Sunday, July 29, 2012

Is Any Publicity Good Publicity?

You have to hand it to M.Ravi for having the genius of attracting publicity. The man has managed to dominate headlines in July and the internet is ablaze with chatter about his activities.

It hasn’t helped his detractors that in their efforts to pull him down have ended up handing him something of a moral victory (whichever way you look at it, Wong Siew Hong barging into a court room to hand a confidential report to a judge declaring Ravi medically unfit to practice law is a violation of ethics, starting with doctor-patient confidentiality.)

However, much of the credit for generating so much publicity is due to Mr Ravi himself. One only has to glance of his tree-hugging dance in Speakers Corner to understand his talent for self-generating publicity. The tabloid editors couldn’t have planned it better themselves.

So, the question remains, how much of Mr Ravi’s publicity actually helps the cause of opposition politics in Singapore? Unfortunately, the answer is not very much. If anything, Mr Ravi has ended up damaging the cause. When you think of Mr Ravi and the cause of opposition politics in Singapore, it’s clear that any publicity is not necessarily good publicity.

This is something of a shame. In fairness to Mr Ravi he has taken on important causes, which deserve debate. Whatever is said of the man, he was right to take on the cause of the recently amended “mandatory” death sentence for drug smuggling. Mr Ravi has also been ingenious in bringing the question of the constitutional validity of 377A (the act that forbids consensual anal sex between adult males) in the courts and he also be given credit for questioning the powers of the Prime Minister in calling by-elections.

However, when one looks at Mr Ravi, one can’t help but feel that he’s in it for something more than himself and more importantly, he’s a fool – the clown that you might agree with but you’d never trust your pets with.

Let’s face it, as “undemocratic” as Singapore is, it remains for the large part, a fairly comfortable place. Singapore still provides its citizens with a relatively comfortable lifestyle, and it’s no longer just in comparison with our Asian neighbours – Americans and Europeans also try to remain in Singapore as long as they can. As my favourite litigator once said, “Say what you like, but this isn’t some tin-pot African state where the authorities can drag out on the streets to beat you up whenever you feel like it.”

Yes, the ruling party does not always fight fair. The PAP shamelessly uses the levers of power to its advantage. Let’s face it; the PAP isn’t doing what other ruling parties do. The truism remains, “Elections are not won by oppositions but lost by governments.”

So, when you look at all these things, the point remains that Singaporeans are by and large content with the way things are. Yes, we grumble and we curse at officials in the coffee shops. However, we aren’t about to accept a radical overhaul to the system nor are we about to endorse a revolution.

Then there’s an important fact – while the powers-that-be have tight grip in the system, it’s not impossible to take on the PAP and win. The Worker’s Party comes to mind. This party held onto a single seat for two-decades and then, when the moment struck, and took a GRC. Were the odds against the Workers Party? The answer is yes.

How did the Worker’s Party win votes, while other opposition figures have failed miserably? The answer is simple – the Worker’s Party has built a track record at running something and developed a coherent strategy. As a result, they have attracted intelligent and decent people to their ranks – the type of people that the masses might consider voting for.

This is vastly different from Mr Ravi and his supporters like Reform Party, Chairman, and Kenneth Jeyeratnam. We might clap and cheer whenever Mr Ravi gets up on the stage at Speakers Corner and does his tree-hugging dance. However, while this makes good theater, it’s theater of the wrong kind. As far as the masses are concerned, they would never vote for the likes of Mr Jeyeratnam nor would they trust their kids to Mr Ravi.

Neither of these gentlemen has shown an interest in winning over the average Singaporean. Mr Jeyaratnam is persistent in taking in causes that the average man has no interest in. I’ve seen him focus his energies on things like electoral boundaries and loans to the IMF. He’s arrogantly dismissed local issues like worker’s dormitories in middle class neighbourhoods and foreign workers as being beneath him. Mr Ravi has similarly dismissed selling his ideas to the masses.

Unfortunately, the voice of the masses counts when it comes to gaining power and doing things. People voted for the Worker’s Party because they could prove to the masses that they could run something. What record does Kenneth Jeyeratnam have? What record does M. Ravi have?

Both would argue that they’re acting out of principle. They may be. However, both are challenging the established order in the hope of getting things done. Unfortunately, they are going about it the right way.

The publicity that Mr Ravi attracts for himself is unfortunately the wrong kind. Sometimes the government is made to look a bully, which many Singaporeans have taken as a fact of life. The rest of the time, Mr Ravi’s antics present him as an attention seeking fool, which takes away from the seriousness of the causes he claims to fight for. As much as we might like fools dancing around, we wouldn’t trust them to do something as valuable as take out the trash……

It’s better to follow the example of the Worker’s Party and fight meaningful battles in a meaningful manner. Publicity only comes for the things you want them to come for. In the meanwhile, energies are focused on the things that allow you to achieve your objective.

Not all publicity is good publicity nor is publicity in itself a good thing. One should always remember that publicity is best used as tool to enhance ones objectives in life.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

We’ve been consistent (Consistently Unfair)

Three days ago, I attended a lecture by the American Ambassador to Singapore, HE Mr David Adelman at the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS). His lecture was about the American Strategic position in South and Southeast Asia. As happens at ISAS lectures, I felt obliged to ask him questions. So, I questioned on how he though America’s policy towards Israel was playing out in South and Southeast Asia.

He argued that he didn’t think American Middle Eastern Policy was playing out in South and Southeast Asia (despite the fact most of the world’s Muslims live in these two regions). He made the point that “We have been consistent in our policy in the Middle East,” and when I pointed out to him that many people around the world, particularly in the Islamic World think American policy in the Middle East is “Unfair” his reply was, “We’ve always been fair that suggestions that we need to be more fair are ‘unfair.’”

Although his responses were more open than his French counterpart, I’ve been struck by how easily Americans sometimes fail to see the obvious even when it’s painted itself purple and is dancing naked in front of them. The American Ambassador is correct in the sense that American policy in the Middle East has been consistent. However, it has been consistently unfair.

Let’s face it, when was the last time anyone remembered an American President telling an Israeli Prime Minister to stop building illegal settlements on Palestinian territory? If memory serves me correctly, that was two-years ago and Mr Obama was considered radical for actually suggesting that Israel was not an innocent party. What should also be noted is the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Nethanyahu promptly ignored the suggestion that he stop violating international law and continued to build settlements on the West Bank.

By contrast, American Presidents have made it a point to lecture Palestinian and Arab leaders on a consistent basis about the need to stop using terrorist methods. Palestinians and Arabs, it seems are consistently at fault for not making the Middle East a more peaceful place. That is despite the fact that the last known push for a comprehensive peace plan was initiated by Saudi King Abdullah in 2002 and 2006. The proposal was very simple, Israel would withdraw to its 1967 borders and in return it would receive diplomatic recognition by all 22-members of the Arab League. This simple proposal was flatly rejected by the Israeli end without a squeak from the American Administrations. In fact, when President Obama went as far as to suggest that negotiations should start based on the 1967 Borders, the Israeli Prime Minister gave him the proverbial middle finger.

The difference in the way it treats both sides becomes even more glaring when you look at the actual conflict itself. In 2006, we had Condolezza Rice openly declaring that the bombardment of Lebanon was called, “Birth pangs of a New Middle East” and the US couldn’t help but to rush cluster bombs over to Tel Aviv. When it came to the Israeli Bombardment of the Gaza Strip in 2008, the Americans proceeded to admonish the Palestinians for voting Hamas, an organization that does not recognize Israel.
Then there’s the issue of Weapons of Mass Destruction. Much is made of the necessity of stopping Iran from acquiring Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). The media gladly misquotes Iranian President Ahmadinejad as wanting Israel to be “wiped off the face of the earth” (He was quoting Khomani who said that the Zionist Regime would eventually disappear into the sands of time) as an example of why Iran must not have nuclear weapons. That is despite the fact that Iran actually has signed up to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. By contrast, Israel has never signed a nuclear treaty and simply works on “neither admitting nor denying” that it has nuclear weapons.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that American policy in the Middle East has been consistent – it has been consistently stacked against the Palestinians and other Arabs in the region. George Bush made a point that, “They hate us because we are free,” however, as an opinion piece in the Financial Times pointed out, “They hate us because we have supported the people who have suppressed their freedoms.”

The Ambassador did make the point that, “Our intentions have always been noble,” and in the case of the Middle East, there’s always been the “noble” intention of protecting Israel. However, in the act of trying to protect Israel and stopped terrorism (mainly the Islamic variety), US policy has ended up creating a reason for Israel’s destruction and creating reasons for terrorism.

Let’s look at who the Americans have supported in the Middle East. The name that comes to mind is Egypt’s previous President, Hosni Mubarak. As far as most Egyptians were concerned, Mr Mubarak was a strong man who kept them down and enriched his cronies. As leader of the most populous Arab state, Mr Mubarak made his presence known throughout the Arab World. Former Editor-in-Chief of Arab News, Khaleed Almaeena once noted that he was fired by King Fahd of Saudi Arabia because Mr Mubarak complained about him.

Yet, despite all of that, Mr Mubarak continued in power for over three decades. How did he do it? Answer was simple, he controlled the military, which in turn was supported by America (Egypt receives more US aid than any other country except Israel). The regime Mr Mubarak ran had a peace treaty with Israel and the “cold peace” with Israel was bolstered by the fact that Israel and Mr Mubarak had enemies in common (the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas). When Israel decided to blockade the Gaza strip, Mr Mubarak supported it by keeping the Egyptian side of the border sealed.

America had no problem with Mr Mubarak ‘stealing’ from the Egyptian people as long as he supported their policy towards Israel. Unfortunately for Mr Mubarak, the average Egyptian did not see things this way and people like the Muslim Brotherhood knew it. While he may have feared and the given the Americans the same idea, that he would be deposed by a group of radical Islamist, he was in fact disposed of by Egyptians from all walks of life and all religious persuasions.

The Ambassador had talked about being a “true friend” of Israel and having a “true friend” in Israel. While this sounds nice, America and Israel are not friends. America simply bankrolls whatever Israel does, regardless of the legality of Israel’s actions. This is not the action of friends. America needs to stop funding activities which are illegal. It has to stop making peace treaties with Israel an excuse for Arab regimes to behave badly. It’s only when America reverses this consistent policy, will it really gain the hearts and minds of the world’s billion odd Muslims and secure a sustainable peace for Israel.