By Dansong on 19 Aug 2007 12:39 PM
Haloscan Comments Closed
Yesterday, 155 immigrants joined us as citizens of our nation. Warmest welcome! It is a good choice and I wish you the conviction to carry out your responsibilities and uphold your rights together with the rest of us who have been caring as old citizens.
That's that, and moving on to a related topic then: Citizenship Day. If this was supposed to be a significant day for the old citizens, there was hardly any splash except for the perfunctory publicity flashlights of the press. We can't expect the latter to ask any hard questions because of systemic sycophantism. So, how shall we evaluate Citizenship Day? Who cares?
Well, we have to, since it refers to us, citizens. If we don't care, it is analogous to Christians not caring about Good Friday, Muslims not caring about Hari Raya Puasa and the Chinese not caring about Chinese New Year. But worse, since this is a day dedicated to every Singaporean not a constituent community. However, citizens already cared for National Day, and many have already been emotionally exhausted by the effervescent celebrations. True, which is why Citizenship Day, if it is to be effective and to become significant in the long run, should not be placed so close to National Day.
Why is it placed so close to National Day? Some may say that it is an attempt to sustain the momentum of governmental sentiment cultivation that begins with Racial Harmony Day, then reaching a crescendo on National Day, and given an emphatic finale with the National Day Rally. After that, we are back to the rational business of making Singapore work. Citizenship Day keeps the audience prepped, but only just. Well, if this is true, this instrumental use of Citizenship Day is pretty dumb. After National Day, everyone is already too tired to feel as a citizen and any didactic message being broadcast about multiracialism, meritocracy, kampung spirit, city of whatever, instantly falls on fireworks-deafened ears or instinctly drops away as propagandistic pronouncements. I wonder whether it preps or turns people off the National Day Rally. System overload, and Citizenship Day is buried in the emotional climax of red and white streamers.
Next, content: a citizenship ceremony where the deputy prime minister delivers a predictable speech and awards citizenship to worthy immigrants. I question neither, it sounds perfunctorily traditional enough - after decades of this rendition, the public has come to expect such ceremonious enactments. But surely, on a day with such a heavy symbolic load as Citizenship Day, more can be expected? To leave the content as it is would mean Citizenship Day could be merely interpreted as New Citizens Day, dedicated to those who aspire to be citizens and those will make it during the ceremony. In a climate where Singapore citizenship is coming under public questioning and scrutiny by the old citizens because of the government's "foreign talent" and "stayer or quitter" policies, to leave the content as it is also runs the risk of old citizens dismissing Citizenship Day as a day for the government to legitimate and justify its immigration policies by ritual fiat. Propaganda undertone, and Citizenship Day is wrecked on lethargic cynicism.
Thus, my argument: move the Day and deepen its content. Questions are, when and how? My proposal is rather straightforward. Change the Citizenship Day to Citizenship and Constitution Day. The justification is simple and logical, citizenship is not linked to the state giving us that status, but it is a status secured by the Constitution, the supreme law of the land. The state, with the Constitution as its basis, is a custodian of citizenship not the absolute sovereign giving and taking away rights by arbitrary or policy fiat. Furthermore, to be a good citizen is not to be simply law-abiding but to know the Constitution and the rights and responsibilities it establishes for the citizen to be and act as a citizen. Thus, instead of an arbitrary meaningless date, 18 August, the dates can be moved to either 10 July, when the Constitution was first enacted within the Federation of Malaysia in 1964, or 22 December, when the it was amended together with the enactment of the Republic of Singapore Independence Act in 1965.
Which date? My argument is for 10 July, for a few reasons. First, it can start off a month of civic celebrations and education, especially for our young students, and what an appropriate starting point it will be. The Constitution is the basis of our nation-state, the Alpha of our Singaporean-ness. It makes sense too since we had no nation to begin with, we had to build our national consciousness from scratch, first within the Malaysian Federation, then after Separation. The Constitution was the bedrock for us to begin our imaginative building of the nation.
Second, Racial Harmony Day on 21 July will follow Citizenship and Constitution Day, which is a most appropriate sequence, because we will anchor the civic celebrations in the key historical moment of our founding: when our dream of a Malaysian Malaysia was wrecked on politicized racial feelings. This will address the complaints that Singaporeans lack a sense of history - work that sense of history into the very core of our civic celebrations and the colors of ethnic costumes and fireworks will cease to be superficial gloss. Besides, it will put Racial Harmony Day into proper perspective: it is not natural racial enmity that is the problem we have to tackle but the politicization of race or the racialization of politics that is the problem.
Third, all these will culminate in National Day, when we celebrate what we have achieved, and then capped by the National Day Rally, when the Prime Minister will set forth the vision for the coming year. Other than the aesthetics of nicely spaced out memorials, what we have will be a most coherent civic programme: understanding what makes us Singapore (the Constitution; not hawker food or some elite colonial building, please!) leading to reflection of what happens when that understanding breaks down (Racial Harmony Day), then to a celebration of achievements (N Day) and, finally, a solemn debate on the tasks ahead (N Day Rally).
Lastly, content. I think this is even simpler. We can continue to have the ceremony to award citizenship to new immigrants. In fact, it is more meaningful to give citizenship to them before 9 August, for both old and new citizens, as the new citizens can then join the old citizens in the celebrations that follow. As it stands now, the new citizens are invited only after the party. But the main activities that mark Constitution Day should be reflections and debates on the Constitution and the rights and responsibilities secured therein.
For students, instead of the National Education floss that falls away from deadened minds, bring the meat of the Constitution to them (of course, we got to get the teachers to read the Constitution first) - it is reinvigorating stuff that will resurrect tired and cynical souls. For old citizens, we can evaluate the present situation in the light of the Constitution so that we can have both achievements to celebrate on 9 August and discrepancies and failures to advocate for during and after the National Day Rally. All the grassroots organizations and other interested organizations or groups of interested citizens can organize thousands of forums, talks and seminars, whether online or real-world, to mark Citizenship and Constitution Day. Civic arts programmes that usually begin with National Day can start earlier to engage the public in reflection and discussion. The civic month will be a month of reflection, celebration and, this is the crux, citizen activism to uphold the Constitution, for this is the very essence of citizenship.
My thanks to spursfan for his email that first sparked my thoughts on Citizenship Day and my wife for scolding the Sunday Times this morning, which inspired this post.