My appearance at Mr Goh Chok Tongs recent presentation at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in Washington, DC may have startled Today but the way the newspaper reported the matter was anything but surprising. I invite readers to read the newspaper's version of the proceedings and compare it to what it had censored.
Surprise visitor at Goh's forum
8 May 2004
HIS was not on the list of invited participants, but Singapore Democratic Party leader Chee Soon Juan entered the room from the back door halfway through the forum.
Dr Chee told reporters later that he was in the United States on a five-month fellowship programme with the non-profit organisation, National Endowment for Democracy.
He stood up during the question-and-answer session and attempted to give a brief commentary on marginalised Muslims in Singapore until he was asked by facilitator and CFR president Richard Haass to ask his question.
In response, Mr Goh said: "When I was conferred an honorary degree by my old college, Williams College, that chap turned up to demonstrate against the award. He was trying to bring domestic politics into Williams College. I just ignored him. Today, again, he (has) turned up, to bring Singapore domestic politics into the US. I'm going to ignore him."
"Next question please."
Let me address the points made in the above report:
1. Chee was not on the invited list of guests."
The writer creates the impression, not unintentionally, that I had somehow gate-crashed Mr Gohs party and was not welcome even by his US organizers. (Curiously, the journalist writing this report is not identified.)
The truth is that there was no list of invited guests. The invitation was sent out on the Internet as is the case with all talks and seminars in Washington, DC. To attend, one just had to rsvp the email.
2. Chee entered the room through the back door.
I was ushered through the rear entrance because the front door had been closed. (The speakers were seated next to the front door.)
3. Chee attempted to give a brief commentary...until he was asked by the facilitator to ask the question.
What the writer omitted was that when I was handed the microphone, Mr Goh gesticulated to Mr Richard Haass, the facilitator, apparently to stop me from asking my question. Not wanting to offend his guest but as an American who is obviously not used to preventing people from speaking and asking questions, Mr Haass was caught in a difficult position. His solution seemed reasonable: Allow the questioner to continue but show his guest that he was doing something about it by pressing me to ask the question.
4. This was my question (which Today refused to publish):
I had cited the run-in the PM had with the Association of Muslim Professionals a couple of years ago where the organization expressed the Malay community's unhappiness with the Malay PAP MPs in representing its views and interests. Would it not be better for Singapore to adopt an open and democratic system where Muslims (and everyone else in society) are given a say in the countrys political process? To do otherwise would be to risk alienating the Malay population to an even greater extent and give terrorist networks more fodder for its recruitment.
Bear in mind that Mr Goh was speaking about the fight against terrorism and how governments should deal with the Islamic community.
5. Next question please.
The report also left out one of the most enlightening moments of the session. After Mr Goh said he would ignore me (and before the facilitator asked for the next question) he was booed and hissed at. Some in the audience shook their heads. What the audience did not appreciate was Mr Gohs unwillingness to answer what seemed to them a perfectly legitimate question and, worse, the arrogant manner in which he did it.
Mr Goh seemed to have forgotten that unlike in Singapore, debate and dissent is encouraged in open and democratic societies, and his American listeners clearly registered their unhappiness at Mr Gohs arrogance.
One of the listeners later indicated that the PM behaved like a typical functionary from Beijing. Another said that the image of the Singapore government was confirmed after he saw PM Gohs reaction.
(In another CFR talk that Mr Lee Kuan Yew gave a couple of years earlier, a member of the audience had asked Mr Lee a question about me. Mr Lee insisted that he wanted the room cleared of journalists before he would answer the question. The PAP just doesn't get it, does it?)
6. The debate cum interview thereafter
At the conclusion of the talk, the Singapore media (there was hardly any international media present) half interviewed me and half argued with me about my bringing up domestic issues in the US, thus picking up from where Mr Goh left off.
This was my response: If the fight against terrorism and how governments treat Muslims is a domestic issue, then why did Mr Goh come to the US to talk about it? With all the regional and international discussion about this issue, does it make sense for the PM to insist that terrorism is a domestic issue? The question about democracy and how it can be used as a weapon against terrorism, especially in countries with majority or substantial Muslim populations, is an issue that concerns the world. In such a context, does it make sense for the PAP to claim that my question at Mr Goh's talk was a domestic issue? (Even if one accepts that the matter is better left debated within Singapore, can anyone say with a straight face that the PAP condones open and democratic debates?)
Of course, none of what I said was reported.
Chee Soon Juan
Singapore Democratic Party
(10 May 2004)