Here we go again. Another film banned by the Singapore government. Tan Pin Pin’s “To Singapore, With Love” will not be allowed for public screening in this god-forsaken place. In a press statement released 10 September 2014, the Media Development Authority (MDA) said the film
… undermined(d) national security because legitimate actions of the security agencies to protect the national security and stability of Singapore are presented in a distorted way as acts that victimised innocent individuals.
— MDA, 10 Sept 2014. Link
I have not seen the film myself, unlike quite a number of people at film festivals abroad and even in Malaysia where it was in the line-up of the recent Freedom Film Festival, but I know Pin Pin personally and I have seen some of her other works. She wants her films to be thought-provoking and she has a particular interest in subaltern voices, but she is far from rash or polemic. Anyway, not having seen this film (yet), all I have is a description of the it from press reports, such as AFP:
The film “To Singapore, with Love”, directed by Singaporean director Tan Pin Pin, features interviews with the former activists and student leaders who fled Singapore from the 1960s until the 1980s and are currently settled in countries including Britain and Thailand.
The 70-minute documentary was released in December last year and has been screened at film festivals in Germany, Dubai, South Korea and the United States.
— AFP, 10 Sept 2014, Singapore bans local documentary on political exiles
The most astounding part of this sorry episode is the language used by the MDA/government in the press release. The language is almost from a different planet. To begin with, take the sentence quoted at the top. The MDA is taking issue with the interviewees being presented as “victimised”. I have news for you, MDA: Most thinking Singaporeans have long ago concluded they were victimised. Trying to assert otherwise only makes you look foolish. The statement continues:
The individuals in the film have given distorted and untruthful accounts of how they came to leave Singapore and remain outside Singapore.
The humongous assumption behind a sentence like that is that if the government says something is ‘untruthful’, people will accept it as so. If there were ever such people in Singapore, they are dead. Most are by now literally dead. Cremated. The few still coughing have been brain-dead for decades.
For all the otherwise bright people we have in government, does no one realise that Singaporeans — and I am not referring to the younger generation, I am referring to the great majority of all age groups — no longer defer to the government as arbiters of truth? For the government to even try to assert a right to determine truth convinces no one; it only raises hackles and further erodes what little standing it has.
Continuing with the MDA statement,
A number of these self-professed “exiles” were members of, or had provided support to, the proscribed Communist Party of Malaya (CPM). The CPM sought to overthrow the legitimate elected governments of Singapore and Malaysia through armed struggle and subversion, and replace them with a communist regime.
So many years have gone by — as of mid-2013, about 68% of Singapore citizens and permanent residents were born after 1965 — all this fearful talk about communism no longer resonates. True or not no longer matters. The reaction I can sense around me is ‘So what?’ Communism fell apart in 1989 and 1990. They are now as frightening as monarchists wanting to take over Singapore.
At the root, this government no longer enjoys trust. And is it any surprise? Of course not. Not if it can’t even be honest in admitting that this action against Pin Pin’s film is in effect a ban. It still wants to use the Orwellianism “Not Allowed for All Ratings (NAR)”. The mind-blowing thing is that they don’t seem even to realise that they no longer enjoy trust. Evidence of this state of mind can be seen from the very phrasing of the press release. It speaks only to long-dead Singaporeans who might once have trusted them.
But also, it suggests a government still haunted by its own demons. People may not articulate it, but subconsciously the more this government flays and shrieks, the more people will wonder what exactly are these demons? What past guilt torments this government that it now ululating incomprehensibly?
If the government is serious about convincing Singaporeans of its point of view, it should be taking the exact opposite route it has taken with Pin Pin’s film. Instead of banning and suppressing, it should open virtually all official records more than 25 years old. Let people see what was said and who decided what from those times. At the same time, allow everyone with a different experience or perspective to voice his or her point of view. Let people judge for themselves.
Trust can never be restored by concealment and gagging. Only openness will do.
Recommending reading: Singapore’s history wars, by Geoff Wade, on East Asia Forum.