“He said that Communists had cast their armed struggle for power as a quest for democracy, and that this was a matter of historical record that is not seriously disputed, except by some academics” (Documentary on Singapore Exiles a ‘Self-Serving Personal Account’, Says PM, Miss Neo Chai Chin).
“Why should we allow them, through a movie, to present an account of themselves not of documentary history objectively presented, but that is a self-serving personal account, conveniently inaccurate in places, glossing over inconvenient facts and others, which will sully the honour and reputation of the security people and the brave men and women who fought the Communists all those many years in order to create today’s Singapore” (TODAY, Oct. 4), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong replied rhetorically when he was asked about the Media Development Authority’s decision over documentary “To Singapore, with Love”.
PM Lee’s position is anchored by two arguments: first, that the film runs contrary to established historical records which are “not seriously disputed”. Notwithstanding academic research which might have produced contrarian arguments, how can we evaluate the veracity of the accounts without access to such content in the first place? Surely with our desire to foster critical thinking – to view purported misinformation or disinformation with scepticism, for instance – we would be compelled to read contesting accounts? Or should we assume that the existing narrative is necessarily representative or accurate?
It is fair to say that most Singaporeans can – and should – make up their own minds.
Second, and more curiously, PM Lee objects to the medium film-maker Tan Pin Pin has chosen. “A movie is unlike a book”, he argued, because the latter can be read with others presenting contrasting perspectives. Yet in the example he raised – of American filmmaker Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11”, which criticised former President George W. Bush’s attempts to capture Osama bin Laden – Moore’s film was met with rebuttals. Many noted that his accusations were one-sided, with untruths which were subsequently debunked.
In this vein if “To Singapore, with Love” is allowed for distribution or exhibition in Singapore, the government as well as those who “fought the Communists” reserve their rights of reply. And if there are indeed inaccuracies or distortions in the film, these untruths can be called out more convincingly. At the moment there is little basis to reject what has been presented in the documentary, because most do not know the contents. It is therefore also not fair to dismiss the Singapore exiles as promoting “self-serving personal account[s]”.
With this fuss about the national security and stability of Singapore, the authorities might have lost a chance to educate or contest supposedly baseless, historical propositions. And we are all the poorer for it, because of these insecurities.