There is another sky,
Ever serene and fair,
And there is another sunshine,
Though it be darkness there
-- Emily Dickinson
Singapore is a safe city, we like to say. Say it often enough, loudly enough, and strangely, it becomes actual enough, safe in our factual fantasy.
Singapore is a safe city, because there is “an absence of desperate poverty”, says Kishore Mahbubani. Singapore is a safe city, because “the government has created an ‘ecosystem’ that resulted in this high level of personal safety.” In safe city Singapore, there is low crime, few murders. Singaporeans earn their daily bread, diligently, honestly, safely. Singapore is a safe city because of the government. Because of the government, there’s enough bread to go around, unlike places like Switzerland and New York City, where Mr Kishore Mahbubani was almost mugged mercilessly. Singapore is a safe city.
Singapore is a safe city. The mornings are calm and the streets are tender. We’re not like those willy-nilly liberal democracies, where crazy rioters run amok almost, like, daily. We have little patience for such fluffy frivolities. Singapore is a safe city. Three’s a crowd and two’s a company, and one is now an illegal assembly. Ask for permission to speak publicly, lest you be rounded into prison, seething privately. Refrain from speaking up for the downtrodden, like foreign workers or the Opposition, however they tempt you seditiously, for you might be detained, indefinitely, by Internal Security.
Singapore is a safe city because of its “tough attitudes on law and order”, says Kishore Mahbubani. In this safe city, we whip teenage boys for being teenage boys, and we hang drug mules on transit, young as a foal, foolish as the young. No foreign president or prime minister can persuade a presidential pardon. Because, pardon me, Singapore is a safe city. What is one death amidst so much safety? This safe city depends on draconian laws being executed punitively. Laws that hover above Singapore, keeping us safe, safe-keeping our thriving economy, compromising neither sovereignty nor survivability. Singapore is a safe city.
Singapore is a safe city. We’re an international financial centre, located strategically in a region of endless possibilities. Billions of dollars of private wealth funds are parked here safely, ill-gotten money guarded legally. VIPs from other dictatorships visit us regularly, like Burma’s Prime Minister General Soe Win, and Zimbabwe’s Mr Mugabe. Singapore is a safe city. Dictators and their cronies come here for our medical facilities, our shopping and dining activities. Singapore is a safe city. Get well soon General Soe Win, and enjoy our hospitality Mr Mugabe. The holiday will do you good, surely. Singapore is a safe city. The powerful are protected, and the powerful go scot-free. These give them tranquil peace of mind, and all these are made known publicly. There is no lack at all of white-washed transparency.
Singapore is a safe city. There are no famines, tsunamis, or other unthinkable catastrophes. Our water is safe to drink, and our enemies are kept at bay. Singapore is a safe city. There are no wars here, as NS has long been made compulsory. We have a strong and mighty army, standing and waiting, ever on the ready. Singapore is a safe city. Except, maybe, when army boys die while on serious duty. Killed by a grenade or collided with a frigate, dunked by commandos or crushed by a Rover. But all these are rather secondary, really, because Singapore is a safe city, must be a safe city. That’s why NS is made compulsory – a dire necessity – even if our boys might die while on peace-time duty. It’s all for the sake of our beloved country, Singapore, this safe, safe, city.
Singapore is a safe city. The government plays it safe, and safety measures are taken seriously. Key institutions of the state, from the bureaucracy to the judiciary to the universities, are bosom buddies of our unique democracy. Our main press is headed by a former minister, and our newspaper editors are hired from the spy agencies. Singapore is a safe city, and safety measures are taken very seriously. Even when our first-rate bureaucracy has been a little bit tardy: ‘Lax in managing public funds and opt for convenience’, thunders the Auditor-General fiercely. While it may seem like a dereliction of duty, it is not the civil servants’ fault, surely. Because Singapore is a safe city, and our bookish bureaucracy is merely sitting there, comfortably, reproducing templates, going by the book, prudently, meekly, safely.
Singapore is a safe city. But “despite all our successes,” Singaporeans “should not be complacent”, says Kishore Mahbubani. Indeed, we must not. We must be on our toes and we must pull up our socks. But we must also toe the line, and we must not rock the boat too much. Otherwise, waves of clear and present danger will arise, and Singapore, the safe city, will perish just so easily. Singapore is a safe city. But O such fragility. Naturally, Singaporeans play it safely, and safety measures are taken just as seriously. We shift our glances as we whisper about the PAP. We clam up when we’re invited by the Opposition parties. We follow the rules and do as we’re told. We keep up with the Joneses, and we keep down our high jinks.
Our Father, thou art in Singapore. Give us this day our OB markers, and forgive us our careless trespasses, as we forgive those who threaten us with knuckle-dusters. Lead us not into Sedition, but deliver us away from Perdition.
This way, Singapore will be a safe city, is a safe city, and our people will be brought to salvation – by the PAP – eventually.
Singapore is a safe city. Say it often enough, loudly enough, hopefully and daily, and it will become, truly, a miracle of the Singapore Story.
But what do you say, Mr Kishore Mahbubani, if I don’t want to live in a safe city, where people’s voices have no say, T-shirts imprisoned, and human beings hanged. What do you say, Mr Kishore Mahbubani, if I don’t want to live in a safe city, that forces upon me the false dichotomy of liberty versus poverty, ruling party over democracy. What do you say, Mr Kishore Mahbubani, if I don’t want to live in a safe city, safe to the point of stifling sterility, safe in a pool of stagnant conformity, safe in a tomb of lifeless mediocrity. O Mr Kishore Mahbubani, hallowed be thy name, thy Singapore come, thy will be done. Lead me not into this safe, safe, city, but save me from this insane, insufferable, imperialism of safety.
Superfluous were the sun
When excellence is dead;
He were superfluous every day,
For every day is said
That syllable whose faith
Just saves it from despair,
And whose 'I'll meet you' hesitates
If love inquire, 'Where?'
Upon his dateless fame
Our periods may lie,
As stars that drop anonymous
From an abundant sky.
-- Emily Dickinson