A peek at what goes on in a reservist “National Education” lecture.
By Alvin Phoon
Even the lao peng (old soldiers) are not spared from National Education efforts by the government. Picture from MR MIYAGI / Creative Commons
ALMOST A year ago, I wrote an article for The Online Citizen describing my experiences in a “National Education” lecture conducted during my very first reservist training. In it, I described in full detail the tactics of one Mr X, an ‘eloquent, intelligent and charming’ salesman on a government payroll.
His product? Belief. Belief in the ruling party. Belief in protecting our nation. Belief that the life this country… no, this corporation has crafted out for us is exactly what anyone would want.
A year on, Mr X has returned to more or less the same crowd, in a different room, and his topic for the day is religion and race.
Mr X makes his first move. He casually mentions how he used to visit Mersing, and drones on about how it was a tragedy that could’ve been avoided. He moves quickly this time, and hops onto the topic of COE prices. He speaks ill of the ruling party with all the sincerity of a professional poker player playing for the river, then jumps to their defence.
Then he slides his way into the issue of voting. He tells the bunch that the elections are coming, and they must vote. He insist they vote with their head and not with their heart.
“If the PAP has done well, then vote the PAP. If they haven’t, then vote the opposition.”
He goes on to slip in subtle messages on how well the ruling party has done so far, and continues to urge the crowd to vote with their heads. Then, it’s on to the special of the day.
Mr X declares his faith; he is a man of god. A not-so-devout follower of the myth of Christ, who tries his utmost best to uphold the word of his deity. It is around this time that I start to tune out.
“Men like Mr X are crucial to the government’s battle to stay afloat. Their words appeal to the working folks. People who, with all due respect, may not be able to see the big picture. People who fall short when it comes to completing the train of thought.”
Talks on religious and racial harmony don’t interest me, not because I’m not interested in harmony, but because it doesn’t work. Harmony is not harmony when it is enforced by the law. It is simply a rule to follow, a “do it or you’ll be spanked”. Harmony promoted as a law will never be attained, and it is a lesson that Mr X and the government has to learn.
He reveals that there are cracks in our harmony. Stating the obvious is beginning to look more and more like his strong suit. He cites the “little bride” couple as examples of good people who’ve fallen prey to the evangelistic nature of their religion. He maintains that every one of the 10 official religions in Singapore is good, and that we should all adopt a religion as it teaches us morality.
The argument is so teemed with stupidity, yet heads are nodding around the room. This gives Mr X more confidence. He launches into a story about him and his best friend, who is supposedly a Muslim, and how they sit at lunch and learn to be respectful to each other. It is almost as if Mr X’s homo-erotic tendencies are threatening the rip apart the seams that hold them back. He then delivers the final blow:
“If someone insults your religion, don’t throw a punch. Don’t cause trouble. Just walk away and make a police report.”
At that moment, I cannot help but feel like I’ve overestimated Mr X’s intellectual capacity. Either that, or he has grossly underestimated mine. Yet, the heads keep bobbing. The sedition act is good, he says. It keeps us safe. It brings us harmony.
The next bit, I cannot fault. Mr X’s voice thunders as he says these words:
“Religion and politics must NEVER mix.”
I join the gang of bobbleheads for a few seconds. He cites the “allah” issue as proof, though the evidence is thin and I wonder if he even bothered to do his research at all.
Mr X’s conclusion is a list of rules to follow, none of which I bother to listen to. The room applauds him, and I cannot tell if they genuinely believed his talk, or were just glad it was over. Mr X retains the same arrogance he previously exuded, only this time he was less prepared. His eloquence was retained, but his material lacked the same bite it did the first time round.
Still, Mr X delivered a sharp blow to the chin of the lingering doubts lurking in the minds of the men in the room. Men like Mr X are crucial to the government’s battle to stay afloat. Their words appeal to the working folks. People who, with all due respect, may not be able to see the big picture. People who fall short when it comes to completing the train of thought.
It is in these fields where the war is won or lost. The ruling party has infiltrated, and it’s not looking good.