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To share your thoughts with our editorial team about anything you have read in Jom, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and include your full name and city where you’re based. Letters may be edited for length and clarity. Any letter to this address will be considered for publication in Jom so please let us know if you would prefer your comments not to be published.
As always, I enjoy reading “History Weekly with Faris Joraimi” and it was clear that a lot of thought had gone into writing this week’s piece on Gaza. Yet, I also think that Jom has taken a bit of a cop out. From everything that I have read, there does not appear to have been a single military target of the Hamas attack. The attacks were on villages and the dance rave. The attacks’ only purpose seem to have been to kill and take hostage as many Israeli civilians as possible. In my mind, this would be the definition of a terrorist attack. The only difference between this attack and, for example, a lone terrorist opening fire on a bus, was its organised military scale. It is hard to argue with Israeli commentators who have described it as a “pogrom”.
To label this a “terrorist attack” does not in any way diminish the grievances of the Palestinians, their pent up frustrations or all the violence that Israel has also perpetrated against them, but I think we need to call a spade a spade. Had Hamas made a “break out” from Gaza to attack Israeli military facilities, then the debate would have been different. It did not.
Anonymous (name withheld as requested), Singapore
Responding to “Singapore This Week”, October 13th 2023
Editor's note: In our response to writer, we pointed out that there do appear to have been military targets as part of the attacks.
I read Aditi Shivaramakrishnan’s piece with interest and anticipation, as someone who had attended theatre performances at Wild Rice Funan but had missed out on “Psychobitch”.
Whilst the review part of the piece serves its purpose in enlightening readers on the product at hand (in this instance, the play), more than half of the piece is devoted to discussions around subjects that are outside of the scope of the play, which for me falls under the domain of art criticism.
This is not an invalidation of Ms Shivaramakrishnan’s acute observation and sentiment. In fact, her arguments make sense and I agree with some of the points she raises.
However, as a reader, one that is obsessed with writing structure, reading a piece that is an interplay between review and criticism makes it feel like I am straddling between two different, but connected platforms.
Thanks for reading and I look forward to the review on “HOTEL”.
Herna Efendy, Singapore
Responding to “Psychobitch: Anya’s lonely journey”, September 29th 2023
Singapore’s authoritarianism succeeds due to its base of economic control. The Singapore government together with its sovereign investment funds control large portions of the economy, and people fear being cut off from the job and business opportunities this part of the economy can provide. Hence, control succeeds with little overt coercion. Activists who think that they are being victimised should be happy that they are mostly just ignored.
Yuen Chung Kwong, Singapore
Responding to “Kirsten Han’s The Singapore I recognise”, August 25th 2023
Your pre-election piece on the presidential election was well done, and I appreciated the focus on the differing conceptions of independence proposed by the candidates, as well as the historical development of the institution itself. There’re two main points that I’d like to add some food for thought:
1) The need for the president to check a ‘freak’-elected government and yet be ‘independent’ appears out of sync. If the president has to check the government on matters such as the appointment of key roles or vetoing the use of reserves, the implication is that they have to be imbricated with the establishment to some extent and have a good sense of the workings of the system. In that sense, are we speaking more about ‘independence’ of action, rather than their positionality? Your piece speaks of the ‘democratic dissonance’ that this divergence of expectations has created, but I would have loved a greater analysis of this point, and the development of expectations of an ‘independent’ candidate, especially in reference to the original debates over the presidency and the 2016 Menon Commission.
2) I’m writing this post-election, where president-elect Tharman Shanmugaratnam has romped to a landslide victory with 70.4 percent of the vote. Does this show a more ‘sophisticated’ or ‘discerning’ electorate that looks past racial lines? Or is Tharman a unique candidate whose popularity transcends other considerations? With his percentage of votes exceeding the [ruling] People Action Party’s in 2020, it’s clear even as people may have doubts about his supposed ‘independence’, they were comfortable with voting for him. So does the logic proposed for the ‘reserved’ presidency still stand? We cannot accept that we have a discerning electorate and yet treat them as bumpkins who only vote along racial lines; something has to budge.
Isaac Neo, Singapore
Responding to “Nobody’s independent: Singapore’s presidential election”, August 30th 2023
Loved the article. It was fascinating to read about the Office of the Presidency and how rapidly the rules have been evolving to tailor a desirable outcome for the government. What is more worrying is the statistics you derived of a super narrow pool of candidates, 0.044 percent of Singaporean adults that can easily qualify to run for president under the current rules—that is as thin and fragile as chee cheong fun! Ripe to bungkus the Office!
Sathia Varqa, Singapore
Responding to “Nobody’s independent: Singapore’s presidential election”, August 30th 2023
I have enjoyed reading your political commentaries for some time, and your pre-election essay “Nobody’s independent: Singapore’s presidential election” was no exception.
However, I feel compelled to express my discomfort in how this article portrayed the late Mr Chua Kim Yeow, Singapore’s first accountant-general. Quoting the purported adage among establishment folk that “even if one puts up a monkey, they’ll still get 40 percent of the vote”, in apparent reference to Mr Chua garnering 41.3 percent of the vote, is insulting to the memory and reputation of a gentleman who should be respected for performing a public service in standing for the presidential election. Furthermore, as we can see from the 2011 and 2023 presidential election results, this adage does not hold true.
Responding to “Nobody’s independent: Singapore’s presidential election”, August 30th 2023
Jom’s recent “build-in-public” newsletter about the titling of Donald Low's essay, “How I nudged myself into losing 10kg in 10 months, as my doctor advised”, published on June 30th 2023, sparked a feisty discussion online. Three readers submitted letters on the issue.
I write to offer an alternative perspective on the recent discussion surrounding the title of Donald Low’s article. From my understanding, some have seen it as potentially ‘fatphobic’, a term that signifies bias or discrimination against overweight individuals. While I appreciate the diverse viewpoints within your team, I am particularly drawn to the opinion that the original title was not problematic, and I would like to explain why.
Modern academic discourse and activism sometimes tend to perceive every issue through the lens of identity-based oppression, often finding harm where it might not be intended. In this context, it appears that the ‘fatphobia’ argument applied to the title reflects this pattern, emphasising ideology over empirical evidence.
In the case of the discussed article, I believe the primary intention was not to shame those who are overweight or reinforce harmful stereotypes, but rather to narrate a personal journey towards achieving a health-related goal. The title, therefore, should be seen as reflecting an individual’s experience and ambition, rather than a prescriptive statement about body weight.
My concern lies in the potential consequences of conflating personal health narratives with broader social issues, such as body positivity or fat acceptance. Such an approach risks diluting the distinctions between these important discussions and overshadowing the very real health concerns linked to obesity.
Labeling the original title as ‘fatphobia’ ignores the context of the article and veers into the territory of cynicism. By hastily tying everything to accusations of fatphobia, we are at risk of oversimplifying complex issues and reducing them to mere buzzwords. It’s essential to consider the nuance and individual context of each narrative instead of resorting to blanket accusations.
In an interesting twist, my wife has brought up a counter-argument that I found worth sharing. She playfully, but earnestly, suggested that the criticisms may themselves be “healthphobic”—a term she coined to describe the fear or rejection of narratives that advocate for healthier lifestyles.
Nonetheless, I recognise the importance of engaging in open and respectful dialogue, considering the continuously evolving social context surrounding these matters. All perspectives deserve to be heard, analysed, and respected as we strive to navigate these sensitive topics.
Joshua Wong, Singapore
I’m not a subscriber so I wasn’t able to read Donald Low’s essay on weight loss in its entirety, but I agree with your colleagues that the title could have been reworked.
“As my doctor advised” doesn’t actually make things better. In fact, it reinforces the sometimes cursory and un-nuanced view of “health” that many people have, including medical practitioners. There is plenty of literature on the subject of thinness-fatness-health. What does “morbidly obese” mean, what are the yardsticks in terms of physical appearance, endurance AND bloodwork? I would ask the same questions of “painfully thin”.
I’m of your generation—quite a bit older, in fact—and I was discomforted by the title immediately. It smacks of clickbait. Someone like me who is recovered/recovering from anorexia might see hope in it in an hour of desperation. Just to be thin again.
I wonder if there could instead have been more of a hint of the *essence* of the story in the title beyond the word “nudge” and less of a brag, almost, of having lost a kilo a month. Regaining health and having had the opportunity to recalibrate were Low’s key outcomes, no?
Carolyn Oei, Singapore
I’m on the fence about the new title, for the very same reason your co-editors didn’t like the original but from the opposite perspective. As a behavioural scientist, I feel the new title divests Donald of his agency in nudging himself; just as the qualifier, “as advised by my doctor” helps to temper the perception that it’s for reasons of vanity, it also dilutes the intrinsic motivation he has to embark on this journey.
Having said that though, I do appreciate you providing the transparency and context of the editorial decision. I think as readers of a certain generation, I take some things for granted (that’s how unconscious bias manifests itself, right?) and any reminder to question my assumptions—for better or worse—is always good.
Serene Koh, Singapore
(Note: Serene is director, Singapore at The Behavioural Insights Team, aka the UK's “Nudge Unit”.)
Queer politics in post-repeal Singapore absolutely must take the possibility of a far-right reaction to repeal as an extremely serious threat to the minuscule gains that queer organising has made so far, given that queer organising, both in Singapore and globally, is extremely outnumbered, both in terms of committed organisers and the scale of funding, by right-wing anti-queer organising.
The article disappoints by neglecting to stress that queer politics in post-repeal Singapore must take into consideration that the transgender genocide, which is in its opening phases in the US according to the Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention (Statement on the Genocidal Nature of the Gender Critical Movement’s Ideology and Practice, Red Flag Alert for Genocide - USA), may be coming to our shores, being brought by the worrying and growing trend of Christian anti-queer organising.
Taking a look at the financial scope of this organising, it can be seen from this article by openDemocracy (Revealed: S$280m ‘dark money’ spent by US Christian Right groups globally) that Christian far-right groups have massive amounts of money at their disposal. Of particular concern is an organisation mentioned in the report. Focus on the Family, which has a Singaporean branch Focus on the Family Singapore, was one of six shortlisted external vendors chosen to conduct sexuality education workshops in Singapore schools in 2010 (“Ministry picks groups to teach sexuality education”, The Straits Times).
Perhaps the most notable case in terms of far-right organising must be the 2009 AWARE takeover by a group of women affiliated with Church of Our Savior, in response to AWARE planning to roll out comprehensive sex education, which would include topics such as consent, contraception, and abortion, along with information about sexuality.
Ultimately, queer politics in a post-repeal Singapore must consider anti-queer reaction, spearheaded by a noisy, but powerful minority of Christian far-right actors, as a serious threat to the continued existence of queer organising in Singapore.
Responding to “Queer politics in post-repeal Singapore”, June 16th 2023
(Note: Jom agrees with this letter writer’s need for anonymity, because of their fear of becoming “a target of anti-queer groups in Singapore”.)
Thanks for pointing out the inherent hypocrisy in Singapore’s approach to global heating. I’ve been trying for some time now to encourage the Singapore government to commit to decarbonising the world economy. A good start would be for Singapore’s two massive sovereign wealth funds (Temasek and GIC) to announce a credible and timely divestment schedule by 2030 or earlier. In addition, it should commit to no new funding for fossil fuel projects, and not refinancing any fossil fuel projects. This is especially pertinent since several of the banks it owns large stakes in, for example DBS and Standard Chartered, are massive funders of fossil fuel projects. It should also direct companies it controls, such as NTUC insurance, to not insure any new fossil fuel projects and related works. These companies should also divest their holdings of fossil fuel companies.
It should vote for activist shareholder motions to force companies to appoint climate-responsible board members, and for plans for companies to have a credible and timely schedule for decarbonising their operations. The companies it has big stakes in, for example Singapore Airlines and NOL, should have a clear and actionable goal to net zero by 2030. As it stands, the country has a shamefully slow and low target of 36 percent reduction in Emissions Intensity by 2030, which is completely inadequate to aim for limiting global warming to 2 degrees, let alone 1.5!
Singapore is exquisitely vulnerable to global heating, and it would be folly to think it could be insulated by its wealth. Witness people losing their minds when the sale of fresh chicken from Malaysia was suspended for a brief period. The impacts of the climate crisis on Singapore’s food security would be much worse. Despite our small size, we have huge per capita carbon emissions, and yet we are also uniquely positioned to make a principled and meaningful stand by not accelerating our descent to climate hell.
YiZhong Zhuang, Adelaide
Responding to “Singapore’s climate karma” in Singapore This Week, June 16th 2023
I really enjoyed reading the article “The awkwardness of ‘resilience’ in Singapore’s political discourse”, where the concept of ‘resilience’ was unpacked intelligently. I also thought that there are plenty of genuine, positive examples of resilience in the reality of neighbourhoods in Singapore away from the headline language and symbols promoted by the government. For example, neighbours pulling together during the pandemic showing concern and care for each other, parents’ support network given the stress on education in Singapore, teachers putting in exhaustive hours beyond what is required, and people organising and restraining themselves in crowded public transport. These are just some examples, and they are not particular to Singapore but innate values shared by all people. I thought the writer could have highlighted these too.
Sathia Varqa, Singapore
Responding to “The awkwardness of ‘resilience’ in Singapore’s political discourse”, June 9th 2023
Reading your recent coverage of POFMA (Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act 2019) and Asia Sentinel—and having also viewed the parliamentary debate on whether a judge should be involved in issuing a POFMA directive—I was thinking of an alternative that could address all parties’ objectives.
Let us assume that the Government is right in that it wants the ability to act early to stop an online falsehood achieving virality. Let us further assume that transparency and objectivity certified by a neutral party of the relevant ministry's decision to issue a POFMA directive has value to our civic society.
The alternative that emerges is for the Government to proceed as it is currently able to, but to put in place a mandatory ex-post review process that is carried out by the non-executive branch (example a judge) that reviews every POFMA directive for objectivity.
As you pointed out, Asia Sentinel’s website shows the correction notice and the false statements of fact. If an ex-post review process existed, then each of the facts would be subject to independent scrutiny which can only benefit the Government (higher credibility) and the public (greater transparency). The process could further be expanded to trigger a review of falsehoods that were reported to the relevant ministries but where a directive was not ultimately issued. This could benefit the Workers’ Party’s (WP) attempts at combating the government’s misrepresentations of the BTO (Build to Order) proposal contained in the WP paper of 2019.
I confess that I don’t know if such a review process is provided for in the POFMA, or if it was debated before it was passed as law. If it is not, then surely this alternative should satisfy the government, the opposition parties and the citizens?
Mouli Chandramouli, Singapore
Responding to “Asia Sentinel blocked by Singapore sentinels” in Singapore This Week, June 9th 2023
(Jom note: Leon Perera's suggestion in the POFMA debate is about as close as Singapore has had to Mouli’s suggestion.)
I just want Marissa Lee to know that I enjoyed reading her “Days of being mild: a Buddhist journey” very, very much. It was candid, sincere, informative, and also hilarious (such as her account of “the riots of contrasts” in Geylang). Her own enlightened discovery—“Buddhist practice is about relating to your environment skilfully, without getting caught up in notions of right and wrong. Without losing balance. Did you know that perfectly enlightened beings cannot feel anger?”—is much food for thought. But I have a long way to go before I can achieve what Marissa has. She shared: “It recently occurred to me…that I haven’t been bored in a long time. I’ve stopped using Netflix or YouTube as opiates, and I don’t need alcohol to help me scatter my aversion towards this hot, dense city.” For me, 68 this year and not interested in TV most of my life, I’ve strayed in the opposite direction recently—I’ve just discovered Netflix and AppleTV+. Marissa’s article must be a warning sign for me.
George Wong, Singapore
Responding to “Days of being mild: a Buddhist journey”, June 1st 2023
The comparison does not make any sense. Hong Kong is just a special administrative region within China. It is ideal as a financial centre as the Hong Kong dollar functions under a currency board system (the HKD is backed by USD assets) giving it stability and unlike the Chinese yuan enjoys full convertibility making it highly attractive for foreign investors. There is no point creating a duplicate manufacturing ecosystem in Hong Kong when neighbouring Guangzhou serves as a factory to the world. Shenzhen—30km away from Hong Kong—also has some of the world’s most state-of-the-art hi-tech companies that Singapore can only dream of. Singapore, in contrast, is an independent country that needs to diversify to survive.
Bobby Jayaraman, Singapore
Responding to “Why Singapore’s government and economy are outperforming Hong Kong’s”, April 21st 2023
Note: Bobby has previously contributed to Jom.
I’m not sure it is fair to label President Halimah as such [“a mere stooge”]. While one may criticise the manner of her election or the content of her official speeches, we should also remember that Madam President spoke up about issues that mattered to her. This includes issues concerning gender diversity across sectors, racial discrimination and, more lately, the caning of rapists. Whether one agrees with her stand in those issues is besides the point. More importantly, she went off-script and used her voice when she thought it important to do so. Not really stooge-like in my opinion. Whatever the misgivings against any political party or our political system/structures, I believe we have a principled and good-hearted President.
I grew up in the era of LKY [Lee Kuan Yew] when he took control of Singapore from David Marshall, in whose government my uncle had served. I was never a big fan of his, but I have had a newfound realisation of the forces LKY had to contend with when he was kicked out of Malaysia in 1965. He had to deal with a toxic cocktail of a multiracial society, a rabble of radical Chinese communist students, the British Government, Malay fundamentalists, and no resources other than a major port.
To be a successful politician, one has to be ruthless, or at least have a ruthless streak. The spectrum goes all the way from Stalin to Jimmy Carter. I am a great admirer of President Carter, who is a humanitarian, an idealist and a moral man. But he was seen as a “weak” leader, though many of us agreed with his long-term policies. Unfortunately, he is not viewed as being as successful as Ronald Reagan, despite the latter’s cowboy mentality and ruinous policies. In my view, Carter’s presidency is still greatly underestimated.
Globally, LKY is seen as a highly successful leader—though he had totalitarian instincts—primarily because he created a stable, high-value economy on a tiny island. It is a stunning achievement. It is curious to see that several of our professors at the Harvard Kennedy School are huge admirers of LKY. However, they would never have tolerated his political manoeuvring in an American president!
Good governance is about balancing values, interests and policies to ensure equity. It is an ugly fact that idealism does not work because people are selfish, unreasonable and even violent—as we saw in the English, French, American and Russian Revolutions. It is easy to be an idealist—but LKY had all the ruthless political skills of Napoleon, Franco or Mao to keep his rivals in check. But it was a veiled ruthlessness. He never actually killed anyone, but he felt justified in behaving as he did. Besides, his long-term calculus actually played out. Yes, it was not ideal—but what society is? I do not see all our high-minded democratic ideals being realised in the US either.
Regis De Silva, Cambridge, MA, USA
Responding to “The long shadow of Operation Coldstore”, February 3rd 2023
“The repeal of 377a” by Jom is the revelation every Singaporean should understand and ponder over. The gravity of the collective impact goes way beyond the “gay issue”.
I am heterosexual and I am disturbed by the blatant discrimination and injustice imposed on the LGBTQ community. To deprive another person of equal rights based on sexual orientation directly contradicts the tenets of democracy. By withholding equal rights, we are deepening fault lines, exacerbating divisiveness and promoting injustice as a norm in our community and instilling it in future generations.
While I am not surprised or thrilled by the middle-of-the-road approach undertaken by some MPs [members of parliament], like Mr Pritam Singh, his concerns as the Leader of the Opposition to avoid alienating the religious, conservatives and moderates who form the majority in the electorate are understandable.
While the religious communities are free to practise their beliefs; I do not endorse their rhetoric to block equality for the LGBTQ community or anyone their Gods may deem unfit. The mixing of religious sentiments, however well-meaning, should have no place in the development of democratic constitutions whose fundamental principle is to accord everyone, regardless of any religious affiliation or not, the same and equal protection and rights.
The machinations behind the repeal set a precedent that is worrisome. I pray I will never see the day when the access to abortions become curtailed by our Constitution because of pro-life convictions in Parliament. A scary thought, but not impossible now.
In the West, democracy may die in the darkness, but whatever is left of ours might just be white-washed into oblivion if we don’t speak up.
Waun Sun Chiong, Singapore
Responding to “The repeal of S377A: democracy, secularism, and acceptable speech under threat”, December 9th 2022
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