Tuesday, November 20, 2007

On The Student Demonstrations At Orchard

Before I say anything else, allow me to first clarify that while my following comments may appear somewhat critical, I nonetheless appreciate the motivations behind the actions that the 9 student demonstrators executed at Orchard Road yesterday; my comments are just some observations that I came up with while reading through the news reports (by both the Straits Times and Lianhe Zaobao) earlier today about the student demonstrations at Orchard yesterday.

Where were the local students?

That said, the first thing I noticed about the 9 student demonstrators were that, according to all available news reports, they were all foreign students studying in Singapore.

Hmm... Where were the local students?

It cannot be the case that local students are not aware or interested in the current situation in Myanmar, considering that a significant number of them visibly participated in recent events that aimed at heightening awareness & showing concern for the situation in Myanmar. Also, observing that one of the students demonstrating yesterday remarked that "they represented a bigger group of students who opposed the Myanmar junta's human rights abuses" ("Police turn back student protesters", ST, 20/11/2007), it is highly unlikely that no local students were involved in the organising of the demonstrations.

Now, the question is: if there were indeed local students in the "bigger group" mentioned above, why were these students not involved in the execution of the demonstrations yesterday?

Well, I suppose it is entirely possible that the absence of local students in the demonstrations yesterday was not something deliberately planned by the "bigger group" of students. It could just be that the 9 foreign students volunteered to execute the demonstrations.

Nonetheless, it is also entirely possible that it was a deliberate move to only involve foreign students in the demonstrations yesterday. I shall, for obvious reasons, not say too much about this but just think about it: what are the chances that local authorities would do anything against foreign students (of course, I suppose local authorities would also be reluctant to do anything against local students)?

Another possible explanation would evidently be that local students, again assuming they are in the abovementioned "bigger group", concerned that they may contravene local laws and/or leave a black mark on their records by participating in the demonstrations, choose not to took part in them.

And, though I hate to suggest this, I must admit that it did occur to me that it is also a possibility that, considering the ongoing exam season for local universities (or at least for NUS & NTU), local students (or at least local university undergraduates) are too busy & too concerned with preparing for exams to get involved in the demonstrations yesterday. Yet, that said, personally, I doubt that this was the reason behind the non-involvement of local students in yesterday's demonstrations (hence, my placing of this possible but unlikely explanation last on the list).

Demonstrations: Not the "Singapore Way"?

Moving on, another thing I found interesting was that it seems to me that local news reports about the demonstrations sortof emphasised that it was foreign students who participated in the demonstrations. In fact, the report by Lianhe Zaobao explicitly enumerated the various countries that the 9 demonstrators are from (these countries, in case you all are interested to know, are the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Holland, Swenden and etc.). Perhaps I am reading too much into this but would this move to highlight the nationalities of the 9 demonstrators a move to suggest that taking part in demonstrations is not the "Singaporean Way" but something done only by members of Western liberal countries? Of course, this is just a hypothetical musing of mine.

Before I move on to the next point, I can't help but wonder: would things be any different if it was not foreign students but local students who took part in yesterday's demonstrations? Would the implications be even more intriguing?

Where were the onlookers? What were they doing?

Just as Sherlock Holmes noticed that it was not what the dog did which was curious but what it did not do, I find it curious that, from what I can see, there was nothing mentioned (though they did mention the significant media & police presence at the scene) about whether there were any onlookers to the demonstrations and if there were, what were they doing?

I mean, just think about it, the student demonstrators were not exactly demonstrating in some desolated spot in Singapore. They were demonstrating on Orchard Road (which is, if I am not wrong, still the busiest shopping area in Singapore; not forgetting that it is already the beginning of the Christmas shopping season), for goodness' sake!

Thus, there were definitely onlookers (and I suppose it would be rather difficult not to notice the demonstrators, considering the significant media & police presence). Now, the question is: did they do anything significant? And if they did do something, what did they do?

Did any of these onlookers do anything to show support for the demonstrators? Or were they too afraid to do so even if they wanted to?

Did any of these onlookers do anything to heckle the demonstrators (well, if any of them did, I suppose it will be reported and then later cited by MHA as demonstrating, pun unintended, that outdoor demonstrations have the "potential for breach of peace, public disorder, and unruly behaviour" and thus should not be allowed in Singapore)?

Or did these onlookers just stood around to observe what was happening? Or were those present on Orchard Road yesterday when the demonstrations occurred too busy & too concerned with their Christmas shopping to even be onlookers?

Same Events, Different Reports

Okay, to end off this post, I will just put up the various links to the news reports about the demonstrations.

"Students defy police, march along Singapore's premier boulevard"

"Protest Singapore Style; 3 Marchers, 19 Media, 1,000 Police"

"Foreign students protest against Myanmar military government"

"Students defy Myanmar protest ban at Asean summit"


Sillyporean said...

hi, I'm rather amazed you could write such a long article on this.

To me, it's a simple matter of the foreigners having no fear of repercussions. That's it.

If PAP takes any action against them, you can be sure their ambassadors will be up in arms.

But who's going to stand up for Singaporeans? Our MPs? Don't make me laugh.

LCC said...

Hello, Sillyporean. Firstly, thanks for your quick comment!

With regards to the length of this post, well, I must say that I did not initially planned for it to be so long, I was actually planning to just have a short post but somehow, as I typed, it just became longer & longer...

Also, I suppose I sometimes have the tendency to think & read too much into simple matters and, in the process of doing so, overcomplicate them somewhat. In other words, as a friend of mine once put it to me, I sometimes tend to "see gold where there is only sand" (he said this while I was discussing a term essay topic of mine with him).

In the end, I suppose that sometimes simple matters may just have wide-reaching & complicated implications...

Unfortunate Singaporean said...

Sillyporean has a point. These foreigners have not been conditioned the way we Singaporeans have been.

Activism is in their DNA. There are just on their Asian tour. Spend a semester here and bugger off to somewhere more exciting...oh what a lovely way to live.

LCC said...

Thanks for the comment, Unfortunate Singaporean (a Singaporean who is unfortunate or unfortunate to be a Singaporean?).

Yup, I admit that the fact that these foreign student demonstrators are perhaps just here for a short while before they return back to their home countries could have embolden them to take part in demonstrations here.

With the above in mind, I wonder whether Singaporean students, who are on exchange overseas and/or sponsored studies, participate in demonstrations when they are over there e.g. taking part in an anti-Bush demonstration in the U.S.?

Or would activism be so not in their DNA that they would also take part in any demonstrations while overseas?

LCC said...

Correction: Or would activism be so not in their DNA that they would also not take part in any demonstrations while overseas?

Post a Comment