June 28, 2017

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by Johannes Tjendro

CAN we really believe everything we see on the Internet? The answer is obviously “no”. In practice though, it is not always clear what is fake and what is real.

Here are some recent examples we have found of news that made rounds on social media and messaging apps, such as Facebook and WhatsApp. Guess which one is true and which one is false:

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1. Satay made of dog and cat meats at Bazaar Ramadhan 2017

 

2. No cash issued from your CPF after your death

 

3. $200 fine if you throw tissue “into bowl, on plate, or cup” 

 

Be careful if you thought any of them were true – they are all fake. But you are not alone if you could not tell that they were false.

According to a poll by the G, “around two-thirds [of Singaporeans] could not recognise fake news when they first saw it. And only around half are confident of their own ability to recognise fake news,” said Minister for Law and Home Affairs Mr K. Shanmugam earlier at a conference today (June 19). The two-day conference on fake news co-organised by The Straits Time opened this morning.

This warrants our concern, given that as many as “around 75 per cent of Singaporeans came across fake news at least occasionally”, and of the 75 per cent, a third of them “came across fake news frequently”.  Around 25 per cent also “shared information they later discovered to be false”, said Mr Shanmugam. Facebook and WhatsApp are cited as the platforms where people most often chanced upon fake news.

The Minister pointed out that these findings followed upon an increasingly worrying global trend of fake news spreading on the web, and a public that is not sufficiently discerning in their social media consumption (and production via sharing). This trend, dubbed “the rapid spread of misinformation online”, was identified by the World Economic Forum in 2014 as the top tenth trend in terms of global significance.

Significantly, one of the biggest fake news that has ever broken in Singapore was the hoax on the death of Mr Lee Kuan Yew. It happened on March 18, 2015, when a Singaporean student created a fake copy of a government website and posted a false announcement that Mr Lee Kuan Yew had passed away. Mr Lee died five days later.

Minister Shanmugam highlighted that “established news outlets like CNN and China’s CCTV fell for the hoax”. He also added that while “the news outlets did not intend to misinform… unintentional fake news can cause harm too”.

 

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by Johannes Tjendro 

IS 38 Oxley road just a private residence or something more? Many people, including the G, think there is more to the house than just the place where the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew lived.

But many of us, it seems, are late in realising the significance of the house. Last year a thesis paper written by a then-graduate student at Columbia University, Ms Cherie-Nicole Leo, looked into the importance of the house and what it means for Singapore. We found this thesis publicly available online and thought that it was worth summarising. Here are 10 things we learnt.

1. The house isn’t just about Mr Lee Kuan Yew. It’s about colonial history and the foundation of his party.

The late Mr Lee moved into the colonial bungalow, which is now over a century old, at the end of the second World War with his mother. The house was originally built by a Jewish merchant and later occupied by Japanese forces. After the war, it came under the control of the office of the Custodian of Enemy Property, who rented it to Mr Lee for 80 Straits dollars a month.

The dining room in the basement of the house is an especially significant place, since it was where early People’s Action Party (PAP) members came up with the signature lightning logo and the party manifesto. Despite the presence of an official Prime Minister residence within the Istana, Mr Lee chose to live at 38 Oxley Road for over seventy years.

2. It’s also a key narrative in PM Lee’s upbringing and political career

One of the key reasons Mr Lee Kuan Yew chose to stay put was that he wanted to give his children as normal a childhood as possible. As reported in a 2015 article by The Straits Times (Mar 24), he did not want to give the three children “a false sense of life”, and hence had them grow up in the family home.

PM Lee also witnessed key political developments at 38 Oxley Road. During the 1955 election, postmen, union leaders and the founding members of the PAP would sit at the verandah dealing with “Vote for PAP” election bills, as documented in the book “Men in White”. In his eulogy to his father, PM Lee described feeling “excited by the hubbub at Oxley Road” when the house served as an election office during voting seasons.

3. Mr Lee Kuan Yew has publicly expressed hopes for the demolition since 2011

According to Ms Leo, the seemingly earliest documented instance of Mr Lee Kuan Yew publicly calling for the demolition of 38 Oxley Road was in 2011, during an interview with journalists from The Straits Times for the book “Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going”. The issue came up when he was pressed on his thriftiness.

The then Minister Mentor revealed that he had owned the jacket he was wearing for over 15 years. When questioned on why the house had not been renovated or upgraded, he then volunteered that he had told the Cabinet to demolish it after his passing.

4. There are competing “values” in deciding whether to preserve the house

As Ms Leo noted at the start of her paper, the question of whether to preserve 38 Oxley Road is “emblematic of the difficult task facing heritage decision-makers, where there exists a multifaceted group of stakeholders who present competing, conflicting, or contradictory values, interests and positions”.

As illustrated in her diagram above, the house carries significance in the historic, social, symbolic, architectural and political regards. In the economic sense, it may go both ways. Mr Lee Kuan Yew, ever the pragmatist, was particularly concerned that it might be costly to upkeep a house with no foundation. He also noted that demolishing the house would probably raise the property value of his neighbours’ houses, and ease restrictions on how much they could build.

5. Taken at face value, LKY’s Will may seem incongruous with the principles that he himself espoused

In line with Singapore’s first national shared value of “nation before community, and society above self,” many stakeholders have argued that preserving 38 Oxley Road “is a matter of national interest that should take precedence over an individual wish for its demolition. The quandary here, though, is that this wish to demolish the house was put forth by the very person whose association forms the basis of those [same] values, which warrants its” preservation for future generations.

Thus, Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s wish to demolish the house may seem “out of character with his longstanding political mantra and the country’s foremost shared value of putting nation and society above self.” As Boston Globe journalist, Neil Swidey, wrote, “Lee’s demolition demand put his prime-minister-son in a jam, since it contradicts the founding father’s longstanding premise that Singaporeans should think of the state first and themselves second. Following Lee’s death, even the dutiful Strait Times [sic] quoted preservation specialists arguing that the greater good would be served by denying Lee’s last wish.” (Jun 20, 2015)

6. But upon closer look, his Will – while personal in nature – might not have been self-serving, as it was aimed at serving the collective national interest

It has become clear that his Will, while it may be seen as having “certain individual interests, is not totally self-serving after all; besides a concern for privacy, which may be seen as the most personal of his interests, Mr Lee Kuan Yew also requested the demolition of his house based on the fact that it could save public spending on renovating or maintaining it, and more importantly, that it would free up a prime downtown area for economic growth and progress.”

Ms Leo added: “Thus, even if Lee Kuan Yew’s will is, in a literal sense, an individual private wish, the underlying interests for his position on demolishing the house may equally be aimed at serving the collective national interest.”

“Just as other stakeholders argue for the preservation of the house to transfer the value narratives comprising associational, heritage tourism and branding, educational, and nation-building values to future generations, Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s economic arguments constitute a value narrative rooted in pragmatism that similarly works toward a future public good, albeit a different vision of what that might be.” She elaborated.

7. There are indications he may have been open to a “surrogate” memorial

In an interview with The Straits Times (2011), Mr Lee Kuan Yew famously said of his desire for the house to be demolished: “I don’t think my daughter or wife or I, who lived in it, or my sons who grew up in it will bemoan its loss. They have old photos to remind them of the past.”

In bringing up the concept of photos, Ms Leo notes that Mr Lee Kuan Yew may have been open to documentations and “surrogate” memorialising of the house and its history. She adds that policymakers may then strike a balance between Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s desire to demolish and the public interest in preserving the house, by working on more elaborate “surrogate” memorials.

As she writes: “While Lee Kuan Yew was strongly against personal hero-worship, he was not averse to the creation of a memorial that would honor the contributions of the team of founding figures and most importantly, the values upon which they built and governed the country.”

In his parliamentary address on Apr 13, 2015, PM Lee announced the formation of a Founders’ Memorial Committee to look at the idea of building a memorial commemorating the country’s founding fathers. He emphasised that it “need not be a grand structure” but should be “a place where we and future generations can remember a key period i n our history, reflect on the ideals of our founding fathers, and pledge to continue their work of nation-building”.

8. The outcome of reconciling the competing values has been falsely framed as a demolish vs. preserve dichotomy

This dichotomy can be seen as two different ways of protecting Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy: (1) preserving physical association with Mr Lee vs. (2) forwarding pragmatic values associated with Mr Lee:

For preservation – Mr Lee Kuan Yew lived here and this is where history was made, where the nation was born. Its association to Mr Lee Kuan Yew and related historic events bring about numerous values to the site, which should be preserved.

For demolition – Pragmatism and progress over sentiment, which does not rely on or militates against that association for its transmission to the future. Instead, Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy is preserved differently as forwarding different values that are ingrained in a pragmatic outlook on progress. Centred on maximising land value and economic growth, this approach relies largely on redevelopment of the 38 Oxley Road site rather than the preservation of its history.

9. A possible outcome – and the most effective in reconciling competing values – is the middle way of redevelopment with some form of preservation

Four physical scenarios:

  1. House remains on site and is preserved on site
  2. Redevelopment of the site with some form of preservation on site
  3. Redevelopment of the site with some form of preservation out of site
  4. Redevelopment with no preservation on site or out of site

The first three physical scenarios include some form of preservation and the last three include the redevelopment of the site. Scenarios 2 and 3 are therefore possible options where two goals of preservation and redevelopment overlap.

The values of the site “may be transmitted to future generations in a variety of ways that do not necessarily rely on the preservation of all or any of 38 Oxley Road’s physical attributes. Thus, an informed decision must look beyond these attributes in order to determine how these values are really spatialised in potential outcomes”.

From the above diagram, “it is evident that the most extreme physical scenario groupings had the fewest potential outcomes, while the two groupings in the middle had many more options. This immediately reveals how much potential for compromise is lost when the 38 Oxley Road case is framed as a dichotomy between preserve-versus-demolish positions as opposed to a spectrum of possibilities.”

Ms Leo further elucidated on the fact that “the options that capture the most values and most effectively negotiate between the competing value narratives are those which fall in the middle categories”. She said that “it is right between the two hybrid scenarios that the most creative and comprehensive combinations can be reached, through a redevelopment of the site with some form of” preservation occurring on site and out of site.

10. Such a compromise had been suggested before – reproduced here:

“I propose that historians and academics [A] properly document and catalogue all the items in the house. The ones of historic value should be [B] placed in a museum. Then, I propose that [C] the entire basement – which had the most historical significance due to the founding of the PAP – be recreated in the museum with the original furniture and fittings. Once that has been done, [D] the house can be demolished, and the site should be converted into a park, called the Lee Kuan Yew Memorial Park.

“This proposal will ensure that (1) the historical value is preserved and can be taught to future generations in the museum; (2) his wishes to destroy the house are respected, and (3) the address 38 Oxley Road will not be used for any other occupant and will be a place of national remembrance.”*

*This was written anonymously on the online Dialectic Forum in 2015.

In other words, in this proposal, historic associations will be upheld, while being in line with the pragmatic impulse of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s will.

 

Updated June 18: The famiLEE affair has been brewing for a while now. Read our articles on the issue:

  1. FamiLEE saga: 10 things from the academic paper “When I’m dead, demolish it” (Jun 18)
  2. FamiLEE saga: Who’s involved (Jun 17)
  3. FamiLEE saga: Is a grant of probate really final? (Jun 17)
  4. FamiLEE saga: Somebody should just sue (Jun 17)
  5. FamiLEE saga: PM Lee’s version of events (Jun 16) 
  6. FamiLEE saga: Let a third party tell all (Jun 16)
  7. FamiLEE saga: The past three days (Jun 16)
  8. FamiLEE saga: How Lee Suet Fern got LWL her inheritance, according to leaked emails (Jun 15)
  9. FamiLEE saga: Singaporeans react with confusion, humour and CSI skills (Jun 15)
  10. FamiLEE saga: From 38 Oxley Road to 1 Parliament Place, not just a family affair (Jun 15)
  11. FamiLEE saga: Headlines around the world (Jun 15)
  12. FamiLEE saga: Now about that mysterious ministerial committee (Jun 15)
  13. Not just a famiLEE affair (Jun 14)
  14. Third generation Lee weighs in (Jun 14)
  15. “We do not trust Hsien Loong as a brother or as a leader. We have lost confidence in him.” (Jun 14)

 

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by Suhaile Md

YOU’D think the mother of a young child would be put off by the bloodthirsty ways of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Apparently not.

Syaikhah Izzah Zahrah Al Ansari (Izzah) was planning to take her 4 year-old daughter with her to war-torn Syria and marry an ISIS fighter. Even if her fighter husband died, she believed that “her ‘elevated status’ as a ‘martyr’s widow’, she felt she could easily marry another ISIS fighter”, said the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) today (Jun 12). The 22 year-old single mother was arrested for radicalism earlier this month. She is the first female Singaporean Muslim radical to be detained here.

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Her radicalisation began in 2013 after exposure to ISIS propaganda online. It “deepened over time” thanks to her contact with ISIS supporters and militants online, said MHA. A year later, Izzah herself “actively posted and shared pro-ISIS materials online”. By 2015, the infant care assistant at PCF SparkleTots Preschool was “looking for ‘a Salafi or an ISIS supporter'” to marry and settle down with in Syria. Salafis are followers of Salafism, an ultra-conservative branch of Islam.

Izzah’s sister came to know about her pro-ISIS social media postings and her intention to join ISIS back in 2015. Her family’s attempts to discourage her from flying to Syria were in vain but they did not tip off the G about her radicalisation. One family member also “destroyed” evidence in order to try to “minimise her acts”. It’s not clear if any action will be taken against the family member for destruction of evidence.

Had Izzah’s family members brought her to the G’s attention, she “could have potentially been turned back from the path of radicalisation”, said the MHA. Furthermore, given the global threat of terrorism, it “makes it imperative for family members and friends to raise to the authorities anyone they suspect of being radicalised or planning terror activities”, it added.

Said the MHA: “Early reporting could enable the individual who is at risk of becoming radicalised to be given proper guidance and counselling. They could be steered away from the path of radicalisation and may not need to be severely dealt with under the law.”

Signs of radicalisation include, amongst other things, expressing support for terrorist groups, having the intention to or encouraging others to commit violence, sharing and reposting content related to terrorist groups and so on.

To report concerns about someone who seems to be radicalised, call the Counter-Terrorism Centre hotline at 1800-2626-473 (1800-2626-ISD).

Izzah’s detention is the first such arrest under the ISA since August last year when then 33 year-old Asrul bin Alias was arrested for social media sharing of pro-ISIS content with the intention of spreading its extremist ideology (read more here). According to a MHA report on June 1, there were 14 radicalised Singaporeans who were brought in under the ISA since 2015.

Other arrests in 2016:

On August 19, MHA said that four self radicalised individuals were arrested for their intention to move to Syria and fight there.

On July 29, MHA said that Zulfikar Shariff was arrested and detained for joining the hardline Hizbut Tahrir organisation in Australia, among other things like showing support for extremists online.

On May 3, MHA announced the arrest of eight other Bangladeshis who were planning to overthrow the government in Bangladesh.

On March 16, four more people were arrested under the ISA. Three of them took part in the sectarian conflict in Yemen, although one of them only did “sentry duties” and “did not fire” said MHA. The fourth was arrested for intending to join Kurdish militia to fight against ISIS in the Middle East.

On January 20, MHA said that 27 Bangladeshis were arrested in late 2015 for recruitment attempts as well as possessing materials that taught how to kill.

 

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skillsfuture_300x250

by Skyler Wang

PERHAPS more than any of the iterations before, this year’s Pink Dot is being afflicted by a series of peculiar developments. One after another, attempts were made by both Pink Dot detractors and the State to curtail the success of the event.

The most recent incident, concerning a Pink Dot advertisement found on an escalator in Cathy Cineleisure, broke just days ago. Members belonging to the Facebook group “We are against Pinkdot in Singapore” heavily criticised Pink Dot organisers for the ad placement, as well as the shopping mall for agreeing to display it. The contention around the ad eventually found its way to the tables of The Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS), which, upon deliberation, came to the conclusion that the ad’s slogan, “Supporting the Freedom to Love”, violated one of the general principles of the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice (SCAP) – those of “family values”. According to the authorities, public advertisements should not “downplay the importance of the family as a unit and foundation of society.” They ultimately instructed Cathay to “amend the advertisement”, adding that follow-ups will be made to ensure its compliance.

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Beyond highlighting the State’s limited and inadequate definition of what constitutes a family unit, this incident exemplifies a persistent strategy the Singaporean government uses to quell public dissent—by exerting its influence in the form of policy and legality. In fact, what occupied much of the media attention on Pink Dot prior to this latest episode illuminate this exact pattern. To those unfamiliar with the issue, amendments made to the Public Order Act by the Ministry of Home Affairs in Nov last year imposed a blanket ban on foreign involvement from all future Pink Dot assemblies. There are two ways in which this policy takes shape. One, the State has limited sponsorship rights solely to domestic corporations. Since the inception of Pink Dot in 2009, the event has largely relied on the funding provided by multinational companies such as Google, Facebook and Barclays. When juxtaposed to the collective amount traditionally pledged by foreign enterprises, local sponsorship, although not insignificant, pales by comparison. More specifically, for Pink Dot 2016, only five out of the 18 corporate sponsors were domestic entities. By circumscribing Pink Dot’s fundraising process, the government created artificial barriers that hinder the execution and success of the event.

Aside from restricting sponsorship rights, the new amendments also banned foreigners from showing up at the event itself. Before, a participant’s citizenship status was irrelevant to his or her attendance. Immediately prior to last year’s event, the government imposed sanctions on foreign involvement by prohibiting non-Singaporeans and permanent residents from participating in a demonstration, allowing them only to peacefully observe (holding up placards was still acceptable). According to the most recent amendments, “the law no longer distinguishes between participants and observers, and regards anyone who turns up to the Speakers’ Corner in support of an event to be part of an assembly.” Foreigners, thus, are altogether barred from the Hong Lim Park event on July 1 this year (only Singaporeans and Permanent Residents can be physically present).

In response to media queries on these new circumstances, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued the statement below:

“The Government’s general position has always been that foreign entities should not interfere in our domestic issues, especially political issues or controversial social issues with political overtones. These are political, social or moral choices for Singaporeans to decide for ourselves. LGBT issues are one such example. This is why under the rules governing the use of the Speakers’ Corner, for events like Pink Dot, foreigners are not allowed to organize or speak at the events, or participate in demonstrations.”  

I take issue with several of the State’s claims. First, note that by exclusively highlighting the need to protect political and social issues from foreign interference, the State strategically leaves out economic issues. This reflects the State’s ideology when it comes to managing foreigners, where the relevance of these ‘outsiders’ is confined to their economic contribution. It suggests that foreign talents, labor and investment are encouraged in our country to the extent that they help with our economy, but these entities should not have any further influence beyond that. This not only assumes that the social experiences of foreigners are external to our sociopolitical and cultural makeup, but it simultaneously reinforces the falsehood that foreigners are somehow unaffected by the workings of today’s inequalities. This is highly problematic because the criminalisation of same-sex acts and relationships do not exclusively affect Singaporeans—LGBTQ-identifying foreigners face similar forms of discrimination both at work and in their personal lives. Sometimes, we forget that foreigners who attend an event like Pink Dot may share some of the very same grievances as their Singaporean counterparts. Pink Dot could be as much about standing up for one’s own rights as it is about advancing a particular brand of politics for these non-Singaporeans.

Furthermore, it is important to remind ourselves that social issues have economic consequences. The State likes to use terms like ‘domestic’ or ‘social issues’ to trivialise the effects of certain inequalities, disregarding the fact that these very issues lead to real crevices in one’s material life. For example, and as aforementioned, the criminalisation of homosexuality (a social issue) could prevent LGBTQ individuals from gaining fair access to job opportunities (an economic issue). By failing to recognise same-sex unions (a social issue), same-sex couples are deprived of the same rights enjoyed by heterosexual couples when purchasing public housing (once again, an economic issue). For those LGBTQ-identifying foreigners who desire to naturalise in this country and settle down with their partners, their aspirations may not differ that much from other queer Singaporeans. This universal yearning to belong is what that propels both citizens and non-citizens alike to mobilise.

As sociologists love to say – humans are a product of society, and our thoughts and actions are never independently formulated. When the State claims that there are “political, social or moral choices for Singaporeans to decide for ourselves,” there is an underlying assumption that Singaporeans possess an intrinsically different set of morals from foreigners, and that it is vulnerable to foreign disruption. This assumption, of course, stems from a long-held belief that homosexuality is a western-imported concept that remains incompatible with Asian values or ‘true’ Singaporeanhood. This assumption also situates Singaporean culture as static and ahistorical, and that it somehow contains an essence that is ‘pure’ and non-evolving (even though the greatest irony is that in almost all other aspects of our lives, we have wholeheartedly embraced foreign technologies, cuisines and ways of being). It further suggests the fact that it is almost inherently wrong to be both gay and Singaporean, insofar as these are contradicting and irreconcilable qualities. This is a carefully engineered social narrative that still holds much cultural influence over Singaporean society today, oftentimes used by the older generation to denigrate young LGBTQ Singaporeans for their cosmopolitan and westernised worldviews.

This urgent need to restrict outside influences (“foreigners are not allowed to organize or speak at the events”) is also an unsatisfying explanation for the new changes in law because Singaporeans are leading increasingly interconnected and transnational lives. Democratic ideals travel across the world through mainstream and social media outlets. We lived through the events that led to the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defence of Marriage Act in the US in 2015, just as how we witnessed the Taiwanese’s high court’s ruling that brought same-sex marriage to its legal fruition this May. These historic events do not exist in social vacuums; we hear about them and they have the power to shape how we understand and navigate our world. Moreover, in this day and age, websites such as Netflix and YouTube grant us instant access to content that expose us to the lives of LGBTQs and the sexual activism that is happening all around the world. This global diffusion of narratives, values and knowledge have happened, is happening and will continue to happen, whether the Singapore government likes it or not. Banning foreign speakers and participants from an LGBTQ rights event for the fear that they would transmit un-Singaporean values to its attendees should be the least of the State’s concerns.

Singapore prides itself for being a diverse and multicultural nation, oftentimes flaunting its cosmopolitanism as a means to legitimise its position in the global arena. An international city puts people of all creeds and citizenship into constant social intercourse, facilitating the formation of friendships and partnerships between citizens and non-citizens. Singaporeans befriend and date folks who are non-citizens—this is a social fact that could not get anymore mundane. However, under the new Public Order Act, couples, families and friends with mixed citizenship status will be unable to attend this year’s Pink Dot together. This laboured and politically-motivated effort to separate particular forms of social union poignantly points to the reality that underpins the need for Pink Dot’s existence, where notions of “freedom” and “love” have yet to transcend the rigid boundaries of socially constructed categories such as gender, sexuality and incidentally, citizenship.

To sum up—queer politics in Singapore cannot and will never become a purely Singaporean affair because amidst an increasingly cosmopolitan and global world order, it is impossible to trace and defend what one might call an ‘authentically Singaporean ideal.’ In fact, we need to move away from the pursuit of this false sense of pureness by aspiring to become critically aware global citizens (by balancing values and morals from a wide array of cultures and traditions), rather than the static and non-evolving Singaporean our government so desperately wants us to be.

Besides, take a minute to think about what the State just tried to accomplish—by removing foreign involvements, the governing power, as I believe, ventured into slowing down the momentum of Singapore’s first and only LGBTQ movement. This suggests that the State’s imagination of the average Singaporean is someone who is politically apathetic and unsupportive of, or at best, neutral towards the idea of gay rights (‘without foreigners, the movement would fail’). For galvanised Singaporeans, showing up and mobilising is one of the most powerful ways to overcome such an inadequate conception of themselves.

In addition, the idea that only someone with the right documentation can participate in a social movement is not only fundamentally undemocratic, but it sends a disturbing message to non-Singaporeans living in the nation state—that your voices do not matter, and that you do not get to mess with the status quo. Foreigners who disagree with such a treatment should also find meaningful avenues to express their discontent towards this form of exclusionary politics (e.g. voicing your concerns through both online and offline platforms). Regardless of whether this could lead to a tangible change of heart by the government, getting the conversation going is key.

Perhaps a heartening outcome that emerged amidst all of this controversy is that in just under six weeks, more than 100 Singaporean firms have stepped up and committed financial support for this year’s event, a size twenty times larger than last year’s five. According to The Straits Times’, as of early May, Pink Dot organisers have raised a total of $201,000—surpassing their initial target of $150,000. It is important to remember though, that in a country where 30 per cent of the population is made up of foreigners, most domestic firms have foreign representation. Embedded deep within the backing of Singaporean firms lies the support of their non-Singaporean constituents as well.

Online, many overseas Singaporeans have expressed their intentions to return home to attend this year’s Pink Dot (to make up for some lost numbers). I assume that during their time abroad, many of these overseas Singaporeans would have accumulated new cultural values and understandings of democracy. Perhaps their way of navigating the world resembles more closely to the foreigners residing in our country than those who never left. In the eyes of our government, might these individuals also be unworthy of civic engagement in Singapore?

Ultimately, what matters most for us is that when faced with the State’s repeated attempts at redrawing the contours of the Pink Dot, movement organisers and their allies need to fight to ensure that the integrity of the movement is not lost. How the story develops depends less on the shape or size of this one dot, but how many new ones we can inspire as new and imminent waves of activism await us.

Skyler Wang is a PhD student in Sociology at UC Berkeley. Broadly, Skyler’s research foci include sexualities, culture and the global economy. His interest in the sociology of sexualities was sparked by his personal experiences growing up queer in Singapore. He can be reached here.

 

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Bertha in coffee shop

by Bertha Henson and Sharanya Pillai

A WEEK after he returned home to Singapore for his university vacation, the sky fell on Shrey Bhargava. After what can be described as a “bad day at work’’ (my words), he took to Facebook to rant about his experience with an audition for a part in Ah Boys to Men 4, found support and sympathy among his friends – and decided to make his post public.

“I never thought it would go viral,’’ he said. But with the thousands of “likes’’ came the brickbats, smeared with heinous racist comments, which almost sent him into a depressive spiral. His girlfriend and family members took to banning him from looking at his Facebook account for a while, to shield him from the harsher barbs.

Then he got an invitation to lim kopi with the police. He and his family spent a couple of days worrying that he might have landed on the wrong side of the Sedition Act or other laws, for starting a conversation that was proving so divisive.  It turned out all right. You can read it here

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Sitting across me at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf outlet in Century Square on Friday (Jun 2) night, there was no sign that the incident was getting him down. In fact, he seemed energised. He was sparking a conversation that he said had to be held: the casual racism that minorities experience all their lives. Not that the majority Chinese were deliberately racist, he caveated quickly, they were just oblivious to the impact of their words and actions.

Mr Bhargava is 22 years old, a first-generation Singaporean whose parents hailed from north India. He is studying at the University of Southern California, and plans, he made it plain, to be an artiste who means to put up a “mirror to society’’.

Online, he is crossing swords with the likes of blogger Xiaxue, the crew associated with the Jack Neo film, and those who thought he was being overly sensitive about being asked to act “more Indian’’ and to put on a thicker Indian accent because this would raise more laughs.

He was derided as an appuneneh, told to “go back to India’’, quit acting and flip prata – and those were just the milder versions. He quipped that he would be a rich man if there was a dollar for every prata remark levelled at him.

We had a long tangle about his original post, trying to pin down the key reason for his angst. I suggested that people were attacking him on several fronts, on his past, authentic accents, the right of movie producers and so forth, because his post could be read in many different ways. He concedes that he should have been more temperate, instead of using words like “disgusted’’ in his post. But, hey, he never intended it to go viral! 

But because of the reactions he had received, he had been trying to dissect his own feelings – why he felt what he felt. It came down to this: He was upset that a non-Indian casting director had assumed that she knew more about what makes an Indian “more Indian’’ and decided that it was a “thick Indian accent’’. He was told to project this image in a big budget movie, which wasn’t even in line with the thoroughly Singlish script he was asked to read. Worse, he was told to make it ‘’funny’’.

So, it would be okay if an Indian casting director suggested this? He initially said it would be a little more acceptable, before adding later that an Indian wouldn’t even have asked for such a portrayal, having been at the receiving end of casual racism himself. The casting director simply did not think twice that what she was telling an Indian could be derogatory.

The premise of the film also matters, he said: “NS is a very Singaporean topic. (For) a film that has that sort of responsibility to then use words or phrases like ‘be more Indian’ so casually in an audition is necessarily problematic.”

He thinks that the Chinese were upset by his post because they believed they were being called out as “racist’’ and hence, “bad’’ people. This was not the case, he said; they just didn’t know better. They would recognise the impact, however, if they had lived abroad and become members of a minority community. In other words, an “outsider’’. The majority everywhere have always enjoyed the privilege of being secure in their identity, he added.

So you are asking for everyone to be more politically correct, especially in the way the Chinese majority interact with the minorities? He prefers to describe it as a heightened awareness of their words and actions.

The responses to his post were proof enough of their ignorance. They just couldn’t understand why he was upset because they never had to experience life as a minority member.

“I’ve got a ton of really nasty remarks that have served to prove my point that this is a problem,” he said.

“Personally, that demoralised me a lot. But for each message I got like that, I got 10 messages from Chinese and non-Chinese friends, teachers and mentors who have poured their support for me.”

He thought people who said he should “just act’’ know nothing about the meaning of being an artiste. While movie-makers have the right to cast roles whichever way they please, actors themselves could start trying to influence the portrayals of ethnic groups.

The Mind Your Language days were so 70s, he said. People have moved on and expect to see more diverse experiences.

His is the confidence and idealism of youth, who hope for a race-blind society and a media environment which stops caricaturing races and therefore, embedding these stereotypes even further. He thinks this will be achieved with a more vocal and more informed younger generation. This, notwithstanding “institutionalised’’ or structural racism like the CMIO categories and the reserved elected presidency.

“Since young, it’s somehow embedded in you that you are defined by your race. This is a structural problem that is ingrained and takes years to change,” he said, and wondered aloud if we could imagine a Singapore without the CMIO racial categories.

We decided not to go there because, among other things, we’d be stuck overnight at the café.

What about the standup comedy routine in which he caricatured Indians, which Xiaxue said showed him to be a hypocrite? He held forth on how most comedians make fun of themselves. In any case, it was his first comedy routine done while he was in junior college. He was young and regretted the act as soon as he performed it.

What about his Arab journalist character in one episode of The Noose? He said he was trying to “satirise a stereotype’’– that Arabs cannot run away from the perception that they are terrorists, despite earnest attempts to do good. “Cheem,’’ I said.

What does this episode do for his acting future?

He acknowledged that his bridges had been burnt with the companies associated with ABTM4, such as J Team Productions. But the reach of his post has made him known to a wider network. He had been getting messages of support, including from a filmmaker based in the United States.

I wondered about how different this young man was compared to many others his age I’ve had contact with in university. Mr Bhargava was never at a loss for words. His responses came quick. He could see that the issue was a big one but never shied away from saying his piece with aplomb.

Perhaps, it was because unlike most other young Singaporeans, he’s a first-generation Singaporean, unfettered by the experience of past generations who grew up in a minority setting.

His parents, he said, were amazed at the racist comments directed at him. They themselves were never subjected to such barbs, given that they belonged to the majority community in India.

He said that as a first-generation Singaporean, it may take a “smaller threshold” for him to speak out against casual racism than a Singaporean Indian “who’s had generations ahead of him”.

“Maybe as they are growing up, the grandparents might be like, this happens, just learn to deal with it,” he said.

Years of co-mingling with other races might have led to the minorities resigning themselves to the slights and comments directed at them. But – why should they?

I suggested tentatively the idea that talking about race could pose law and order problems. He caught on immediately and said fears of racial riots such as what happened in the 1960s were part of Singapore’s “post-traumatic stress syndrome’’. He wouldn’t be drawn into saying whether tempers would result in violence, but asked if the alternative of staying mum was any better.

He added: “Just because [racism] has existed for a long time, or generations of Singaporean Malays and Indians have internalised this as something that will exist or have a defeatist attitude to just deal with it – does that make it okay for it to exist?”

Two hours later, and Mr Shrey Bhargava looks like he could go on forever. What was a personal post about a bad day at work had led him to explore the multi-faceted aspects of racism. He was eager to continue the conversation and I had to keep saying that I was more than twice his age and needed sleep.

Yes, we could talk about race forever. It’s a never-ending story for Singapore.

 

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Kok Wei Liang

THERE is gaynger in Singapore. That’s “gay danger”, to any uninitiated straight people.

I am writing this in the painful seclusion of my room, shunned by friends and frenemies, my hair frizzy and free of product because the assistant at my hairdresser’s refused to blow it out and apply hair wax, my nails chipped and uneven because no manicure bar will have me anymore.

In light of a recent post on Facebook about how “young punk” cafes are serving gay cake disguised as rainbow cake, I thought it would be a good idea to tell the public what gay cake actually is.

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The Gay Overlords disagree.

I visited them at Gay Headquarters, during Gay Communal Hours, when all the straight people of Singapore were soundly asleep, dreaming of contributing to society in productive ways. The Gay Overlords do not think my exposé will be useful in furthering the Gay Agenda. They even refused to accept the favour baskets I prepared for them, of homemade his-and-his coconut oil shaving gel with flakes of avocado butter. That is how I know they meant business.

I can tell that the repercussions from this perceived act of treason will shake the LGBT Underworld for years to come. But I will not be silenced.

Here is how to make gay cake.

You will need six ingredients. The post on We are against Pinkdot in Singapore got that much right.

True rainbow cakes have seven layers, like the seven layers of a rainbow. Gay cake has six layers, because of our favourite sex act – the 6.

In the 69, you 6 me and I 9 you, but in the 6, you 6 me and I fall asleep. Show me a gay man who doesn’t love the 6, and I will show you a liar.

1. Vanilla-scented candle.

2. Almond milk. If you cannot squeeze the juice from the nuts yourself, store-bought is fine.

3. A photo of something really gay. My go-to is of the man with the gayest job in the world – the Pope. I like using the one where he wears jewellery.

4. Twinkies.

5. Ice.

6. Music by a certified gay icon. Here is an alphabetical list of acceptable icons: Beyonce, Cher, Donna Summer, Kylie Minogue, Lady Gaga, Madonna, Queens of the Stone Age. You may, in a pinch, resort to Elton John, but your cake will turn out a little bitchy.

Mix the first five ingredients in the gay bowl. That’s whichever bowl held all the condoms at your last gay party.

Blare the music from your certified gay icon to your mixture. The volume should make your batter rise and harden.

Cut the resultant hardened mixture into little pieces. It is recommended that they be cut into little round blocks so as to not arouse suspicion, but other shapes will not actually affect the efficacy of the cake.

Find a public male restroom. Place the cake in a urinal. Wait for a straight man to piss on it. It will turn him gay.

Caution:
Do not let gay men piss on this cake, that’s how we got whatever Milo Yiannopoulos is.
Do not let children piss on this cake, that’s how we got Justin Bieber.
Will make bisexual men hungry for brunch.
DO NOT EAT THIS CAKE.

 

Kok Wei Liang does not want you to know anything about him, because he likes anonymity when he does standup and slam poetry.

 

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By Suhaile Md and Johannes Tjendro

WHEN the National Wages Council (NWC) sets wage guidelines, do you reckon that bosses will fall in line?

In 2015, when the NWC suggested that workers who earned less than $1,100 have their basic monthly wage increase by $60, 18.5 per cent of bosses did so. Last year, when instead of a fixed number it suggested an increase of between $50 and $65, a slightly higher number of employers did so – 21.2 per cent. In total, there are now 92,400 workers earning less than $1,100 a month, according to the Manpower ministry.

Yesterday (May 31), the NWC said that it wants what it calls the threshold salary to be raised to $1,200 a month. What this means is that another 40,700 people would fall into what it considers the low wage bracket. The NWC had done its sums and suggested a pay rise of $45 to $60 to lift up this group at the margin.

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Except that the economy isn’t doing as well as before. And there hasn’t been any extension of the mandatory Progressive Wage Model (PWM) from the cleaning, landscaping and security sectors to other sectors. The PWM was introduced over the last two years to these three sectors as they make up a majority (72 per cent) of outsourced workers, which was identified as a vulnerable group. Under the PWM, employers are obliged to stick to a minimum wage for the lowest rung employees. It also keeps workers on a wage ladder that allows incomes to increase with the acquisition of skills and experience.

It is clear that, being mandatory, the PWM has had an impact on the take-up rate of NWC guideline. The take-up rate by employers of low wage workers in outsourced work was 48.5 per cent, more than double the 21.2 per cent take-up rate by employers of all workers. Even the 21.2 per cent figure has a caveat. Since the NWC includes employers who are bound by the PWM when accounting for the number of employers who took up NWC guideline, the number of bosses who voluntarily adopts the recommendations is actually lower than the 21.2 per cent.

NWC chooses to look not at employer numbers but worker numbers. Since introducing the wage increments in 2012, the number of workers earning up to $1,000 has more than halved, said Mr Melvin Yong, Executive Secretary of the National Transport Workers’ Union (NTWU) and member of the NWC. And after NWC  “raised the wage threshold to $1,100”, the number of workers earning less than $1,100 “dropped by about 30 per cent”, he added.

The number of employers who took up NWC guidelines increased by 2.7 percentage points (18.5 per cent to 21.2 per cent) from 2015 to 2016. NWC attributed this rise to a change in its suggested wage increment from a fixed value of $60 in 2015, to a range between $50 and $65 in 2016. NWC said that the greater flexibility provided by the range encouraged employers to adopt its guidelines.

The range however was lowered yesterday to between $45 and $60 to account for the “uneven business conditions” and structural changes in the economy, said NWC. The lower range makes it more manageable for employers who will then be encouraged to implement the pay rise, said Dr Robert Yap, President of the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) and member of the NWC.

Nothing much was said about the effect of rising wages on unemployment numbers, which had gone up to 3 per cent last year, the highest since 2010. The unemployment rate stood at 2.3 per cent as of March this year. Dr Yap did note that real wage increases outstripped productivity growth in the last 10 years. In the past, economists have said that “wage growth that outstrips labour productivity growth translates into declining profit margins, business closures, and layoff of workers.”

Neither was anything said about the plight of Professionals, Managers, Executives, and Technicians (PMETs), who had a higher share of those who were laid off last year. The higher share could be attributed to the fact that PMETs are more badly affected by skills mismatch due to ongoing structural changes in the economy.

Or perhaps there is simply greater demand for non-PMETs, such as cleaners and security guards, than PMETs. Whichever the reason, NWC’s silence about PMETs represents its continued determination to focus on low wage workers.

 

Featured image by Flickr user Bernard Spragg. CCO 1.0

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by Deanna Nabilah

IT’S been a challenging year for Pink Dot organisers. On top of the ban on foreign sponsorship, they were slapped with the difficulty of barring foreigners from attending the event as participants. At the Pink Dot Media Launch event yesterday (May 30), it was announced that for the first time the Speakers’ Corner, the annual site of the Pink Dot event, will be barricaded.

This, however, was not something that they had initially settled for. The spokesman for Pink Dot, Mr Paerin Choa, said: “The set-up of barricades and checkpoints around the park was the only measure deemed acceptable by authorities; this was a decision taken out of our hands and is something we do not readily agree with.” Organisers had to submit three proposals to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and they were all rejected. One of their previous proposals only included the setting up of checkpoints but this was rejected because MHA wanted “foolproof preventive measures”.

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The police had also reminded organisers of the changes to the Public Order Act which were in operation since November last year. Under the conditions for organisers of assemblies, these amendments include having organisers ensure that “only citizens of Singapore or permanent residents of Singapore participate in the assembly or procession”. Failure to comply with these conditions may result in prosecution.

Speaking about the uncertainty organisers faced in raising funds for Pink Dot, Mr Choa said that they felt that their initial target of having 100 sponsors come onboard with the event was too “ambitious”. They currently have 116 local sponsors – seven first-tier sponsors, 14 second-tier sponsors and 95 third-tier sponsors. They have also surpassed their target of $150,000. Under the Red Dot for Pink Dot campaign, which is the official fund-raising campaign for Pink Dot, more than $201,000 has been raised for the event according to Mr Darius Cheung, who is spearheading the campaign. This amounts to more than the sum raised by foreign multinational companies (MNCs) in previous years. His team hopes to have 120 sponsors by this Sunday (June 4).

At the launch, the Pink Dot ambassadors for this year were revealed to be Mr Nathan Hartono, homegrown heartthrob musician who came in second at Sing China last year, Ms Theresa Goh, paralympian athlete who won a bronze medal in the 100m breaststroke at the 2016 Summer Paralympics and Mr Ebi Shankara, Vasantham star and host for last year’s National Day Parade. When TMG asked if they were worried about losing fans who don’t agree, Mr Hartono said that he “truly doesn’t care.”

“Personally, I have never been in the entertainment industry for the money or the numbers. My hope in getting involved in this is that people that had reservations before, might give it a shot and see how it’s like. At most it’s a day, if you don’t like it, you can always go home,” said Mr Hartono.

Filmmaker Mr Boo Junfeng returned to film this year’s campaign video. It featured three LGBTQ individuals talking to uncles and aunties in coffee shops around Singapore about sexuality. There were lots of uncomfortable pauses and moments of hilarity in the video, but meaningful conversations were exchanged and some understanding was reached. Mr Boo had filmed almost all of the campaign videos in previous years. While the ambassadors said that they did not have any difficult conversations with their friends and families on sexuality, Mr Shankara said there were “interesting ones”.

“I had an interesting conversation with my mum: Oh the LGBT thing, she said, there are a lot of Indian guys who are gay and coming out, it’s good. These were her exact words, and the conversation ended there,” shared Mr Shankara.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Bertha Henson

SOME people who meet me for the first time are crestfallen when they think, based on my name, they should be expecting a Caucasian. They look even more flummoxed when a stream of quintessentially Singaporean phrases issues from my mouth. Quickly, they adjust their mannerisms and language. I think they feel relieved.

I couldn’t have faked an accent to save my life. That’s because I’m no actress. I did attempt an exaggerated version of myself in an episode of The Noose. I became a caricature of my character. I am not sure I succeeded.

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So it got me wondering when a young man started complaining on Facebook about having to be more “Indian’’ than he already is. He was auditioning for a part in Ah Boyz to Men, the Jack Neo comedy. He felt disgusted at having to put on an exaggerated Indian accent when he was supposed to be portraying a Singaporean Indian doing his military service. It’s amazing the wide variety of views that his post elicited, from the heinously disgusting to outright support.

I think about the movies and television shows that I have seen all my life. I don’t think I’ve ever wondered about American comedies that take the mickey out of a person’s race, language or religion. So an African American is always a rapper and a Chinese in America always runs a restaurant while Arabs are New York taxi drivers. Each will have their own “distinctive’’ accent. Then there’s the classic British comedy Mind your language, which I find hilarious. When the comedies are great, we laugh out loud. If not, we dismiss them as lousy slapstick.

Then again, these stereotypes are not about my fellow countrymen.

These days, we talk about casual racism and Chinese privilege. (Link to our three-part article series on racism.) Usually, the minority castigates the majority for not understanding its feelings, because the majority are so secure in their, hmm, majority. This, however, shouldn’t mean that the Chinese cannot talk about other people’s race, so long as it is done maturely and not in an effort to ridicule. The Chinese, despite being the majority, lost their dialects, Chinese-medium schools and had a whole generation of lost Nantah graduates as well. So let’s not use “Chinese privilege’’ to represent all the ills that we think have beset the minorities. All of us have lost something or other in the pursuit of racial harmony.

It’s easy to get prickly about race. There’s no rationality or reason for feeling what you feel about race. You get all sensitive – even over-sensitive – about slights, whether real or imagined. Like taking offence when a bunch of people yabber on in Mandarin while non-Chinese are in their midst. In such cases, I tell them to speak English, and they always do. That, I suppose is casual racism, which I prefer to describe as poor EQ.

But if someone calls me a half-breed or chap cheng, whether casually or in a derogatory manner, I will get upset. You cannot expect me to laugh it off. If I get it all the time, then I’m likely to explode at some point. That breaking point could be when I’m told to act a part I dislike for the umpteenth time. I can, of course, insist that the script should be more politically correct and decline to take part because it demeans my race. But I would be more cautious about castigating a movie-maker’s right to cast his actors.

Also, you know what? I will still be watching comedies which supposedly denigrates other people’s race.

I can hear people now saying that those who do not know about acting, shouldn’t talk about acting. But as I said, I watch a lot of TV, and viewers should be able to pronounce on the acting.

I believe the young man is trying to surface the bigger issue of the paucity of minority roles in local productions that don’t descend into stereotypes. You can complain about the movie-maker’s lack of imagination or the script-writer’s inability to go beyond using race as a gag line. If so, it is a reflection on the quality of artistic work – or the audiences’ low-brow appreciation of slap-stick comedy. We’re moving now into the territory of artistic licence and even community norms. I’m not sure we want to go there and invite more restrictions on expression.

While I don’t stress my brain over comedies, I’ve always wondered what the Germans and Japanese, including immigrants in the US, say about Hollywood productions of war movies. So many years have passed and they still keep popping up as the villain of the piece. These days, the Chinese and North Koreans are the Americans’ favourite bogeymen – and man, their caricatures are too funny for words, even though they are not acting in a comedy. Perhaps, they’ve sent private diplomatic protests or, as the prosaic Chinese have done, invaded Hollywood to buy up movie studios.

When I think about the young man’s feelings about having to caricature himself for a role, I think about how Singaporeans react when the country’s name pops up in a television series or a movie.

I ask you: don’t you perk up when you hear Singapore mentioned?

You even wonder if the movie makers have got the Singapore skyline right… Then there’s the slight discomfort when we’re portrayed as some exotic place amid Chinese and Hindu temples or a place where hi-tech pirated software are illegally sold. That’s because an image of Singapore is being broadcast to the world – and movie-makers should get it right! Frankly, my favourite is Singapore, the pirates’ haven, in Johnny Depp’s Pirates of the Caribbean. I don’t think we can get upset about an outrageous portrayal or Singapore’s past, especially if we don’t know if it’s fact or fiction.

Perhaps, it’s because we are small in the world, so we get prickly about our place in the world. Just as members of the minority community feel insecure in the larger place called Singapore.

I suppose it all depends on the context of the supposed racial slight, and the extent of political correctness we want to achieve. Take aside race, language and religion, there are many ways to “offend’’ people in comedies. Like having someone in a handicapped role fumbling about the house or making fun of forgetful old people.

There will be people who will argue that whether or not the portrayals are comedic, these groups are unreal or segments of people have been put in a bad light. Racism is not used in such cases; the word is “tasteless’’.

Perhaps, the road to harmony is for minority members to stop thinking of ourselves as a minority – and for majority members to remember that they are in the majority.

We all have to think bigger on this little red dot – and laugh along, together.

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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They say that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. And recently, that statement played out all over the world, especially in Europe and Asia. At home, security at upcoming events has been ramped up amid fears of terror threats. Earlier this year, the terror threat in Singapore rose for the first time in over a decade – from negligible to low – due to the increase in “lone wolf” attacks worldwide.

Manchester’s incident gripped the front pages, but what about the rest of the world? We look at the other terror attacks that have happened in the past week:

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1. Cairo, Egypt: Gunmen open fire at a bus

Church of St George in Cairo’s Coptic sector. Image by Flickr user Edgardo W. Olivera. CC BY 2.0

Eight to ten gunmen fired indiscriminately at a bus carrying Coptic christians outside Minya, south of Cairo. At least 28 people were killed in the attack on Friday (May 26), children aged two and four were among the victims. The bus was travelling to the monastery of Saint Samuel, carrying worshipers to the holy site. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks. Coptic Christians have been targeted by ISIS several times in recent years.

In a broadcast on Friday, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said that: “Egypt will not hesitate at all to strike terrorist camps anywhere.” Shortly after the broadcast, Egypt responded to the attacks by launching airstrikes against camps where the terrorists responsible for the attack are believed to have been trained. Following the twin attacks on Coptic churches on Palm Sunday last month that killed at least 45 people, Egypt is still under a three month state of emergency. Pope Francis showed his support during a visit to Egypt last month, paying tribute to the victims of a church attack in Cairo last year. ISIS responded by vowing to escalate attacks against Christians.

People in Minya have taken to the streets in response to Friday’s attacks. Minya has one of the largest concentrations of Coptic Christians in Egypt, but the minority group has been a target of increasing violence since the toppling of Hosni Mubarak’s regime in 2011.

 

2. Bangkok, Thailand: Bomb in military hospital

Image by Wikimedia Commons user TakeawayCC BY-SA 3.0.

Over 20 were injured after a small bomb exploded in a military hospital in the Thai capital. Eight people were hospitalised due to injuries from the blast, which happened in a waiting room near a pharmacy.

The attack coincided with the third anniversary of the 2014 coup by the military. Investigations are still ongoing and no one has claimed responsibility. But there are suspicions that the act is in protest of the military rule. The week before, another bomb had gone off near the royal palace, amid preparations for the royal king’s birthday.

Thailand will go to the polls by the end of next year, albeit under a new Constitution drafted by the military, which only allows for a limited democracy.

 

3. Marawi City, Philippines: ISIS-linked militants turned city into warzone

Image from the Presidential Communications Operations Office by Wikimedia Commons user Pitpisit.

Clashes broke out on Tuesday (May 23) between security personnel and local terrorist groups in Marawi City, a predominantly Muslim city on the southern island of Mindanao.

It all started when a joint force between the military and the police raided a house that was believed to be the hideout of Isnilon Hapilon of the Abu Sayyaf jihadist group, which is notoriously known for ransom kidnapping. Hapilon has reportedly been designated the leader of ISIS in Southeast Asia. Another terrorist group that is involved is Maute, formerly known as Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

The shootout prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to cut short his trip to Russia upon declaring martial law in Mindanao.

The situation continued to worsen as the terrorists torched a church, a jail, a hospital and several schools. They also took hostage of teachers, a priest, and about a dozen parishioners. The following day, residents fled the city in droves, while the military sent in reinforcements. On Thursday (May 25), surgical airstrikes were launched to flush out remaining militants.

The military reported on Friday (May 26) that they were gaining headway, having rescued more than 150 civilians trapped in houses and buildings, and recovered many villages previously occupied by terrorists.

As of Friday, 31 militants and 13 government troopers have been killed.

 

4. Homs, Syria: Car bombs in Homs city

Image by Flickr user Taras Kalapun.

Just two days after the Syrian government regained control over Homs, the city was attacked by a car bomb on Tuesday (May 23). According to the city’s health authority, four were killed and 32 were injured. Police also found another vehicle that was rigged with explosives near a Shi’ite mosque south of the capital Damascus.

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, which comes on the heels of recent victories of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Last Sunday (May 20), hundreds of Syrian rebels and their families evacuated Homs, bringing it back to government control for the first time since 2011.

Meanwhile the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based war monitor, reported that US-led coalition strikes in eastern Syria have killed at least 35 civilians in the same week.

 

5. Jakarta, Indonesia: Suicide bombings at bus station

Image by Wikimedia Commons user Uwe Aranas.

A pair of suicide bombers attacked a bus station in Jakarta, Indonesia on May 24 this year. According to the police, at least three police officers were killed and six other officers and five civilians were injured. Aluminium, nails, buckshot and receipts were also discovered at the scene of the explosion. ISIS involvement in the bombing is suspected.

ISIS has been claiming responsibility for terror attacks in Indonesia. Last year, ISIS said it carried out a suicide bombing and shooting near a Starbucks in Jakarta which killed two people and wounded another 24.

Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim country. In light of alarming ISIS attempts to recruit members within the country, Indonesia has been actively fighting against radical extremism.


Featured image by Flickr user Erlend Schei. CC BY-ND 2.0

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