA was used by certain factions vying for the Prime ministership. Syed Husin Ali, at that time a political detainee, recalls how he was told to denounce Mahathir as a communist. He did not, earning Mahathir’s thanks afterwards. What this illustrates however is the effect of such legislation: it heightens political conflict. Its potential for abuse should worry political elites.

The ISA is thus a piece of legislation which creates fear in the masses and heightens political conflict for elites. Its ability to turn political adversaries into security threats highlights the potential for abuse. Its reason for being is at an end, and though the Prime Minister has assured that it would only be used for ‘terrorists’ it does begets the question: who gets to define the terrorists? Surely there are other legislation which can prosecute terrorists.

An Urgent Call

Ironically, in the matrix of control, the ISA may seem the most fearsome. However, there are several reasons in which this may be an opportune time to challenge it. Firstly, is that for the fearsome weapon of political control, an existential security threat must exist. In a geopolitical sense, the cold war is over. The Konfrontasi has ended and the ‘war on terror’ is winding down with the capture of key leaders. In a real sense, major security threats do not exist. Secondly, for there to be a manufacture of security threats, one needs to have control of the narrative. Currently, the internet is able to provide a platform for counter narratives on a variety of issues. However, this situation can change and the potential for abuse of the ISA will still be there if unchecked. Furthermore, the victims are still alive. They should be given due justice to clear their names. We should not assume that this space for dissent may not last, as Singaporeans seem more agitated by economic and immigration factors rather than clamouring for an alternative political system. The connection between economic policy and the political system needs to be shown. With the commemoration of the events of Coldstore and the Marxist conspiracy, the generations of brave Singaporeans before us have led the way. It is now up to us, the inheritors of their clarion call for freedom to continue a struggle yet unfinished.

Perjuangan belum selesai! Mansuhkan ISA!


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