So, it has finally been said – do not hero worship Lee Kuan Yew. The man himself would “cringe” at the blind adoration. So says his daughter, Lee Wei Ling, in a Facebook post on 25 March. (See here.)
The month-long bending of knees and bowing of heads among the Lee faithful have been amusing to me.
The praises levelled at the man verged on hysteria and the hysterically laughable, with some clearly delusional worshippers even witnessing the late Lee’s face in the clouds on his death anniversary.
And one art display of the man was titled “Our Father, Our Country, Our Flag”.
“It was a well-meaning effort but it made me wince,” Ms Lee said.
That’s a very expressive word to use – “wince”.
The dictionary defines it as: “a slight grimace or shrinking movement caused by pain or distress”.
Pain, or distress.
The stomach contorts and swirls with the sting of such religious devotion for a mere man.
Now, before you think I am saying that there should be no display or expression of appreciation for what Lee Kuan Yew has done for Singapore, let me say that that is not so.
I am all for honouring the man, much as I feel he is not among the greats of human history, and what he has done for his country.
But I would want such honouring to be authentic and true, and not fluffed up superficialities designed to invoke emotions which last for all of two seconds.
Lee Kuan Yew was not a puffed-up toy doll, all cuddly and cotton-candy sweet.
Instead, he was one who wielded a hatchet (his own words, by the way), who would challenge his opponents to a duel to the death in a cul-de-sac. His words at times were imbued with so much venom and threat that those in his presence would cower with head bowed.
Lee Kuan Yew was a man who pursued his goals mercilessly, never hesitating in destroying those who would even dare contemplate standing in his way.
He was a tough guy.
He was no Hello Kitty.
If he was the latter, Singapore would not be what it has become, and Lee Kuan Yew himself would not be worshipped by his followers in such embarrassing fashion today.
So, please. Have some sense of proportion, as Lee himself would say.
“Papa’s focus never wavered,” Ms Lee said in her Facebook post. “What he did was all for the welfare of the nation and its people. Yes, it is good that we remember history. But it would be even better if we honour Lee Kuan Yew by working for the well-being of Singapore and Singaporeans.”
I would add also that it would be even more authentic if we, when we honour Lee Kuan Yew, also remember those on whose shoulders he stood, and those whose lives were laid to waste by him in his pursuits.
No man is an island, and that includes Lee Kuan Yew.
Putting him, and him alone, on a pedestal is dishonouring not only him but all those who built Singapore, whether they stood on the PAP side or otherwise.
For Singapore was not built by one man, but by many.
I do not like Lee Kuan Yew, nor his kind of petty and vindictive politics when he was alive. The kind of political legacy he left is still with us today, with younger generations of PAP leaders showing the same intolerant, and childish political antics.
But I recognise that Lee Kuan Yew did do certain things which led Singapore to being a decent place to live for most of us. And for that, we appreciate him.
At the same time, however, we must also recognise that he has – in his own words again – “done some sharp things”.
And that is the true Lee Kuan Yew – a controversial man who fought hard, who sometimes fought dirty, but one who was always determined and adamant about how he wanted Singapore to be.
He was a fighter. Some call him a political gangster.
So, please do not turn Lee Kuan Yew into a unicorn, some mythical, magical, fluffed-up white horse which does not abide in reality, chasing after fairytale rainbows and what not.
Lee Kuan Yew was a political leader, nothing more, nothing less.
He is not “our father”.
And no, Lee Kuan Yew is not a saint either.
No, Lee Kuan Yew did not become a god after death.
No, Lee Kuan Yew did not appear in the clouds a few days ago.
No, Lee Kuan Yew did not send a rainbow.
And no, Lee Kuan Yew’s face is not going to appear on your roti prata as a miracle either.
What Lee Kuan Yew is is a memory, and someone who has left a legacy.
Honour him if you must but don’t, in your attempt to turn him into a mythical figure, recast him as a figure of ridicule instead.
And also, please honour him truly – in all his human warts and human goodness.
I suspect Lee Kuan Yew would not want it any other way.
An artwork made out of erasers tells us nothing about the man. Instead, as Ms Lee said, “any veneration could have the opposite effect and lead future generations of Singaporeans to think that my father’s actions were motivated by his desire for fame, or creation of a dynasty.”
And in so blindly honouring the man we would have dishonoured him instead.
Indeed, from reading and seeing all the manner of praise and hysteria this past few weeks, one wonders who this god-like, made-up Lee Kuan Yew is.
This mythical fella seems very far removed from the real hatchet man of Singapore we all know.