BREAKING: Singapore is Not Cause of Arab-Israeli Conflict, Also Not Social Experiment

Dear Jim Sleeper,

I awoke this fine Sunday to the rare bit of London sunlight streaming in through my windows, and your HuffPo article, “Blame the Latest Israel-Arab War on… Singapore?” promptly ruining any warm fuzzy feelings that that might have inspired. It was my fault, I suppose, for checking Twitter before getting out of bed, but you could have written a less aggravating piece — so let’s just share the blame for a ruined morning here, okay?

So this is a new one.

Not the bit about Israel and its neighbours, of course, but the bold claim that my country is behind this particular revival of an age-old conflict. Not yours, which has been involved in more military conflicts that we can reasonably know about, much less count, but my tiny nation, which many people aren’t even sure how to locate on a map, much less link to Middle Eastern turmoil. I’m almost grateful for this new angle on an otherwise stagnant issue.

I’ll qualify my position here: I’m a Singaporean, evidently. I’m a Singaporean of minority ethnic & religious status — whom you would have us believe is tragically dispossessed of the “status, power, and reputation” bestowed upon my “Han” Chinese peers — and one who has a brother going through two of the most mind-numbingly pointless years of his life in the “service of our nation.” I’m a Singaporean who disagrees fundamentally with the policies of my government in both these areas, but one who will not stand for unjustified criticism or misrepresentation of them nonetheless. I’m also a Singaporean, coincidentally, of Semitic descent — though my ancestral heritage has about as much to do with my politics as my country’s policies have to do with Hamas.

You aim to call attention to Israel’s “deep, dark, secret love affair” with Singapore; you wish to unsettle us with the notion that we’re sleeping in the same military-issue bunk bed. We’re so uncannily similar that surely Singapore must have had a hand in all of this. That’s just how complex global politics work, yeah?

Our “similarities to Israel are a lot more striking than [our] obvious differences”? Okay, we’re both non-Muslim states surrounded by Muslim ones, I’ll give you that. Both bear the scars mark of the British, both have similar-sized populations with marginalised minorities, both disproportionately outperform neighbours economically.

But what of these “obvious differences” you pay lip service to? Of all the things you could’ve said about how our nations and the contexts in which we exist & operate differ, you choose the fact that Singapore is an island?

Let me give you a few more: we have not been engaged in military hostilities for most of our sovereign existence. We do not believe we have a god-given right to our land that we have to literally fight to protect. Our “less-than-friendly Muslim neighbours” not only acknowledge the legitimacy of our nation, but are among our largest trade partners and freely & willingly participate in the same international organisations we do. Our multiculturalism is far, far from perfect, but just as far from the history-, ethnoreligious- and ideology-fuelled tensions between Arabs and Jews. And on the main thrust of the article: we may be the second-most militarised nation in the world, but we haven’t actually used that military in direct conflict — and definitely not on the same scale that Israel has.

(I must interject at this point that the notion of China being afraid of a “Singapore Sting” is about the most hilarious thing I’ve heard. Have you seen our two countries? Do you buy that giants fear mosquitoes?)

(And yes I just compared S’pore to a mosquito. It’s not that far off-base when you think about it.)

So now I ask you, Jim Sleeper: how is my country to blame for the Israel-Hamas conflict — whether for this particular incarnation of it, or in general? What did we do this time that was different to make Israel take up arms yet again? Why are you convinced that we’re the missing puzzle piece to this persistently unsolvable problem? Because see, Jim, that’s the title of your piece — one which I’ve unfortunately spent the better part of my Sunday evening reading & rereading — but I can’t actually find the answer to this question in it.

I can only conclude, then, that that’s not really what you’re after. And I didn’t have to look far to find what you are going for: what starts as a critique of warfare, meant to “[shed] light on Israel’s inclinations and strategic judgments” in the wake of recent events on this front, ends in an attack on Singapore’s bid to “become the education [centre] of Southeast Asia” that is tenuously linked to our implied illiberal democracy.

It’s even easy to go more specific than that. Here’s a quick review of your last few HuffPo articles:

Just 5 because I like the number. See more here. Let me know if you find a pattern.

I don’t want to go into the whole Yale-NUS affair because (a) it’s been done to death, (b) it’s far less exciting than militarism in the Gaza Strip, and (c) selfishly, as someone who is not a student at either university, it’s simply not interesting to me. But this chip on your shoulder when it comes to Singapore? That fascinates me.

You don’t like us. I get that. That’s okay. I mean, there are lots of things in which my country could stand to do better, and I’d definitely put the state of our democracy and the extent of our militarisation near the top of that list.

But what I don’t get is how you, a Lecturer in Political Science at Yale University, are letting a less-than-perfectly-logical bias against one country cloud how you cut through the complexity of other issues. You look to me, a Student in Political Science at the LSE, like the single-issue voter who’s afraid of Obama taking away his guns and therefore blames every conceivable economic and social ill on him. You just tried linking Yale-NUS to a 70+-year-old conflict in a completely different part of the world, Jim. Take a step back and get some perspective.

I’ve got a more important request to make of you (and others of your ilk): stop writing about us like bizarre science fiction. For all our illiberalism & paradoxes & illogicality, we exist. I know we do not fit neatly into your narrative of how the world should be, but we exist nonetheless. And you know what? Our existence does not undermine your democracy or your education system or peace in the Middle East — for the simple reason that we do not exist for you. We do not exist for your country, or for your university, or for your ideals of democracy. In fact, we do not exist for “democracy” at all; we exist for real actual people, we exist for ourselves and that means that our struggles (for democracy/freedom or otherwise) are ours and ours alone.

So nice try with blaming Israel’s militarism on LKY. And really smooth work on bringing Yale-NUS into it; no one could’ve seen that coming. Now look elsewhere & try again — maybe starting with your own country.

(Not) Yours,
An Oppressed, Militarised Singaporean

P.S. Predictably, I have written a follow-up piece to this: On Sleeper (& Sleeping): The Morning After

P.P.S. It has been brought to my attention that Sleeper has since edited his post, particularly to remove the parts about Yale-NUS — without noting this on the original article, where he only mentions a correction about Michael Rubin. I loathe to link to TR Emeritus here, but here is what he had to say about it.

93 thoughts on “BREAKING: Singapore is Not Cause of Arab-Israeli Conflict, Also Not Social Experiment

  1. Thank you so so much for writing this. Am sure it gave you tremendous satisfaction as it did me, even as it spoilt your Sunday. Hope you have sent a copy to Huffingtonpost (and challenge it to publish it, in the name of free speech and democracy) and Sleeper who should sleep on things a fair bit before he writes again.

  2. Pingback: Daily SG: 19 Nov 2012 | The Singapore Daily

    • Is this meant to imply that I’m in one? Okay, that’s cool — but it’s still my iron dome. And if I want to break out of it — only if because I do, but I recognise that my Singaporean peers may not feel the same way & there is space in my world(view) for them too — it will be me who finds the way to do so, not neocolonialists who see fit to place judgment on my country based on their narrow view of what Should Be while crying “democracy.”

      I’m not sure I’d call it an “iron” dome though (or cage, as Sleeper says). Maybe bamboo? It’s flexible and it grows and it’s a lot more complex than a rigid metal constraint. You might like it, actually, it’s very oriental-looking — would fit right in with your political views of us.

      • Nah he’s referring to the controversial Israeli weapon system that serves as a missile defense shield against Palestine though I’m not too sure how it applies here.

      • Indeed, the Iron Dome. I suggest that you read up on how far the Singapore-Israel roots actually trace back. Singapore has actually been funding Israel military operations and the development of their weapon technology. We are probably pretty closely tied with the Israeli, military-speaking, hence we MAY actually have a part to play in the conflict, just saying.
        In fact, it goes beyond the similarities we share. Sure, there are differences between Israel and Singapore given the many circumstances and reasons like you have argued, but that doesn’t change the fact that we do share some similarities.
        Singapore does not use its military in direct conflict, but her defense system and weapons are backed by Israel. The iron dome defense technology was dubbed to be “intended for singapore” all along and there are intentions of us acquiring it, but it is being tested in Israel first before being exported to Singapore.
        Your arguments are valid, but there are other sides to the issue to consider. There is a bigger picture to to look at, and while I don’t fully agree with the Yale prof, I do hope this tidbit of information may enlighten you a little and make you reconsider if there really is more to the story.

      • I’m not denying Singapore’s militarism or links to Israel. I’m also not claiming to know anything more about the Arab-Israeli conflict than I really do — which is not a lot. The point of my post was to illustrate the absurdity of Sleeper’s take on the issue.

        More than that, really, I was protesting the tone the original article took and the fact that at the core of it, it wasn’t about Israel at all. I elaborate more on this here:

        (P.S. I also now recognise that I misinterpreted Paul’s comment. Sorry about that! I still still stand by what I had to say re: neocolonialist sentiments in the context of Sleeper’s original article though.)

    • Oh my gosh, really? That would be extremely appreciated! Please, please do! (If the author doesn’t mind, that is.) We really don’t want more people thinking Mr. Sleeper’s arguments to be the absolute truth, so please help spread the word around! Thank you, J!

      • Yeah, I’m actually thinking of printing out a few of the responses I’ve read and putting them up on bulletin boards around campus, but we’ll have to see if the writers agree.

  3. This. is more a piece of work from Uk’s top institutions. That guy from Yale? Try getting that published in a journal. The utter confusion and tenous link from Arab-israeli conflict to LKY to a jab at Yale-Nus is mind-boggling. Even excluding any bias, i can see no way the article would have made any sense whatsoever. Kudos for a powerful reply, more of that please!

  4. Well argued. Kudos for the coherent and salient points brought up, something I can’t say for Jim Sleeper’s article.

    PS: I love the dry wit. Terribly English. Splendid.

  5. Simply an awesome comeback. Couldn’t have said it better myself! Just when we thought a certain part of the world was beginning to see some light about the ills of cutural imperialism, wham! We are slapped with political imperialism, all in the name of pursuing the elusive liberal democracy, touted as the superior system of governance with little convincing evidence.

  6. Excellent post. I have long forsaken the attempt to even think about debating (tearing apart, really) Jim Sleeper’s posts because they are so flawed with inconsistencies and political bias. What really tingles me is that he could write so badly as an academic, at Yale no less.

  7. Nice article. The guy is delusional, and trying to score points by putting down Yale to score street cred. Too bad he doesn’t seem to think before writing.

  8. i agree with the first comment – you should really consider sending this to huff post, or at least, someone should post the link to this piece in response to Sleeper’s lunatic ramblings.

  9. Eloquent rebuttal.

    Sleeper seems to not realise that the oppression (of numerous countries and the U.S too) has come from Yale itself. Bush is an alumni.

  10. Pingback: SG is quite influential!!

    • I’m young, female, highly educated & plan to adopt a bunch of kids without ever getting married; I believe that women should be allowed to study/work/do whatever the fuck they want without any of that childbearing “national duty” bullshit; I don’t view Muslims as a fundamental threat to the very existence of our “social fabric.” LKY would be terribly proud of me.

      This was not a defence of my country’s politics or politicians. This was not a statement of my political views. This was an illustration of someone else’s misstatements about these things.

  11. Well written man, I hope this garners his attention.

    I also hope he posts a rebuttal on the huffpo. That’d get your article in the spotlight.

    • It’s not down for me, but I did find this interesting on his “Latest Work” page:

      Blame the New Israel-Arab Conflict on….Singapore?? HuffingtonPost, Nov.17, 2012. Well, yes, in a way you probably didn’t know about before now.

      Interesting that he’s been objecting to us misinterpreting the title of his post as a statement, rather than a question, when this seems to suggest he wants us to reach the same conclusion either way.

  12. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for writing this awesome piece in response to that biased-ridden piece from Yale. Not militarised, but I salute you!

    (And oh man, that comment about mosquitoes; giggle-worthy XD)

  13. NAF…
    I could not have said it better
    Reading the original post i wasn’t sure whether to lough or cry
    Apparently people don’t need much to get biased on an issue… especially those who tends not to bother on facts…

    P.s In Israel the Singapore – Israel army ties is nothing more than a very little unknown anecdote… In Israel Singapore is mainly mentioned as a raw model in eras such as education and Economy

    Tel-Aviv, Israel

    • Thank you for the non-S’porean perspective on this!

      I recognise that the military ties between S’pore & Israel are hushed up (for obvious reasons) and that’s why we hadn’t heard about them till now, but it’s still definitely bias, not investigative journalism/scholarship, that shines through in this article. Sleeper highlights an interesting thing that most of us hadn’t known about — then goes on to ruin it by attaching his personal vendetta to it.

      • It’s not really hushed up at all. An entire section in the late Dr. Goh Keng Swee’s biography is dedicated to how he invited the Israeli military to help us set up our own.

        … But well, I guess considering most Singaporeans didn’t even know who GKS was until he passed away…

  14. Thank you for writing this piece and for putting the issues into its proper context and not letting Sleeper get away with such irresponsible ‘scholarship’.

  15. Brilliant. This “Han Chinese”, whose paternal grandma was born in an ulu kampong in one of the Chu Kangs, choking on his briyani from Sleeper’s astounding ignorance and idiocy, salutes you. Keep warm over there!

    • Thank you for this, coincidentally I just wrote a second post linking to that article because I feel it deals with the issues in Sleeper’s article far, far more thoroughly & eloquently than I did.

  16. Wry sarcasm and eloquent rebuttal to an an outrageous article. You sir, as a student, made a clearer and more logical argument than a professor teaching at Fale, I mean Yale.

  17. To be fair, if HuffPost is like almost every other news outlet, the headline would have been written by a subeditor, not the article’s author.

  18. I hadn’t been aware of this guy’s ridiculous vendetta against Singapore. How the hell is this guy a professor at Yale? There’s a fair amount of idiotic Singapore-bashing over here, usually from ARE FREEDOMS types who constantly spout their shit about LIBERAL DEMOCRACY NUMBER ONE, but this takes the biscuit.

    On behalf of Americans, please accept my apologies. (n.b.– also, this is why Harvard kicks Yale’s ever-loving shit. :D)

    • Now now, just because you guys won on Saturday…
      I’ve definitely seen Singapore-bashing flyers on campus from a vocal miniority, but most people I’ve spoken to either don’t care or are curious to see what the results of the Yale-NUS experiment will be.

    • Its very obvious it isn’t Singapore Sleeper hates. He just feels this NUS is not good enough to be associated with Yale, something everyone else knows in their minds but Sleeper is the only one brash enough to express it.

      There is a distinction between the country and NUS and this distinction seems to be forgotten by the NUS students and alumni. The vision for Singapore was master crafted by a group of Singaporeans who all went overseas for their education.

  19. Pingback: OMIGOSH. Singapore is the reason for the deadly skirmishes in the Middle East!

  20. Pingback: Singapore to blame for … what? | Gee Pee Land

  21. Excellent article, maybe its time for Mr. Sleeper to visit Singapore and utilise those old folks homes in JB that the Health Minister was talking about a few years ago…

  22. Well said, and an interesting read indeed. However, I just feel that Singapore being surrounded by Islamic countries is not entirely correct, as Indonesia is not one, just being muslim dominated perhaps.



    • I’m sorry I overlooked this comment till now! I mostly agree with you — I think “Muslim-majority countries” would be more accurate, but it’s important to note that this is true of both Singapore and Israel: Syria, for example, is of the same status as Indonesia in being neither a purely secular nor an Islamic state.

  23. *slow clap* *slow clap* …*clap speed increasing*…*clap speed increasing* .. *crescendo*…omfg …*clap crescendo* {Cool Runnings styley}.

    Great rebuttal. Shows up what an unthinking, lazy plonker Jim Sleeper is. Anyone can fart out an unthinking hypotheses.

  24. SIM student still say until what Political Science, LSE. Tua kang la. Still want to rebutt a professor in Yale. Please go back think why you cannot enter NUS Political Science in the first place before writing stuff like that. You don’t even know the military policies of your own country, which is confidential, so obviously you don’t know so don’t try to rebutt aimlessly.

      • probably the “online – haters” of the Singaporean regime that cannot phantom a proper argument and constantly demand change without actual thinking about what the word actually means. oh wait.. this is why NFA couldn’t be bothered replying @SLTC GOH maybe this is a lingo more suitable for your intellect lawl~ #burn lmgtfy

    • @SLTC GOH

      The London School of Economics is one of the most exclusive universities in the world and is globally acknowledged to be amongst the top 3 universities in the United Kingdom, with some surveys even listing it above the University of Oxford. Placed in a Singaporean context, one would need an A level result of at least AAA to be even considered for a incredibly popular course such as Political Science. (of which 2012 surveys indicate ranks 3rd in the U.K.)

      At the risk of sounding narrow-minded and presumptive, rather unlike you, may I boldly suggest that one’s diction and syntax, and more importantly basic fact-checking skills, are of a permissible level before one makes a sweeping statement such as ‘Please go back think why you cannot enter NUS Political Science in the first place before writing stuff like that.’

      Such comments only serve to propagate Sleeper’s notion of an intellectually-challenged false-consciousness, and strait-jacketed mentality that pervades our nation.

      Yours Sincerely,
      A Singaporean Student who much admires the LSE

  25. Pingback: 50 reasons why Singapore is no Israel | New Nation

  26. Pingback: Young S’poreans strike back at Jim Sleeper | Singapore Daily News

  27. Pingback: Weekly Round Up: Week 47 (19 Nov – 23 Nov 2012) | The Singapore Daily

  28. Pingback: I Am Not Pandai or 聰明 or Smart | Class of A15 1975/76

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