It’s Australia Day today. And although I’m not Australian, the day has gotten me thinking a lot about my own nationality.
My decade in Australia is a continuous education on what is considered Australian and — more importantly — what’s UnAustralian. It’s not a saying we use in Singapore – we don’t go around saying, “You have never queued over half an hour for a bowl of [insert favourite hawker fare] – you are UnSingaporean.” But I’m pretty sure that there is some similar Holy Writ engraved in the hearts and minds of its inhabitants.We might intrinsically agree on a few tenets and values that even the country’s pledge doesn’t quite cover in its depth and breadth. We embrace Western living conditions and white-picket-fence ideals, but cling to Eastern work ethics and traditions frozen in the time of our mass emigration. We champion meritocracy, can be rather suspicious of welfare, and believe that the fittest deserve to survive. But we also love Big Government, even though we push against the grain. We are easily bored, because we want constant stimulation and regard Variety as the natural and healthy by-product of industrious minds and hands. We are proud of what we have achieved in spite of our pint size, our short history, and our love-hate relationship with our neighbours.
We are a multicultural melting pot, but we certainly don’t seem to have the warm fuzzies when it comes to our colonised past.
I don’t know if I’m grasping at straws here, but there is just something about being slagged off by an ang-moh that really gets under a lot of Singaporeans’ skins.
This post, by the way, has been stewing for a week. I’ve glossed over the Anton Casey furor (primarily on Facebook), and the few finger scrolls I’ve had through the comments section of articles and posts have left me feeling decidedly sick.
To the rest of the world who might not know what I’m talking about, I’ll try to summarise. Anton Casey, a British National married to a Singaporean, had been living in Singapore for 12 years before some of his boofhead Facebook posts went viral. They are mostly outlined in this News.com.au article and he basically castigated everyone who took public transport on a regular basis as poor and smelly, but what the article doesn’t quite capture was the sheer furor and backlash on social media. And because there really are only 3 degrees of separation between any 2 Singaporeans (or it darn right feels like it), Anton’s personal details such as his residential address and employer (past and present) got circulated online. Despite an attempt to smooth things out with the help of a PR firm, it all culminated to an immediate termination of his work contract, and a hasty departure of his family (wife and 5yo son) to Perth.
And don’t get me wrong – the guy had been incredibly offensive and arrogant on Facebook. A complete douchebag, if you were to put it in ‘Straya terms. And I wondered how a man living in an adopted nation would have the gall, the cheek to rubbish away the “plebs” – the very backbone of the nation who made it possible for him to swan in and make a decent porsche-owning, air-conditioned living. All that is true.
But the harrassment and the death threats. The running of a man and his innocent family to the ground. The venom and the spite. Two wrongs have never made it a right.
I live in Australia now, but I still introduce myself as Singaporean. And if I ever get asked about our curtailed freedoms – our censored media, our paternalistic government – I’ve always blithely pointed out that as a woman, and as a Christian, I’ve felt infinitely more protected and safer in Singapore than I do in Australia.
The Australian media, for the large part, is antagonistic towards Christianity. Australian society, to a large extent, is dismissive of Christ. And because Facebook has come into our day-to-day in the decade I’ve lived here, I get confronted with deeply offensive and hurtful messages about my faith daily. These messages are often unfair and inaccurate, mostly delivered tongue-in-cheek, and might come from a place of experience and hurt as well.
I say this, because if you were to change the context of what Anton said… if you were to change it to a YouTube video of a panel of witty comedians in a popular quiz show… if you were to change the subjects from faceless commuters in a borrowed country to gormless Christians in a hired community hall, there would be no public vitriol. Because this already happens publicly, daily.
I’m not discounting the fact that there are lousy examples of Christianity to be found. Of course there are. And I understand that there are fundamental beliefs and values that different camps cling to and fight for. I know that groups of Christians can be militant about their own beliefs — even to the point of warring within the brotherhood. But my point is when anyone excoriates a group of people with such vehemence, they often become the very things they hate. Arrogant. Self-righteous. Narrow-minded. Hypocritical. Judgemental.
The reason I struggle for self-control NOT to yell back is the reminder that Christ told me to Let It Go. Turn the other cheek. Offer the tunic. Go the extra mile. It may sting, it may not be fair, our innocent loved ones may be affected, but the instruction is clear: we do not strut ever.
In the case of Anton Casey, we took a man with a loose mouth and lousy discretion, and delivered a crushing, disproportionate response. And he wasn’t even the first.
Is that what it really means to stand up for Singapore?