Harry Lee's 'tolerant climate'
September 2, 2000
By Fan Yew Teng
Lee Kuan Yew comes a-calling
Lee's emotional valedictory visit
SENIOR Minister Harry Lee Kuan Yew visited Kuala Lumpur for four days last month and waxed eloquent about, among other things, "a more tolerant climate", open discussion with the masses and shifting away from a conformist society.
Lee said that sensitive issues involving religion can only be debated openly and rationally when a tolerant climate has evolved in society. Well, no sensible and fair minded person would quarrel with that statement.
How does a tolerant climate evolve in society, however? How will a tolerant climate ever evolve when those in power are intolerant about differences of opinion, contrary views, dissent, alternative viewpoints, ideals, ideas, methods, approaches and solutions?
And it is not just the discussion and debate about sensitive issues involving religion, race and culture. What about not-so-sensitive issues involving the environment, gender, peaceful protest, youth, university education, trade unions, the student movement, opposition dissent, academic freedom, media freedom and equity, and foreign policy, just to mention a few? After more than 40 years of governance under the People's Action Party (PAP), has a "tolerant climate" been allowed to evolve?
Can we be allowed to ask Singapore opposition leaders JB Jeyaretnam and Dr Chee Soon Juan what kind of a "tolerant climate" they are enjoying today in Singapore? Can we ask Jeyaretnam how many times he has been arrested over the last 20 years or so and how many times he has been made bankrupt by government leaders?
Can we ask Dr Chee why he lost his university job?
Can we ask Chia Thye Poh how he enjoyed being in a PAP jail for a total of 22 years, six months, two weeks and four days, most of it in solitary confinement?
Or perhaps, ask former student leader Tan Wah Piow why he is still in exile in Europe? A similar question for senior lawyer Francis Khoo, former Singapore president Devan Nair, and former Singapore solicitor-general Francis Seow, perhaps? Maybe we should ask them to write paeans to express their gratitude to Harry Lee for being beneficiaries of the great "tolerant climate".
Shall we have a seance and invite the ghost of Lim Chin Siong to relate to us his experience of enjoying the "tolerant climate" while being detained without trial under the Internal Security Act (ISA)?
And what sort of a "tolerant climate" was given to people like James and Dominic Puthucheary, Jamit Singh and journalist Said Zahari, just to mention a few?
Has Lee's "tolerant climate" evolved to a stage when Malaysian critics of the Singapore government will once again be allowed to enter the island republic?
I have the honour of being banned from Singapore since 1982. Not being a shopping addict or fanatic I miss nothing, actually; moreover, I have been given to understand that our shops in Malaysia are actually better and cheaper. And as for tall buildings, they have never interested me, after having seen some of them in different parts of the world.
Also, we have been told that we have two buildings in Kuala Lumpur which are way taller than what they have in Singapore; whatever it is I am bored by all tall buildings including the twin towers. So again, I have not missed anything. No regrets, QED, whatever the weather.
Unless, of course, a new climate has really come about in and over that small island. But then again, if it was true, just like the haze which we get so often these days, sooner or later we in Malaysia will see it, smell it or feel it.
When one senile man meets another senile man, it is best
they kept their tall tales and little fancies to themselves and their immediate
circles of you-know-what and you-know-who. Cheerio, SM Lee.