Alfian Sa’at Questions Lee Kuan Yew Legacy

The arts community in Singapore has responded to the death of Mr Lee Kuan Yew by postponing new shows, observing a moment of silence before performances, creating art – and also critiquing the politician and some of the public tributes being made.

On Wednesday, playwright and poet Alfian Sa’at, 38, posted a satire on his Facebook page condemning what he viewed as exaggerated eulogies that popularise the “fishing village myth” of Singapore, the idea that Mr Lee “conjured gleaming skyscrapers out of a primordial swamp”. In later comments he said he has observed a “historical revisionism free-for-all” this week.

In his satire, he wrote: “Did you wake up today? What did you see? A ceiling? Yes, that roof over your head – Lee Kuan Yew put it there. So tomorrow, when you wake up, and look at your ceiling, the very least you can do is imagine his face on it. Looking down on you. Know that he has always looked down on all of us Singaporeans.”

He also posted from an article in New Mandala, an online journal of the Australian National University College of Asia, which alleged that Mr Lee distrusted the Malay community. Alfian has long called for greater Malay representation in Parliament and public offices and on Friday wrote in Malay on Facebook that “it is difficult for us who have always been treated like stepchildren to claim we are the children of he who is being glorified”.

Some responders to his posts suggested that it was in bad taste to share such thoughts before Mr Lee’s funeral on Sunday. He later posted that he would hold off further critiques until Monday. In the comment thread he explained further: “My stand has always been that this is a public figure and his public legacy needs to be dissected objectively without fear or favour. But I also think that within the spectacle of public mourning there are pockets of private grief that are complex and defensive and vulnerable and which will feel very hurt by some of the things I will say – even if none of it is addressed directly at them.”

He also told The Straits Times on Friday that he has since made the posts on his Facebook account private because he has been receiving “both death threats and abuse from people”.

Other members of the arts community have also been discussing Mr Lee’s legacy on social media. In response to a commentary by former Nominated Member of Parliament Calvin Cheng who criticised the view expressed in the Western media that Singapore had sacrificed certain freedoms to attain wealth and security, poet Alvin Pang wrote on Facebook that Singaporeans must acknowledge the trade-offs that were made to get it to its current position.

“Our family tongues and broad access to Malay as a regional lingua franca: gone. Much of our heritage and cultural life: sacrificed. The siblings that might have been, curtailed by hard anti-natal policies that were later lifted to no avail. Compulsory military conscription. Censorship. The list goes on,” he wrote, adding: “To be able to discuss these soberly, from different informed, constructive perspectives: that IS democracy, IS civilisation, and furthermore, does honour to his memory.”



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