Singapore is widely hailed as a successful example of a multicultural society. There are two main reasons for this:
1. It is extremely rich.
2. The authorities ruthlessly repress any behaviour likely to threaten racial harmony.
This is done by means of the Sedition Act:
- 3. —(1) A seditious tendency is a tendency —
- (a) to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the Government;
- (b) to excite the citizens of Singapore or the residents in Singapore to attempt to procure in Singapore, the alteration, otherwise than by lawful means, of any matter as by law established;
- (c) to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the administration of justice in Singapore;
- (d) to raise discontent or disaffection amongst the citizens of Singapore or the residents in Singapore;
- (e) to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes of the population of Singapore.
- (2) Notwithstanding subsection (1), any act, speech, words, publication or other thing shall not be deemed to be seditious by reason only that it has a tendency —
- (a) to show that the Government has been misled or mistaken in any of its measures;
- (b) to point out errors or defects in the Government or the Constitution as by law established or in legislation or in the administration of justice with a view to the remedying of such errors or defects;
- (c) to persuade the citizens of Singapore or the residents in Singapore to attempt to procure by lawful means the alteration of any matter in Singapore; or
- (d) to point out, with a view to their removal, any matters producing or having a tendency to produce feelings of ill-will and enmity between different races or classes of the population of Singapore,
- if such act, speech, words, publication or other thing has not otherwise in fact a seditious tendency.
- (3) For the purpose of proving the commission of any offense under this Act, the intention of the person charged at the time he did or attempted to do or made any preparation to do or conspired with any person to do any act or uttered any seditious words or printed, published, sold, offered for sale, distributed, reproduced or imported any publication or did any other thing shall be deemed to be irrelevant if in fact such act had, or would, if done, have had, or such words, publication or thing had a seditious tendency.
Obviously, this legislation is so flabbily worded that it theoretically makes just about every form of political speech illegal (she says, in clear violation of the aforementioned act), but in practice it is generally used to go after low-level racial and religious kvetching.
People do, in general, take the threat of the sedition act pretty seriously, and if you make even relatively inoffensive comments about particular racial groups ([Redacted] can’t queue, [Redacted] boyfriends are cheap etc. etc.) you will quite often find people rushing to change the subject.
Rather more seriously, the law also prevents people from pointing out that Singapore’s native poor are disproportionately Malay Muslims, and not just people who might wish to criticise them for it. The poor Malay Muslims are themselves effectively prevented from complaining about their situation.
One online group has, however, found an intriguing way to get around the rules.
Cats of Singapore started out as a simple Humans of New York pastiche, pairing pictures of Singapore’s street cats with profound-seeming quotes attributed to them. You know the drill.
Gradually, however, the contributors realised that complaints that could be risky to voice aloud for a human could quite safely be put in the mouth of a cat. The fiction is that cats are an ethnic minority group, with humans being the ethnic majority. Often the cats’ perspectives are loosely based on Malay viewpoints, but other groups’ perspectives do get mentioned, and – it’s worth pointing out – the vast majority of posts contain no clearly defined ethnic or religious message. It took me a good half an hour sifting through quotes from cat-businessmen, cat-schoolkids and cat-sportsfans to pick out these few examples.
(For more info on SAP schools, see here.)
(Kao peh kao bu = make a big fuss, Thaipusam = Tamil festival)
(Kebayarobics = Indonesian zumba, makcik = aunty, tudung = hijab)
(Cheena = Singapore Chinese who speaks no or bad English)
(Malayan Cats Party = Communist Party of Malaya)
(That last one refers to the graduate mother scheme, one of the less glorious episodes of the island’s history.)
I guess that if a cat may look at a king then it may also bitch about PAP policies…