Thursday, 1 May 2014

Sharing my review of Lee Kuan Yew's book.

Some time ago, I sort of volunteered to do a review for Lee Kuan Yew's book for New Mandala - a blog on Southeast Asia hosted by the Australian National University. ANU, in my opinion, has the best programme for studies on Southeast Asia in the region (sorry, NUS), not least because it is the university of several well-respected professors in Southeast Asian Studies. To mention just one example out of many, there's Professor Anthony Reid. (Dr Reid is well-regarded as an expert in Southeast Asia and the founder of the Asia Research Institute at our very own National University of Singapore. He also wrote a famous two-volume book that I highly recommend, Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce.)

It was thus gratifying that New Mandala published my review and even agreed to let me use a pen-name. As they certainly will not approve of my Twitter handle, @bimbo_observes, I came up with a normal-sounding name that has a connection with a family member who is very important to me.

Anyway, I am sharing the review in light of the fact that Mr Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, has recently written an article calling for "stories to strengthen the Singapore spirit". "What happened to the historians?" Mr Mahbubani seemed to be asking, "Where's their contribution to Singapore?"

Well, I believe that a "Singapore spirit" has to be forged, through hard-won battles, struggles overcome with grit and determination. You can't develop a Singapore spirit or a firm conviction that Singapore is the best place in the world to live in, just by colouring people's views about past events and staging hagiographical one-sided musicals on Mr Lee Kuan Yew, no matter how brilliant a politician he may be. The discerning audience in Singapore can identify state propaganda when they see it, and they will not take such views seriously.

So, there's my contribution. A small effort alongside those of the historians mentioned in this article, as well as these students from NUS, back in 2011, striving to revise previously unquestionable narratives of the history of Singapore.

Is Mr Lee Kuan Yew ready for historians to revise what the world understands about him? As Mahbubani puts it here, "Ultimately, history will be the final judge." I believe that our nation's grandfather is ready. He had already set the ball rolling many years ago when he published The Singapore Story, and he's ready for the historians. In my humblest opinion, Lee Kuan Yew, the man, is a little misunderstood by his critics, and a little over-protected by his supporters.

The question now is, probably, not whether our leaders are ready for revisionism, but whether the people in Singapore are prepared for what will be revealed in the counter-narratives? Are they prepared for the realisation that perhaps, maybe, just maybe, the PAP leaders are not as smart and all-knowing as they claim they are? And the still bigger question is, are the people prepared to face a future where what they used to know may no longer be true?

I await with bated breath the new Singapore stories.

(And in case you missed the link to the review, here it is again.)

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