One more law for the trash bin: the Singapore Arms and Flag and National Anthem Act. That is the discipline master’s rulebook on when and how sheep may fly the national flag or sing the national anthem.
I am pretty sure most Singaporeans did not even realise that we have this law. Certainly not our water polo team at the Guangzhou Asian Games, who designed their own swimming trunks with the crescent moon and stars on them. Now they are being rewarded for their creativity and patriotism by being told in the sternest of voices: You guys broke the law.
There is also the controversy about it being obscene, but I will come to this later.
This Act is one of the shortest in our statute books. It simply says:
The President may make rules for all or any of the following purposes:
(a) to prescribe the manner in which and the places and times at which the Arms and Flag of Singapore may be displayed, exhibited, flown or used;
(b) to prescribe the manner in which and the places at which the Singapore National Anthem may be performed;
(c) to prescribe that any act or omission in contravention of any rules made under this Act shall be an offence and to prescribe penalties for those offences which penalties shall not exceed a fine of $1,000.
What and where are the rules?
As you can see, Rule 9 (3) (e) says “The flag shall not be . . . incorporated or worn as part of any costume or attire.”
The same law also controls how the national anthem is to be performed. In the Third Schedule to the Rules, there is a simple score for Majulah Singapura that essentially fixes the harmonic progressions (if you can read music, check for yourself). Hence, the version of the anthem performed at the opening ceremony of the Youth Olympics a few months ago also broke the law:
It broke the law in two ways. Not only were the chord progressions different, the tempo as performed was dirge-like and much slower than the required 116 crotchets per minute.
Citizen watchdogs, this is what you must do: If our waterpolo players are in any way disciplined, warned, compelled to apologise or convicted in court for breaking the law, raise a stink and demand that Vivian Balakrishnan, the chief honcho organising the Youth Games must likewise be punished — more severely too because of his rank.
But wouldn’t we undermine the majesty of the law if it is violated with impunity?
Frankly, this and other trashbin laws deserve no majesty.
* * * * *
Once again, this reveals archaic ideas about the relationship between citizens and state. Once again, we have something akin to a lèse majesté law or a contempt of court law. The symbols of state are tightly controlled; respect is demanded (not earned). Flag burning, like criticising the judiciary, is a punishable offence.
How is this culture of obedience that such laws and political education beat into citizens in sync with dreams of a thinking and creative society?
Patriotism when people do things with the flag or anthem, when people use them in ways meaningful to themselves, is more substantive than the formality of prescribed kowtowing. Even when people burn the flag, or add critical rap lyrics to the anthem, it only signals depth of feeling about nation and state. We should be happy that people do things with these symbols, for it means people are taking ownership of the nation.
* * * * *
There’s yet another law that will trip somebody up sooner or later. The National Emblems (Control of Display) Act forbids the display in any public place such as a road, street, or walkway, and in any school, of flags, banners and emblems of foreign states. Any resemblance or likeness of a foreign leader is also banned.
Even if you hang a foreign flag or banner within private premises, it is still illegal if it is visible from the street or public area. This is considered a very serious offence. The police can seize you without the need to get a warrant and throw you into a lock-up.
1. How many bars hang flags?
2. How many supermarkets have buntings strung up in conjunction with a French Food Festival or Australian Wines Week?
3. Wearing a T-shirt with the goateed visage of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin as a fashion symbol.
I should add however that this law makes an exception for diplomatic missions.
* * * * *
Straits Times readers’ reactions to the design were mixed. Some think it is a nice and striking design — I do too. Many others disagree.
Unfortunately, it has also raised eyebrows. ‘Disgusting’, ‘nauseating’, ‘disgraceful’ and ‘disrespectful’ were some of the remarks made by upset netizens on The Straits Times’ online forum.
The issue is over the ‘suggestive’ positioning of the crescent moon over the crotch.
Chief financial officer Lim Seng Choon, 40, said: ‘It looks a bit obscene and awkward.’
— Straits Times, 25 Nov 2010, Water polo team’s trunks ‘inappropriate’
The government, for its part chose to call the design “inappropriate”.
The Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts (Mica), which governs the use of the national flag, revealed yesterday that the team did not seek its advice or approval for the design.
‘We would have told them that their design is inappropriate, as we want elements of the flag to be treated with dignity,’ said Carol Tan, director of Mica’s resilience and marketing division.
A few comments on the newspaper’s online forum suggested, tongue-in-cheek, that the crescent moon could have been bigger — the better to intimidate their opponents.
That’s the right attitude, in my view. So what if it’s over the cock? Why is the penis considered undignified? Why so prudish? Let me assure you, an erect penis is a thing of beauty.