My difficulty processing Lee Kuan Yew’s death

This post won’t be popular with some, for not praising him enough. It also won’t be popular with others, for not criticising him enough. But this is how I really feel, OK? Let me process this in my own way.


 

I am thoroughly conflicted about Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s death. I feel like I’ve lost a grandfather whom I’ve never met — one who was deeply flawed, and yet responsible for the shape of the family.

On the one hand, I know what a major figure he was in Singapore’s history. While doing research for an earlier post, I saw some of the risks he took as a young politician, resisting the establishment of the day. He assembled a breathtakingly capable team that shaped Singapore into what it is today. This group of politicians did this while drawing pay packets comparable to other politicians. They took unnecessary personal risks to guide Singapore to a better place, with remarkable success.

On the other hand, Lee Kuan Yew also had a major hand in destroying a number of his political opponents. I remember feeling an intense disgust for the man, when I started learning about how he destroyed former allies, and the numerous violations of human rights that occurred during his watch. These were unnecessarily draconian actions, with consequences that continue to reverberate to this day.

Over the past few days, I have at times felt like my social media feed has become a breeding ground for a pornography* of mourning — pictures and posts designed that arouse short bursts of intense grief, while not actually revisiting Lee Kuan Yew’s simultaneously flawed and brilliant life. Yet, I recognise that for some, this pornography of mourning is exactly what they need to get over their grief; this grief needs to be expressed and cannot be repressed. I know that for many Singaporeans, this grief is very real. Tears must be shed.

(*Pornography: the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction)

I’m not sure what an “appropriate” response to his death his, even now. To praise the man without also looking at his flaws seems utterly insensitive to the people that he crushed in his effort to create a better Singapore. To criticise the man without looking at his triumphs seems shortsighted and completely disrespectful.

Of two things I am sure, though.

Firstly, it is an indictment of our education system that so many of our young people don’t know why the adults are so worked up over one man’s death.
Secondly, it is a dangerous indication of our country’s future how so many people, in the pro-establishment and anti-establishment camps, retain so much vitriol for each other even in this time of mourning.

As a final remark, perhaps it is time to remind ourselves again of Singapore’s size, something that Lee Kuan Yew did on a regular basis. Instead of this evoking fear, let us remember our commonalities instead of our differences. Let us remember that we have all been touched by one man’s life. Let us remember that we are all stakeholders in this little red dot. Let us remember that, just like our former Prime Minister, all will eventually be touched by death. Finally, in honour of the man, let us remember that it is now up to us to continue to write the Singapore Story. May it be written in a manner befitting the memory of our forefathers.

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