Overcoming Fear

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Being a respected leader doesn’t mean ruling with an iron first.

Showing compassion as a leader can be highly effective. . .according to Bill George, a Harvard professor, the leader must think about the “we” instead of the “I.”  In other words, the leader doesn’t think about him/herself, but about [others].
( — JEMS Journal)

I lived in Singapore until the age of 19. I remember what it was like to constantly live with the feeling that your every move, thought, and action was being watched. Whisper something that’s anti-PAP or anti-LKY — *BOOM*, you’re in trouble.

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The first quote that came to my mind when I viewed this image: “Big Brother is Watching.” (George Orwell)
| Image from ST Blog

The sense of dysfunctional paranoia these feelings can create certainly isn’t an ideal thing for anyone to live with.

Ruling by fear is wrong for several reasons, one being that no one should be made to do something or act in a way he or she doesn’t feel comfortable with.

Why should a human being’s mind/heart/spirit be subject to being controlled by an authority figure? Wouldn’t a true “saviour of the people” sincerely care for the well-being of the populace they have pledged to serve?

This isn’t applicable to the realm of politics alone. It is something that goes much deeper which has universal resonance in terms of being free to:

  • be your own self,
  • have your own thoughts, and
  • speak your mind or speak truth to power when it is necessary to do so.

Fear is a crippling weapon of control and manipulation. To overcome that fear is to release oneself from the shame of being ruled by fear.

Many people in history have literally died for their beliefs. Integrity and a moral conscience are things that some of us are unwilling or unable to trade for elitist commodities.

I don’t have a crystal ball, so I can’t predict the outcome of the next general election in Singapore. I don’t have expectations of the result, because whatever will be, will be.

But seeing this fear of expression up-close from numerous Singaporeans is proof that people DO have strong opinions, that they do have minds and a spirit that yearns to be free from the shackles of an authoritarian power (whether it’s referred to as an aristocracy, a pseudo-democracy, or fascist).

As 16-year-old blogger and prisoner of conscience Amos Yee said in a recent update:

If we allow the government, the police and the law, to continue to censor us, to use archaic laws to dictate our ideas and our views, to use fear to threaten us into not expressing our views, then though I am a prisoner, when freedom cannot be granted to me, you are a prisoner although freedom is granted to you. And that’s more saddening than any number of months or years in jail that I have to endure.

Buried beneath this fear is a collective need to aspire for something better — if not for yourself, then for the future generations that will come after you.

An article by Catherine Lim points out how a “compliant, fearful population that has never learnt to be politically savvy could spell the doom of Singapore.”

Singapore has been under decades of authoritarian rule. Do you want to see it through several more?

As Julie Hanus writes on the forward-thinking Utne Reader:

We can give up allowing fears to define us, and focus instead on which ones are worth tackling together. When we do that, we don’t just free politicians from fear-inducing rhetoric; we also give ourselves some much-needed relief.

I think of the dark events in Singapore’s political history (Operation Coldstore and Spectrum, in particular), and all the wasted years, hopes and dreams that were never fulfilled because of fear. That alone inspires my interest in socio-political issues.

There comes a point where staying silent would be the real crime.

Instead of feeling shameful about not having done enough: just do something different today. Time is short and precious.

May you find your bolt of inspiration too, that will set you free from fear itself.

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More Info:

1. Fear is Dead (Teo Soh Lung)

2. #FreeAmosYee: Hong Lim Park Protest (TOC)

3. Self-Censorship & The Climate of Fear (Catherine Lim)

4. PAP’s “Internet Brigade” (TOC)

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“Don’t let your fear of what could happen make nothing happen.”
~ PictureQuotes.com

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Book Review: Dare to Change

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The dedication of Dare to Change is a memorable one:

“Dedicated to: all the political detainees who struggled for democracy and all Singaporeans who long for openness, humanness, and justice for our nation.”

Dare to Change is Dr. Chee’s first book (published in 1994). Do not be fooled by the book’s slim size — the content is possibly more relevant than ever, and would still be eye-opening to people who are not familiar or conscious of Singapore’s political system and situation.

Over the course of seven clear and concise chapters, the reader is given a substantial evaluation of the PAP government’s authoritarian policies on the nation.

The main message of the book is apparent from beginning to end: that change is imperative if Singaporeans are to be allowed to “lead their own lives” in order to achieve a higher “quality of life.”

In the first chapter, Dr. Chee writes that society would be more robust if the Government did not compartmentalise and pigeon-hole everyone into its grand scheme of things. He also makes the argument for a country needing a society that is “courageous in its participation of the nation’s politics,” if that country is to be stable and successful in the long run.

In the next chapter, Dr. Chee puts forth the notion that the biggest fear of the PAP could be the “thought of having to share political power with other parties,” as well as having “non-political organisations form a proper check and balance system.” He writes that “if the control of power is all that the ruling party cares about, Singapore is in for a very unpleasant journey into the future.” Fast forward a couple of decades since the book was first written — has the journey been more pleasant or unpleasant, with socioeconomic forces such as rising inequality, stagnating wages, and a growing foreign population?

Two chapters are dedicated to the economy and distribution of wealth and resources. Dr. Chee mentions that funds for public welfare in 1994 amounted to about 1% of total government expenditure compared to an international average of 30%. He also points out that the Prime Minister of Singapore gave himself a monthly salary of $96,000 at the time, while the government carefully studied whether a man who was unable to look after himself deserved $150 a month.

The closing chapters give a comprehensive overview to major violations to Press Freedom and the Rule of Law. The local press is described as having been “reduced to a mere mouthpiece for the government,” with a note that totalitarian and dictatorial regimes have long used censorship and the restriction of information to “subjugate their people.” Dr. Chee notes the role of the ISD in the 1987 Marxist Conspiracy, and points out that physical abuse and torture “cannot be used by leaders to justify ends” in a society which claims to “have a sense of civility and decency.”

Dare to Change does not strike me as being written by a “dud” or “near psychopath” (to mention a couple of colorful adjectives Lee Kuan Yew reserved for Dr. Chee Soon Juan). The content reflects common sense logic throughout. A list of alternative solutions are presented at the end of the book along with the rationale on how these changes are beneficial to the country (this is the inspiring “appendix” section at the back of the book, which is like an ultra-summarised version of the book’s contents).

The book ends with the underlying hope and motivation to create more openness and progress in Singapore in the long-term. This gently reminds the reader of a quote which features at the start of the book:

“We cannot resist change.”
— Goh Chok Tong, 1994
(Prime Minister, Singapore, 1990-2004)

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cheesoonjuan

DR. CHEE SOON JUAN is a politician and political activist from Singapore. He is currently the leader of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party (SDP). Recognised by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience, Dr Chee has been arrested and jailed more than a dozen times for his political activities, mainly for repeatedly breaking Singapore’s laws requiring organizers to obtain a police permit before staging political demonstrations or making public speeches on political issues.

CSJ Online: Website | Facebook (CSJ) | Facebook (SDP)

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More Information on Dare to Change:

Amazon | NLB | SDP | Excerpts

Excerpts from “Dare to Change”

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Excerpts from “Dare to Change”

by Chee Soon Juan (1994)

Link: Amazon | NLB | SDP

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Excerpts from Book:

1. There is no guarantee that the same Government that has led Singapore into prosperity cannot become corrupt and ineffective in future. . .if Singaporeans continue to behave in an uninterested manner, the tendency for the Government to abuse its power will become greater. (Pg-15)

2. An overpowering state-elite with a subjugated mass has proven time and again to be the worst formula for a country’s long-term prosperity. (Pg-25)

3. Singaporeans are constantly told how to behave in a certain manner. . .any one who dares to challenge the authority is quickly labelled as “bad” and discredited. (Pg-32)

4. Perhaps the closest definition [of “Asian democracy”] is the one provided by the PAP itself: a political system consisting of one dominant party and several small fringe parties with no turnover in the government. (Pg-39)

5. What do we make of the notion that there should be no change in the Government of Singapore? The frighteningly curious thing is that shouldn’t the citizens be the ones to determine this instead of the PAP? If this premise of no turnover in government is accepted it would logically follow that the PAP is legitimate in using every means, constitutional or otherwise, to stop its political opponents. (Pg-40)

6. It would make much sense for [opposition] camps to pool their resources together with the ultimate and overriding objective to entrench the Opposition in Singaporean politics. (Pg-49)

7. The Prime Minister of Singapore gives himself a salary of $96,000 a month. . .meanwhile, the PM studies carefully whether a man who is unable to look after himself deserves $150 a month. (Pg-74)

8. Of late, the Government has been strongly advocating Confucianist values. Embedded in the teachings of Confucius is respect and care for our elderly. However, judging from present policies and actions, it is clear that the Government has no intention on practising the sage’s preachings. (Pg-78)

9. [Singapore Inc.]: The PAP runs the country like a corporation with the Party leaders as employers and the citizens as its employees. (Pg-90)

10. In 1992, a study by business professor Alwyn Young from the MIT compared Hong Kong’s economy with that of Singapore’s. He showed that while Hong Kong got richer by becoming more efficient in its use of its labour, capital, and technology, Singapore became richer by taking more and more money from its citizens through taxes and forced savings. (Pg-97)

11. At a time when the nation requires individuals of innovation and creativity to help it stay ahead in an increasingly competitive world, the PAP’s heavy handed approach and tight control in governing the country produces a generation of people who are averse to risk-taking. (Pg-105)

12. David Marshall, Singapore’s former ambassador to France, described Singaporean journalists as “running dogs” and “poor prostitutes” of the Government. (Pg-109)

13. It is dangerous for any government to control the circulation of information within a country. . .totalitarian and dictatorial regimes have long used this tool to subjugate their people. (Pg-116)

14. In a society which claims to have a sense of civility and decency, physical abuse and torture cannot be used by its leaders to justify its ends. . .Every citizen of this country is born with a set of rights which cannot be removed at the whim of the Government. (Pg-138)

15. “I think what prevents Singapore from being a home to people is the lack of freedom of speech. Think about it this way. What is the difference between living in a hotel and living in a home?”
— Dr David Chan / NUS (Pg-139)

Source: “Dare to Change,” by Chee Soon Juan (1994)

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cheesoonjuan

DR. CHEE SOON JUAN is a politician and political activist from Singapore. He is currently the leader of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party (SDP). Recognised by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience, Dr Chee has been arrested and jailed more than a dozen times for his political activities, mainly for repeatedly breaking Singapore’s laws requiring organizers to obtain a police permit before staging political demonstrations or making public speeches on political issues.

CSJ Online: Website | Facebook (CSJ) | Facebook (SDP)

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More Information on Dare to Change:

Amazon | NLB | SDP | Review

Snippet from Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore (on “the people’s minds”)

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5 more chapters and I’ll have completed reading Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore by T.J.S. George (pub. 1973).

Thought I’d share an interesting snippet from the book. I may add a few more snippets when I gather my thoughts for a review later.

Conversation between two friends — a visiting Asian editor and a PAP minister (Page 109):

EDITOR: I have just come from Djakarta and Manila. Nothing worked there. Here my telephone works, my flush flushes, everything is clean and antiseptic. Singapore is simply great.

MINISTER: All right, old chap, what’s bothering you?

EDITOR: Look, what does it all mean? What about people? Don’t they have minds? I see no evidence of people here having minds of their own, feelings of their own.

MINISTER: They are happy. See those modern high-rise buildings? We gave them decent places to live in.

EDITOR: What have you done to their minds?

MINISTER: Well, we are thinking about it. Having given them a clean city, modern amenities and a strong economy, we are now thinking of what culture we should give them.

EDITOR (after pause): Is the culture factory also going to be in the Jurong industrial estate?

End of conversation.

UPDATE (29 May): Book review + excerpts of this insightful book.

Fifty Shades: William Giraldi / Jennifer Hamady / Lily Zheng

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A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that I was working on an article about quality sexual literature.

The article is titled Beyond the Hype of Fifty Shades of Grey, and can be viewed in full at the OpEdNews website:

http://www.opednews.com/articles/Beyond-the-Hype-of-Fifty-S-by-Jess-C-Scott-Books_Culture_Sex_Sex-140814-381.html

The article features the expert opinions of ten professionals in the fields of academia, psychology, and media communications, who comment on the cultural implications of the series and share their recommendations for quality sexual literature.

I received some VERY lengthy and passionate responses, which I have compiled here on my blog, divided into three different posts. I could only feature excerpts in the above article, due to space constraints. Here are the full responses of the first three guest contributors!

P.S. Check out Part 2 and Part 3 for the full replies of the other guests.

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1. William Giraldi, professor at Boston University and Fiction Editor for AGNI:

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William Giraldi | Image from TinHouse

I’m not certain that men and women deserve better than Fifty Shades of Grey. Emerson once quipped that “people do not deserve good writing, they are so pleased with bad.” And I rarely disagree with Mr. Emerson. I’d tell men and women to put down these books because they are bad for their health, but people never listen to advice about their health.

Quality sexual literature can be found among the poems of Sappho and Catullus, in the satires of De Sade, and in the novels of Nicholson Baker. The Story of O and Venus in Furs are not masterpieces but they have some psychological depth and the prose isn’t toxic. I’d caution that the best sexual literature knows what to leave to the imaginative and what not.

2. Jennifer Hamady, voice coach, psychotherapist, and online columnist at Psychology Today:

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Jennifer Hamady

Thinking aloud, I don’t think the question is necessarily about whether people deserve better than Fifty Shades of Grey. In general I think wrong vs. right arguments aren’t the most helpful. Rather, I’d say that in our culture, which isn’t entirely open about and comfortable with sex, a book like Fifty Shades — or any book — can tend to have a more powerful influence than it might in a healthier context. I will say that the more violent aspects of the book concern me because — again — our current cultural context does not hold women on an equal footing to men (watch any music video if you need evidence). Whether or not it is intentional, the book therefore can be seen as agreeing with the idea that violence against and the subjugation of women is sexy, and even necessary for young women who want to be in relationships.

3. Lily Zheng, president of Kardinal Kink, an advocacy and support group for the kink community at Stanford University:

Stock Image from Dreamstime

(1) On whether men and women deserve better than Fifty Shades of Grey:

Fifty Shades of Grey enjoyed so much success because it talked, frankly and explicitly, about the type of sexual and sensual encounters that our society idealizes but outwardly condemns. In the existing social landscape of almost Puritan-esque opinions on sex and intimacy (sex is something that, if enjoyed at all, can only be enjoyed a certain way) the existence of Fifty Shades was disruptive and subversive in many ways. Not only the book itself, but the surprising number of men and women (women, mostly) who purchased it indicated that the book was fantasy, a fantasy that resonated especially well with its fans.

Erotic literature is necessary because it fulfills desires; erotic literature is necessary because it helps create a culture in which the sensual is more normal, in which physical intimacy is as much a diverse and varied staple as emotional intimacy.

And that precise reason is why Fifty Shades isn’t good enough.

Fifty Shades of Grey is ultimately a tale of nonconsent. As the relationships between characters develop, nonconsent becomes increasingly stamped across interaction after interaction. There is no negotiating of scenes, no establishing of hard and soft limits, not even a facsimile of the consent rituals and focus on safety that the real life kink and BDSM scenes feature. Fifty Shades of Grey isn’t a story that could or should happen in real life. Fifty Shades is fantasy.

To some extent, that’s okay. It’s perfectly fine for fantastical or improbable tales to exist, and many are excellent in their own right. It becomes a problem, however, when people begin to mistake fantasy for reality. People read erotica to experience it. We seek the sensual because we project ourselves into the stories we read, and envision ourselves — tied up, gagged, begging for release, our bodies burning like firebrands — through the lens of the words on the page.

We deserve erotic literature. We deserve good erotic literature. We deserve realistic erotic literature. Argue all you want the Fifty Shades is “good,” but it’s unmistakably unrealistic. Worse still, most people who read it don’t know that.

Most people who read Fifty Shades find themselves fantasizing about or imagining the nonconsensual, dangerous interactions as legitimate, as positive, as desirable. Almost every young adult (and their mother, apparently) knows the general plot of the novel.

“It’s kinky BDSM stuff, right?”

But Fifty Shades is to kink as rape is to sex; they may both look the same on the outside but the differences are fundamental, substantial, and potentially dangerous.

The inaccurate and fanciful depiction of kink in Fifty Shades of Grey hurts both the existing kink and leather communities and nonkinky people alike. The wrong type of kink is normalized by this book, and whether or not we fancy ourselves purveyors of good literature, we deserve to read better novels.

(2) On quality sexual literature:

Quality sexual literature can be enjoyed in more than one way. Quality sexual literature engages with the reader aesthetically — the prose flows well, the flow is dynamic, the descriptions are vivid in lush, practical and concise exactly where they need to be — and viscerally — the writing evokes a physical or bodily reaction from the reader, whether that reaction be sexual, sensual, or emotional. However, the best sexual literature is these two things and more: the best sexual literature is relatable.

There is a difference between imagining the abstract notion of “bondage” and being able to conceptualize the excited negotiation, the handpicking of rope, the vocalizing of desires and fears all laid out bare on the bed long before any clothing comes off. There is a difference between imagining rope on your body and understanding the meaning of the tightness on your skin, the significance behind the vulnerability, the worth of that “yes, sir!” or “yes, mistress!”

Owning Regina, a novel by Lorelei Elstrom written in diary format, is a story about kink that meets that bar. Unlike Fifty Shades of Grey, there is no magic telepathy between people, no porno-levels of endurance, no “perfect” interactions or scenes, no encouraged nonconsent. Rather, this book displays kink as it is in real life: consensual, communicative, and imperfect, a dance between people.

The realism in this novel is impressive. The conflict feels real and pressing; the characters are deep, well-developed, and likeable, and most importantly, the writing tingles with that uncertain excitement that I can most accurately describe as the moment before knocking on the door of partner’s house. This is a diary — it’s not hardcore erotica, but it’s not a documentary either. It’s gritty, dirty, raw, and satisfying in a way that neither of the two are on their own.

I recommend this book because it isn’t fantasy kink. The triumphs the characters exult in are triumphs many practitioners of BDSM and kink, veterans and casual play partners alike, experience. The conflicts are conflicts everyone who has experienced kink with a partner must go through.

Kinky literature tends to be marketed towards those who have never experienced kink, with most people in actual kink communities scorning that brand of erotic literature. For that reason, when kinky literature succeeds with both kinky and nonkinky people alike, it is especially important to acknowledge and understand why.

Owning Regina is one of those few novels I have found that manage to meet the bar I have set for kinky literature.

NLB: Censorship and Intellectual Freedom

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“And Tango Makes Three” is a children’s picture book which features the true story of two male penguins that raised a baby chick in a New York zoo.

Here is my short commentary on the Singapore National Library Board’s (NLB) recent actions to destroy three books (including the aforementioned title) that were deemed unsuitable for young children, because of “non-traditional” family themes.

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Image by Nam Y. Huh/AP

I would like to take this opportunity to direct NLB to the American Library Association’s (ALA) page on censorship and freedom of information.

In a Q&A on these subjects, the ALA states:

“Intellectual Freedom is the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. It provides for free access to all expressions of ideas through which any and all sides of a question, cause or movement may be explored. Intellectual freedom encompasses the freedom to hold, receive and disseminate ideas.”

U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas considered the “restriction of free thought and free speech” to be “the most dangerous of all subversions.”

It does not take great imagination to understand why.

We need look no further than the comments of Young Artist Award recipient, Cyril Wong, who said:

“As a queer writer, I think I have reached a limit of some sort, in the light or dark of recent events. I don’t know why I’m bothering anymore. By sometime next year, I’m just going to stop; yes, stop publishing, stop working with governmental organisations, even stop writing.”

Justifying the removal of books because they “do not reflect existing social norms” provides me with some questions to ponder.

Is a person less of a human being because of their sexual orientation?

Does a perpetually bitter, jealous married wife promote more “family values” than a single mother who dedicates all of her time and energy towards providing the best for her family?

How is a public library serving the needs of the public if members of the public are only allowed to peruse publications that reflect the social norms of only one group or community, at the exclusion of all others?

When people are not allowed to think for themselves or express their views, their voices are effectively silenced. Their self-identity is compromised along with the likelihood of having an authentic dialogue with other human beings.

And it’s too late for society once people don’t have a voice, or are prevented from being heard if they do.

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More Information:

(Singapore Media)

Author Justin Richardson responds to NLB removing his book (The Online Citizen)
Author Jeanie Okimoto responds to NLB removing her book (The Online Citizen)
NLB CEO saddened by protests against gay book pulping (Everything Also Complain)
Ink Spilled on NLB Book Banning (Extensive collection of links by Robin Rheaume / Facebook)

(International Media)

Singapore Provokes Outrage by Pulping Kids’ Books (TIME)
“And Tango Makes Three” appears routinely on the ALA’s annual list of most “challenged” books (Wikipedia)
What Does Singapore Have Against Gay Penguins? (The Washington Post)
Love That Dare Not Squeak Its Name (on homosexual behaviour in animals; New York Times)

Geoff Wade’s Insights

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Short Bio:

Prof. Geoff Wade is a Canberra-based author, researcher, and historian.

He worked in Singapore for a number of years, first at NUS and then at ISEAS.

Here are some excerpts of his writings on Singapore.

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(1) Excerpt from Singapore After Lee Kuan Yew

This article takes a look at the social costs incurred in the pursuit of transforming Singapore into an economic miracle.

“The party-state tightly controlled every aspect of social existence and claimed that it could represent the interests of all citizens. The resultant malleable, fearful and supine population served the needs of the People’s Action Party (PAP), and while this was useful for economic development, it was less than efficient in creating sentiments of loyalty or patriotism.

With the lower levels of society serving the interests of the elite, there was little intrinsic group loyalty, and money had to serve as a poor substitute. Indeed, the degree to which the political arrangements and structures instituted by Lee Kuan Yew have warped Singapore society remain largely unexplored in mainstream media.

Singapore Inc.’s spin-doctors’ tales solely of positive manifestations of economic development continue to hide the damaging social effects which his autocracy has had on every aspect of society.”

(2) Excerpt from The 1963 Operation Coldstore in Singapore
[Contributor: Geoff Wade]
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“The police operation known as ‘Operation Coldstore’ was carried out in Singapore in the early hours of 2 February 1963. Through it and the more than 113 arrests and detentions it entailed, the political left of Singapore was eviscerated. The operation and the events leading up to it remain woefully understudied and underdocumented.

This is particularly so given their palpable importance to both the process of the establishment of the Malaysia state and to the creation of virtually every aspect of modern Singapore. The sensitivity of the topic even today is obvious from the scant attention the operation is given in Singapore’s own history writing, both official and otherwise. This is also reflected in other official accounts of the period. . .

. . .We thus see why secrecy and sensitivity continue to surround the issue of Operation Coldstore even today. The arrests and detentions made under the operation were intended to ensure that the British policy of Greater Malaysia was realised, and that the PAP was able to achieve dominance in the political sphere of Singapore.

The documentary trail leading up to Operation Coldstore suggests that the Singapore prime minister [LKY] accepted conditions for merger which were grossly disadvantageous to the people of Singapore in order to secure continued support from the British, that he conducted a referendum on the issue in ways which even the British termed ‘devious’, continually misrepresented himself and his positions to the PAP members, and utilised Operation Coldstore to remove his political opponents and ensure future political dominance. The fear instilled and pretexts created during Operation Coldstore continued to be employed by the PAP in the subsequent decades of Singapore’s development.

By eliminating credible political opposition through indefinite detention without trial, Operation Coldstore essentially created the conditions where a single political force could dominate every aspect of the Singapore polity. In addition, the maintenance of policies and laws mandated and utilised during the period leading up to and during Operation Coldstore has proven effective in ensuring that no effective political alternatives have subsequently been able to emerge or grow.

It is thus to Operation Coldstore we must look today when trying to understand many aspects of modern Singapore, and particularly how Singapore has become an essentially one-party state, where a single political force controls and dominates every aspect of social existence — from the political to the economic, from defence to internal security, and from education to social policies, and has done so since 1963.”

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More Information:

1. Prof. Geoff Wade (NUS Profile | ISEAS | Facebook)
2. Operation Coldstore (Wikipedia)
3. Operation Coldstore (Singapore Rebel)
4. Buy the Book: Operation Coldstore (Select Books | Kinokuniya | MPH)
5. Editors of the book (Dr. Poh Soo Kai | Tan Kok Fang | Dr. Hong Lysa)
6. S/pores (Community of Singapore ‘Home Scholars’)
7. Singapore’s History Wars (article by Prof. Wade)