“Fandi’s sons willing to switch nationalities if it can further their football career,” the New Paper reported on 12 February. When it came to National Service (NS), Fandi said, “[The] boys are old enough and mature enough and we respect them to make their own choices.”
When we posted this on the publichouse.sg Facebook page, the overwhelming majority of commenters supported his sons’ potential move to South Africa to further their careers.
One wonders if the same support would have been forthcoming in earlier days, say the 1970s or 1980s, when support for our national football team was arguably more intense and more widespread.
What is telling to this writer is how Fandi and his wife, Wendy, are open to the idea of their sons switching nationalities and to avoid serving National Service. Yet, it is not a sentiment limited to those like them. Increasingly, the voices which are questioning whether our sons should serve NS is becoming louder, even if they are not (yet) as prominent publicly. I suspect that this will, however, change in the years ahead.
More parents would be more ready to question if their sons should serve.
And such feelings are in fact being fueled by government policies, especially those of immigration and citizenship. The recently released White Paper, which envisioned a potential population of 6.9 million in 2030, has further exacerbated this resistance to NS.
The question some parents (and non-parents too, in fact) are asking is: why should we protect those who come here at our expense and leech off our success, in the guise of wanting to be citizens?
The recent horrendous accident which happened to Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) serviceman Jason Chee – who lost both his legs and his left hand following an accident on board the Landing Ship Tank RSS Endeavour – and the deaths of other servicemen in recent years, have made Singaporeans ask why our men should put their lives on the line, if our government is going on a trajectory which will result in us Singaporeans being the minority in our own country.
In a recent conversation with a mother, she was adamant that she will do everything to not let her sons serve their time in NS. Even NSmen themselves are beginning to question this national duty.
What worries me about the White Paper, among other things, is whether policymakers who came up with the “planning scenario” have taken into account the various consequences which may result from a bigger non-S’porean population.
Ironically, the Paper speaks of preserving a “Singaporean core”. Yet, its very vision may in fact be the reason why such a “core” is being destroyed. This “Singaporean core” should not just be about the numbers – maintaining a certain threshold over which we will not breach – but it should also be about the reason why the core exists in the first place.
The White Paper’s focus – to a large extent – is economic. The “planning scenario” of 6.9 million is primarily for the purpose of keeping the economy going in an ageing population. The thinking behind it seems to be one which former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew would agree with. In fact, it does seem that his thinking is what the government subscribes to and has used as the basis for the White Paper.
Five years ago, Lee said:
“Once you have growth, all problems can be managed. When you have no growth and you have unemployment and no jobs, then all problems become intractable.” [See here.]
That’s a rather simplistic view of things, if I may say so with all due respect to Lee.
Some problems, such as one of national identity and national duty, cannot be resolved by just having more money (which is what economic growth is ultimately about). Singapore is undergoing momentous changes not just economically but also as a people, identity-wise. The negative reaction – which is ironically a positive thing, in my view – to the White Paper tells one that Singaporeans do feel a certain pride in being who we are. The reaction says we want to preserve our identity. There is no need for the government to urge us to do so.
But the exclusive focus on the economic, and the government doing anything and everything it can to prop up such economic growth, will in the end become the biggest obstacle to its ultimate aim of trying to build a nation.
People will not feel for economic growth. (Were S’poreans proud of the 14.5 per cent GDP growth the country achieved in 2010?)
People feel for the intangibles – people such as Fandi Ahmad, people such as my friend. People such as all the parents out there.
What will keep us rooted, and lay down our lives for our country, is not GDP numbers, but things more intrinsic, and more valuable.
It is that sense of belonging – to a nation which value you, to a land where you are special.
It may even be because you are not artificially and purposely made to become the minority in your own home.
These are the things which have become more important to Singaporeans.
And it is for these reasons that the White Paper fell short. It did not reflect what Singaporeans want for the future.
The White Paper – and by extension the government – seems detached from Singaporeans’ aspirations.
And this is what worries us – that the government will continue to go on a path it deems right, and leaving all things else to further management. It’s a little like what they did with the casinos – bring them in first, and we’ll deal with the consequences later.
We’ll patch up the holes at a later time – or if they appear.
But a country is not a casino.
Lee Kuan Yew’s idea of economic growth above all else is no longer applicable, and one hopes the government will really ponder hard about how it is going to take Singapore into the future.
When you see more parents opposing their sons serving NS, or when your most celebrated “Singapore son” does not feel he is valued in his country, you know that we have headed down the wrong road.
And increasingly, it looks like we already are headed that way.