On Sleeper (& Sleeping): The Morning After

I never quite understood why people whose blogposts got picked up in the whirlwind of the internet almost always went straight to writing a second one relating to the first, but now I do. Because when you wake up on a Monday morning, stumble out of bed late for your first class again, and you notice that your phone has gone crazy with alerts overnight: the first thing you do is freak the fuck out about anything you’ve written ever.

Clearly the lesson to be learnt here is that exciting things happen when I’m in bed.


Anyway. Thank you for reading, and sharing, and doing that thing you guys do on the Book of Face. Thank you also, somewhat, for agreeing — I did not set out to represent anyone other than myself, but I am glad that, at the very least, I do not appear to be misrepresenting the bulk of you. It’s very personally validating, I’ll say.

There are still important qualifications to make though. So maybe hang in there for a bit more?

I am not defending LKY or anyone else. I do not deny that Singapore is racialised or militarised.

There is an excellent, excellent rebuttal by Koh Choon Hwee at The Political Tadpole that deals more explicitly with the half-truths in Sleeper’s article and touches on our own problems with racism & xenophobia. On a more general level this commentary by Wong Pei Chi, Farhan M Idris, Desiree Lim & Nadzirah Samsudin for TODAYonline is a wonderful look into our specific breed of discrimination: our “tolerance” falling short of acceptance.

The problem that I did intend to highlight, first of all, was Sleeper’s sloppy “scholarship.” (By the way, this wasn’t a partisan school thing: I know I mentioned that I’m at the LSE in the original post, but that was really just to parallel the structure of Sleeper’s title. A surprising number of responses I got were along the lines of “YaLe SuX!!1!” & I have to say, quite simply, that while it amuses me, your school rivalries have little relevance in my life.) This comic in White-chans’ Diary (thanks, @cloudywind!) rather aptly sums up the gist of Sleeper’s “argument.”

Secondly and more importantly, I wanted to point out that Sleeper’s comparisons between Israel & Singapore — particularly in the context of a real actual conflict in which real actual people are dying — were misleading and very, very deeply flawed. Of course I don’t believe that he honestly thinks Singapore’s to blame for the conflict, that was probably more journalistic spin than anything else. But to suggest that the racism (or xenophobia) & militarism in Singapore is anywhere near the same scale as that in the Arab-Israeli conflict: that was unfair, baseless, and most of all, it was irresponsible. It was insulting to everyone involved and distracted from a very distressing issue.

Again: this is a real actual conflict in which real actual people are dying. Bringing your personal grudge against a country (that was tangentially related to the issue) into it was a very, very petty thing to do.

[Edit: I probably misinterpreted what the commenter said here, assuming “Iron Dome” to refer to Sleeper’s “iron cages” rather than the Israeli weapon. My original point still stands though — just maybe not this example.]

Most of all, independent of this particular article/issue/whatever, I wrote that first blogpost — and it is a personal blogpost, not an article! — because I am very, very tired of condescending neocolonialist sentiment masquerading as progressive, liberal discourse. I am tired of being described as living in a “dictatorship,” I am tired of being talked about like an anomaly to be dealt with. I am tired of HuffPo contributors deciding for me what my problems are.

I am tired of my identity and experience being erased for the sake of your elitist ideologues.

I’d like to call attention to the fact that the vast majority of you reading this are here because you already agree with what I have to say. And that’s okay, sometimes it’s hard to find that in real life and that’s what the internet is for.

But the real problem here isn’t Jim Sleeper or his article. It’s that people always forget, when they’re on their soapboxes preaching about democracy or liberal education or whatever else, that they’re talking about people. I am one of those people, and so are you — and I’m glad we had the chance to have this discussion, and I hope there will be many more to come. I hope that this doesn’t just become another impassioned, blind defence of our country against the White Man based on nationalistic sentiment and instead becomes a point from which we can open up further debates on discrimination, militarism, education, and whatever else that we feel we need to talk about. Because if we don’t, someone else is always going to do the talking for us.

And with that, I’m getting off my soapbox and going back to being a person now.

14 thoughts on “On Sleeper (& Sleeping): The Morning After

  1. I don’t think that’s the iron dome that was being referred to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_Dome

    Singapore is either supposed to have helped in the creation of this system or expressed interest in buying it. (By no means suggesting that this weak association with Israel makes them culpable of anything ofcourse, just an interpretation of what “Two words – Iron Dome” could have been implying).

    • Yeah, he might be trying to draw a link between our interest in the Iron Dome technology and the fact that it’s been used to protect Israel from HAMAS-launched rockets.

      • I noticed that too.
        Also :”I am very, very tired of condescending neocolonialist sentiment masquerading as progressive, liberal discourse. I am tired of being described as living in a “dictatorship,”

    • Thank you for this! I wasn’t completely clear about the original commenter’s intent, so I assumed he was referring to the “iron cages” Sleeper mentions in his article.

      That being said, I still can’t say I really get his point — I’ve only skimmed the surface of this Iron Dome business, but it seems to be only a tiny tiny part of the whole conflict (and a pretty shitty weapon?) and S’pore is just one of multiple countries that appear to be linked to it. And of course the US is #1 on that list.

      I’m gonna err on the side of caution here and edit my post to reflect this information anyway.

      • My interpretation of his comment is that he viewed your article like how the Iron Dome works, shooting down missiles- or in this case Sleeper’s article.

        I personally think you did a great job and shot his article out of the sky there with your response, so I’m inclined to think this way.

        Hope that’s a good alternative viewpoint, or it might just be my overactive imagination.

  2. Pingback: Daily SG: 20 Nov 2012 | The Singapore Daily

  3. Sleeper forgot that he is not writing for Yale students but for the general public.
    The possible subtext was that according to the Jerusalem Post, (http://www.jpost.com/Defense/Article.aspx?id=271649) our tax dollars (GST, COE etc) funded Iron Dome. This was an anti-missile shield program similar to Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” program which has been called one of the greatest scams in history designed to enrich defence contractors while protecting no one. The Iron Dome program was apparently sold by those who were involved as a perfect defense weapon that would make Israel invulnerable to rocket attacks, a bit like an invisibility cloak. The line of argument goes that this led the IOF into complacency thinking that they could attack Gaza at will without fearing retaliatory rockets which would fall out of the sky thanks to the Iron Dome funded by our GST, ERP, COE etc. The facts on the ground with rockets hitting Tel Aviv and Jerusalem proved the marketing guys wrong…I may be completely wrong but the Jerusalem Post article was not challenged by our MINDEF or MOF. From a purely selfish Singaporean perspective, I am glad that Iron Dome proved a failure in the middle east before we spent any more of our hard earned money on it….

    • This Iron Dome business is not something I’m willing to pursue any further, because it was never my intention to really go into the ridiculously complex dynamics of the Arab-Israeli(-Singapore) issue, but I’d just like to say that I am truly sorry for misinterpreting your original comment.

  4. I quite agree with your conclusion there, that at the end of it we ARE talking about people and people’s lives and not some hypothetical democracy in a hypothetical state. Indeed, this was the ideology adopted by LKY while he was in charge and served us well. This is probably why most of the “Han” Chinese living in Singapore still respect him. LKY did not waste time conforming to ideological niceties promulgated by white men of the west, but instead chose improve the lives of the people, a pressing need in the founding years of the Country.

  5. Hi there:

    To be honest, I have heard of the Singapore analogy to Israel. There are some mistakes being made in Sleeper’s article with regard to tuition fees which I believe he has/or already acknowledged, but it seems even the politicaltadpole article takes issue to the part about subjugating minorities. I don’t think that analogy should be taken quite literally, Choon Hwee used the term “ghettorising”. Of course, we never ‘ghettorised’ the ethnic minority but have you considered how these groups have performed in terms of household expenses, educational attainments, etc?

    I believe neither Choon Hwee nor the other like-minded commentators at politicaltadpole really grasp the context of Sleeper’s article.

    I reckon Sleeper’s analogy about subjugating the minority is a fair point and again, it depends on which position this statement is made, but when I read Sleeper’s analogy, “subjugating” can be taken to mean institutional racism in the Singapore context, e.g. the lack of malays in classified units of the SAF, and one malay pilot, none in the navy and armour units. This write-up touches on the example of institutional racism in the SAF for instance.


    I doubt Sleeper is stupid enough to equate Singapore to Israel literally.

    Anyway, the Jews also went back into Israel in waves. The Germanic jews in earlier years, and the Russian jews in later years, and interestingly, the latter also suffer discrimination, but that in itself is a discussion for another time.

    And BTW, there is a parallel on institutional racism in Israel vis-a-vis the plight of malays in Singapore armed forces. A gifted civilian pilot of Arab origin applied into Israel’s Air Force academy. He is denied the opportunity despite being highly qualified.


    ANyway, the military collaboration between Singapore and Israel makes for an interesting read.

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