Why Singapore isn’t an accidental nation : Need to relook not overlook independence in weaving our national narrative

Credit: Straits Times 

AS A NATION, our yearning for a national narrative has deeply intensified; yet it still appears elusive. A national narrative is anchored by past events. Through the different critical moments to which a community responds, its collective values are reflected. These events are strung together, made sense of and then articulated as the coherent narrative defining it.

While defining moments suitable to hold the narrative together can come from a variety of sources, a nation’s quest for independence often offers the best fodder for a compelling national narrative to be crafted. There are few moments in a nation’s history which are as potent as the fight for independence in requiring the nation to unitedly express a sense of collective self to separate itself qualitatively from the “other”.

The US’s independence from the “Old World” and the documents penned then by America’s founding fathers- such as the declaration of independence and bill of rights- have fired the imagination of Americans across the generations. In the crucible of an absorbing and bitter civil war, President Lincoln inspired by the nation’s founding, cast the divisive conflict as a larger question of whether the American ideal of “government of the people, by the people, for the people” will endure. The founding ideals of America such as its faith in democracy and equality still continue to be effective in drawing Americans together.

In stark contrast, our independence seems less effective in anchoring our national narrative. There are many possible explanations for this. While most nations fought to be sovereign, we didn’t. It is often regarded that independence was unexpectedly thrusted upon us by Malaysia. Putatively neither did we possess a unique identity to preserve or common cause to pursue. Also, given our small size and lack of natural resources, complete self-determination appeared as both an unnecessary and unfeasible pursuit . This has lead many to believe that Singapore’s eventual independence was an “accident”.

But if one were to dig deeper into the events preceding August 9th 1965, these commonly held beliefs get challenged: One would realize that our peaceful, unexpected independence belies the fact that it’s Singapore active insistence on values such as equality and multi-racialism alongside demand for a higher degree of self-determination which precipitated its secession from Malaysia.


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