Dear reader,

I’m Faris Joraimi, Jom’s history editor. Just for this week, I’m bringing you this newsletter on top of my regular column, “History Weekly”. It may seem strange dedicating a section to the past in a genre devoted to present-day happenings. But the daily news we hear has everything to do with history. So-called “newsmakers” are always interpreting history in their speeches and to justify policies, often taking advantage of how “news” has little space for in-depth historical context to keep them in check. 

To be fair, as one American historian put it, “We don’t expect journalists to take deep dives in the archives when their editor is screaming for copy.” Our mainstream outlets also do occasionally get historically-inclined civil servants or “experts” to write longer explanation pieces. But history is not a main item on the perpetually crowded media agenda: convenient, if you want to keep the public forgetful. An information landscape that disrupts dominant thought, and discussion worthy of the world’s complex problems, should make room for things that aren’t concise or easy to mine for soundbites. That’s where history helps, in an unhelpful way. Old structures and patterns continue to shape our time, but for all that, the past is messy, ironic and weird. 

An example of why we need more history in our news is the question of Palestine. This week, Jom released the last of its three-part essay series about Israel’s war on Gaza, “‘You will know what to do’: Ang Swee Chai’s urgent message” by our editor-in-chief Sudhir Vadaketh. As a longtime healthcare professional advocating the Palestinian cause, Dr Ang has probably done more than what many of us have or ever will, to prove herself a friend to the weak, a seeker of justice, and a student of history. 

I’m especially proud that we get to call Ang a compatriot. She’s had to give up her Singapore passport, but as Sudhir asks, “What is the relationship between passport and identity, one’s sense of self? Why is mainstream Singaporean society celebrating Ang only now, after she’s become “a foreigner”? How do we create space for people who might love both Singapore and other lands and peoples?”

Ang’s story connects two histories of exile: that of Singaporeans removed from home for political reasons—either detained or forced to flee—and that of the Palestinians, a dispossessed nation of refugees. In 2014, Ang was featured in Tan Pin Pin’s film “To Singapore with Love”, revisiting the lives of Singapore’s political exiles. It was banned from public screening as the censors said it “undermines national security”. Tan appealed the ban last year after the Films Act was amended in 2019, only to be rejected via a curt e-mail. 

“The email is but a few lines,” Tan wrote on Facebook this Monday announcing the outcome, “but the three months it took for them to reply to my query suggests that the answer wasn’t obvious, that they could have swung in favour of the film.” And on it goes, as history teaches: the answer is never obvious. 

In “Singapore This Week”, we have three separate blurbs on the epochal shifts in local politics: two on Lawrence Wong, our incoming prime minister, and one on a falsehood in The Straits Times about Pritam Singh, Workers’ Party chief. Elsewhere, we look at youth sexual crimes, upcoming gatherings that aim to address work culture in the arts, and the opening of the 60th Venice Biennale, where Singaporean artists—including our co-founder Charmaine Poh—are showing. While the Israel pavilion there is closed to protest the ongoing war on Gaza, three individuals here unfurled a banner in public calling for an end to the Singapore-Israel arms trade. In some places, even a protest of one can be louder than thousands. 

Jom bangun,
Faris Joraimi
History editor, Jom

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