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July 2nd, 2003 The Nose | The Nose
 

Singapore on the Potomac

     
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To prepare for Independence Day, the Nose curled up on his hammock this weekend and honored the spirit of America by reading a book about the recent history of the Republic of Singapore.

A little disclosure is in order (see cover story, page 18): The Nose was first drawn to Lee's Law because it was written by Chris Lydgate, who has been a reporter for this newspaper since 1993.

But by the time the Nose was done, it became clear that Lydgate's book is a perfect choice for July 4. After all, Independence Day is a time to exalt and glory in the liberties Americans enjoy. And Singapore may be the globe's best example of a democracy that withholds those liberties.

The book left the Nose grateful for the freedoms that others fought for--yet genuinely scared by the Bush administration's efforts to strip them away.

Lydgate's book is the tale of the remarkable reign of one Lee Kuan Yew, who, along with the ruling People's Action Party, has dominated Singapore for 50 years, creating an economic juggernaut with the same intensity as it has crushed dissent.

While most westerners are aware that Singapore canes scofflaws and bans chewing gum, these are but small expressions of a ruling power that operates in a far more frightening fashion. Consider Singapore's Internal Security Act. It gives the Singaporean government the right to detain--without a trial--anyone who is considered a threat to the nation's security. In but one example, Lydgate tells us of a physics professor who sat in jail for 22 years after he organized an anti-war protest. He was never charged with a crime.

Lydgate's book has a hero: J.B. Jeyaretnam, a Singaporean lawyer who has the audacious notion that democracies ought to be driven by the free marketplace of ideas, not by the overwhelming dominance of one political party. (The ruling People's Action Party occupies nearly every seat in Parliament.) Through a series of absurd but successful defamation suits brought by the government, Jeyaretnam is brought to his knees, but never humbled.

Lee's Law (available at Powell's Books) is a wonderful read, but what does it have to do with Bush?

Well, how different from the Internal Security Act is our own U.S.A. Patriot Act, which allows the feds to intrude upon our privacy and suspend the Constitution--and all checks and balances--if it suspects us of terrorist activity?

How far from the People's Action Party is our own Grand Old Party, whose leader, George W. Bush, plans to raise a record $170 million in campaign funds--just for next year's primary election--because his strategists see an opportunity to put the U.S. House, Senate and most state legislatures in GOP control for the next decade? And how much different are we from most Singaporeans? Are we too eager to sacrifice a few freedoms in exchange for comfort and security?

The Nose pondered all this as he drove to Blackjack fireworks in Vancouver to exercise a few of his own liberties. He also recalled Ben Franklin's reminder that "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither."

Happy Fourth!

 
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