Let us recall the tale of a drunkard, who, suffering from the ravages of the night before, flops down beside a priest on a bench outside the Roman Catholic cathedral.
Dishevelled, reeking of alcohol and with red lipstick on his collar, he tries to compose himself and begins reading a newspaper. After a moment, he turns to the priest and asks: “Father, what causes arthritis?”
The priest says: “My son, it’s caused by drinking too much, fornicating with loose women, abusing your body and showing contempt for society.”
The drunkard looks startled. “My God, that’s very bad news.”
Thinking perhaps he’s spoken too harshly, the priest adds: “I’m sorry if that upset you. Arthritis is very unpleasant. Have you had it long?”
“Oh, I don’t have it,” the man says. “But I was just reading here that the Pope does.”
The anecdote illustrates that when you condemn something, you better be sure you know the context and the background. Otherwise, you are liable to sound like a sanctimonious hypocrite, as the Singaporean academic and former diplomat, Kishore Mahbubani, did last week.
Writing in the Australian Financial Review, Kishore stated that, but for an accident of history, Australia would be full of Asians, not Westerners. A rather trite observation, but acceptable as an opening gambit, except that Kishore plunged into the merde by continuing: “This is how I began a paper for the Australian National University in August, which concluded that as Australia’s Western destiny was coming to an end, it had to start preparing for its Asian destiny.
“Sadly, no major Australian newspaper or pundit commented. This made me aware that Australia’s intelligentsia is still reluctant to face head on Australia’s painful new geopolitical realities.”
How typical of Kishore to be upset that no high-profile Aussie had bothered to react to what he’d said. Oh, the shame for the poor man, whose whole ethos as an enfant terrible is based on eliciting indignant outrage from his largely Western audiences. To be ignored, to huff and puff and only hear the sounds of silence. Oh, the horror, the horror.
Kishore should hardly be surprised, given the conceit he displays in chastising “Australia’s intelligentsia” en masse, simply because they ignored his wacky tocsin.
Like the smugly presumptuous priest above, however, Kishore forgot that Singapore is the Pope in the anecdote’s punchline.
For when he writes that as Western power recedes, Australia will be left “beached” alone as the solitary Western country in the Asia-Pacific, he neglects to mention that few countries are more Western than his own.
Singapore’s parliamentary system, judiciary, academia, social and linguistic and cultural parameters are all Western, mostly inherited from the British, but often supplemented by American and even Australian refinements. As they walk around a metropolis that looks more like Melbourne or Vancouver than any truly Asian city, Singaporeans dress, speak, think and behave like archetypal Westerners.
They take pride in it. And good luck to them, although that is why the neighbours mockingly refer to them as “ugly Singaporeans”.
The ugliness is redolent in the implication that Australia should cease complaining about the abuse of human rights and religious freedom and media repression in many nations to its north. It should ignore the murder of Chut Wutty, the oppression of Thich Quang Do, and instead emulate Kishore’s condemnation of the award of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to jailed writer Liu Xiaobo.
As for “new geopolitical realities”, Australia’s former PM Kevin Rudd aptly noted Singapore’s ever-growing military dependency on the West, notably the United States.
If that made his country a “beached” whale because it too maintains ties to the West, then, said Rudd, God knows what it makes little Singapore.