The three biggest problems I have with “We are majulah”

Yes. I know. This comes a bit late. I had to calm down a little before writing this. Otherwise I may be too vitriolic, too angry. Now that I’ve simmered down a little, I think I can express my feelings without having to resort to vulgarity.

I think most Singaporeans would have heard about the “We are Majulah” movement. former radio DJ Divian Nair and a group of people have gotten together to start this thing called We Are Majulah. The group posted a video titled “I will not die for Singapore”, which has gone fairly viral. It’s an attempt to create a Singaporean identity. I had explained why I thought Divian was wrong about Singaporeans not willing to die for Singapore.

Not only that I think Divian was wrong, I also think that the video was cloy, melodramatic and cringeworthy at many points. It was mainly emotive and emotional. It oversimplified the many issues that Singapore faces as a society.

But those aren’t what really pissed me off about the whole “We are Majulah” saga. What really riled me are some of the responses to the “We are Majulah” movement. In particular, the following three responses.

First, “it stops people from using their brains”

An article on theonlinecitizen.com called “We are Majulah” propaganda. The article concludes with ” We Are Majulah doesn’t present to us one rational argument to be supportive of Singapore. Despite its seemingly good intentions, it tells us to love our country blindly because this is our home, and that Singaporeans need to bind together through a common ‘glue’. If you truly love Singapore, or want to find a reason to do so, going about it in this manner as the video suggests is simply being dogmatically obedient”.

No. Despite being cloying and melodramatic, the video doesn’t, at any point, say love Singapore blindly. It doesn’t discourage people from asking hard questions. It doesn’t discourage people from educating ourselves politically, or having rational critiques of our country. In fact, I would argue that the video attempts to get people to think about whether there is anything about Singapore that is makes it worth loving, warts and all.

Yes. The video does so by being emotional. But love IS an emotion. You don’t fall in love by being purely rational. You don’t look at someone and go, “So… what are the pros and cons of falling in love with that person?” A mother doesn’t look at her child and go “So… rationally, why should I love you?” If you believe that we should do that before being in love, then you are a very very sad person.

And so what if the video is emotionally charged? You mean Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” isn’t emotionally charged? You mean Gandhi would have managed to win India’s independence with relatively little bloodshed without appealing to emotions?

Appealing to emotions is a very good way to get people fired up to take action – action that includes what the article encouraged people to do: “educate yourselves politically, critique rationally and ask questions, however, inconvenient they may be.”

So no. The “We are Majulah” people aren’t asking you to stop using your brains, even though their first video is emotionally charged.

Second, “it stops people from fighting for… stuff…”

Another response which irked me greatly about the “We are Majulah” video is the assertion that the video stops us from fighting for… stuff… Whether it’s democracy, equality, justice, whatever.

Kirsten Han (blogger, reporter etc) asserted that: “It replaces the need to struggle against inequality, discrimination and injustice with some amorphous form of consensus.” Kenneth Jeyaretnam (leader of the Reform Party) asserted something similar: “It has the beguiling message that we are all in the same boat together and to criticise our leaders or our system is cynicism which must not be tolerated. It does not say that we have the right to take back the power that the PAP, like an occupying force, has taken from us. Nor does it say anything about the economic structure that the PAP elite have designed for maximum benefit to themselves.” These assertions are baseless and are gigantic leaps of logic.

At which point in the video did it say that everything is fine and dandy in Singapore? At which point in the video did it say that we should not continue to fight against what’s wrong in Singapore? At which point in the video did it say that we shouldn’t criticise our leaders or our system, or to fight against inequality, discrimination, and injustice? That’s right. The video doesn’t. Not at all. It just encourages us to love Singapore.

If anything, the responses by Kirsten and Kenneth reflect more about them than about the video. It seems that they believe that we shouldn’t love Singapore unless it’s perfect, free of injustice and inequality, rid of the PAP, and with an equitable economic structure. If that’s what they, and other Singaporeans, believe, then I think it’s really sad.

I believe that we can love Singapore (or anyone for that matter), despite the flaws, warts and all. That doesn’t mean that we don’t strive to improve Singapore. In fact, I would argue that the more we love Singapore, the more we would be critical of it, the more we ought to find out what’s wrong, the more we would be willing to do whatever it takes to make it a better place. But if we don’t love Singapore, then why bother?

Third, “Shut the fuck up!”

The other two points above are bad. But they are nothing compared to this last one. Which is actually the first major response against the video that I saw. It was a Facebook post by a certain Chris Wong that ended with “So shut the fuck up, with the propaganda”.

I strongly believe that everyone has the right to express their views. That’s why, as much as I disagree with what Kirsten, Kenneth or whoever else has said about the video, as much as I personally disagree with some of the assertions made in the video, I would never think of asking Kirsten, Kenneth, Donovan (who wrote the article on theonlinecitizen.com), or Divian to shut up.

Of course, there are occasions when it’s right to ask someone to shut up. If we have good reasons to believe that by allowing the person to express his views would cause more harm than good to society as a whole, then yes, we ought to get that person to shut up. But is that the case for Divian’s video? Has Chris Wong argued convincingly that Divian’s video does more harm than good?

At least Kirsten, Kenneth, and Donovan made some assertions and made some attempts to explain why the video does more harm than good. But even they didn’t think it’s right to ask Divian to shut the fuck up. But Chris Wong? Nope. The post was just about where Divian was wrong. But not why he’s so wrong and what was it he said that was so harmful to society that he ought to shut the fuck up.

And you know what’s worse? With all the flak thrown at Divian, no one stood up against this Chris Wong. Not Kirsten, not Kenneth, both of whom are supposed advocates of freedom of expression. Why not? You mean it’s ok for someone who shares your view to ask another person you disagree with to shut the fuck up? Whatever happened to freedom of expression?

Majulah or not… whatever…

I can understand why people would want to put down the “We are Majulah” movement (if it can be called one). Basket! I’m even ok with people making fun of it. If you don’t want to majulah, then don’t. Stay where you are. If you don’t want to love Singapore, because it’s not perfect, or doesn’t live up to your expectations, fine. It’s ok. Your choice. I respect that.

But there are those who do. There are those who love Singapore, warts and all. There are those who love Singapore despite her flaws and shortcomings. That doesn’t mean that they accept those flaws and shortcomings. It means that they are willing to do everything in their power to help Singapore be better. And unless proven otherwise, I believe that Divian is one of those.

[Featured image: Logo from We are Majulah site]

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6 thoughts on “The three biggest problems I have with “We are majulah”

  1. It is normal for people to react differently; the mark of a matured society is to allow all views to be heard; we can agree or disagree; but there is no need to launch a personal attack on the messenger. I don’t think much about the video; I found it more than a coincidence that this is released just a month before Mr LKY’s death anniversary. I am not naive enough to believe that the people behind this did this entirely on their own without any agenda. Singapore is an expensive place to live; idealism is laudable; but this is not what it is made out to be. Just my thoughts. I could be wrong.

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  2. The biggest problem I have with “we are majulah” is that we are telling a whole nation of people who are already giving everything for Singapore, and working their ass off for Singapore, that they aren’t doing enough.

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  3. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that there are those who believe that most who “are majulah” are so because they do not realise what is wrong with the country or have resigned themselves to accepting the wrong bits without feeling a need to do anything about it. And in a culture where “love” is more “respect and obey” than “make it right”, one would think this is quite likely and that asking people to love, is presumed to be asking people to respect and obey. And since the powers that be haven’t been the most receptive to requests for change, I would say that it is not wrong at all to think that the “respect and obey” message is the one that is intended and perceived.

    Hence the disdain, I suppose.

    I daresay that the point of contention, RENCH00, is that the audience thinks at all and therefore will not be overly swayed by the emotional persuasion of the video so they will not react in the way TOC and Kirsten Han claim they will. Does the audience really think through things like that? I agree with Ajith that is little doubt that this is propaganda so discussing what the intended message is, is moot. What is more important is the message that is received. With your understanding of the psyche of Singaporeans, what is it likely to be?

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    • I too agree that it is propaganda. But. I disagree that most people will perceive the message as “respect and obey” rather than “work hard to make it right”. But… That’s just my sense… Can’t prove it. So, I take your point that the perception you described could be the predominant one.

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    • On another note, if Kirsten, Kenneth, and Donovan (TOC article) had explained as you did, then at least they wouldn’t have merely been making assertions. Then I would have far less issues with what they have said.

      But.

      I am still very uncomfortable with that Chris Wong telling Divian to “shut the fuck up”.

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