From ‘A national flag is more than a piece of cloth’, 5 aug 2011, Voices, Today
(Sanjay Bhatia): I REFER to Mr Chan Hean Boon’s letter “Let’s fly the Singapore flag” (Aug 3). As a foreigner in this country, I am appalled that a Singaporean blatantly blames the influx of foreigners as a reason for the erosion of Singaporeans’ love for their country (“I believe the influx of foreigners over the past few years may have slowly eroded our affection for this country, and Singaporeans no longer have the passion to fly the flag”, 3 Aug, Voices, Today)
Hanging flags outside flats does not reflect a love for the country. A flag is more than just a piece of cloth, to be counted. It is to a nation what a name is to a man. I know of a lot of countries that even have rules on how to hoist the national flag and how to respect the flag. People fight and die for their national flags.
I would like to remind Mr Chan what the Singapore national flag represents: The Singapore National Flag consists of two equal horizontal sections, red above white. In the top left canton is a white crescent moon beside five white stars within a circle. Each feature has its own distinctive meaning and significance: Red symbolises universal brotherhood and equality of man; white signifies pervading and everlasting purity and virtue; the crescent moon represents a young nation on the ascendant; and the five stars stand for the nation’s ideals of democracy, peace, progress, justice and equality. Lastly, as a foreigner, I respect Singapore and applaud the Government for building such a great nation.
I have a number of Singaporean friends and colleagues and have never felt any hatred such as that shining through Mr Chan’s letter. It may do him good to take a step back and understand the meaning of the red colour in the flag that hangs outside his own home.
The state flag as we know it today is about 52 years young (Singapore chooses own flag and anthem, 9 Nov 1959, ST) and this foreigner is spot on with the symbolism, though most Singaporeans are unlikely to be able to rattle off what the five stars stand for. I used to think these were taken off the Pledge (..to build a democratic society based on justice and equality…so as to achieve happiness, prosperity, and progress for the nation), which explains why so many others can’t recall the fifth star (peace), or mix this up with ‘prosperity‘. He left out the part on ‘red’ symbolising the blood of all men, that no nation was built without first sacrificing her sons and daughters in the process. Nothing special about red really, most nations have it splayed all over their flags, and probably for the same violent reason. (On a side note, Bhutan has my vote for the coolest state flag ever)
This rather arrogant response is revenge against being accused of diluting the patriotism in this country, and no Singaporean would relish the thought of being educated on the meaning of the flag’s colours by a foreigner (more so if we don’t know the answer ourselves), though the complainant’s lecture on flag symbolism sounds like a 10 year series entrance exam model answer to qualify for citizenship. But is it really the foreigners’ fault? Were we more patriotic before the immigration influx or did we simply grow tired of the same shebang year in year out? Are our immigrants just a convenient scapegoat masking a more deep-seated apathy towards nationbuilding and what it represents?A poll conducted in 1989 revealed that Singaporeans are a hapless lot when it comes to state flag trivia, with some giving pathetic guesses like ‘five races: Chinese, Indian, Malay, Europeans and Caucasians’ to explain why there are 5 stars (Many do not know flag’s significance, 29 July 1989, ST). Back in 1972, state flags were already treated worse than kitchen floor rags (Surely a symbol of loyalty should be something like this? 19 May 1972, ST). So it’s not just about foreigners, and Chan Hean Boon’s veiled jingoism is perhaps an excuse for the fact that we just don’t care anymore.
Incidentally, having a flag outside your home doesn’t necessarily mean you adore the country. The one flying outside my corridor was set up mysteriously overnight, along with rest of the floors, neatly arranged in a straight line on the block. I figure it’s the complacency of having the government create this festive illusion for us instead of people getting together, making the effort to tie flags to poles, erecting and saluting them that is the cause of our woeful attitude. We, the citizens of Singapore, are more likely to have Halloween parties than National Day Parade theme parties, simply because Halloween is more fun.
Another reason could be the display of the flag being governed by rather antediluvian state laws which makes it rather tedious for anyone who wants to express their pride for the country in a creative way without running afoul of Paragraph 6 of the ‘National State Arms and Flag and National Anthem rules’, first drafted in 1960 in which it forbade the use of the state flag as a ‘print pattern or for other commercial purpose”. Which means you can’t wear a T shirt with the Singapore flag on it then (maybe you still can’t). 1969 Miss Tourism Rosalind Ong contravened the law by sporting the national flag design, and the restriction was exercised again as recently as 1986, almost landing Miss Singapore Universe in trouble too (See pic/link below, Not the way to keep flag flying, 5 June 1986, ST).
Pageants aside, any artist wanting to use the state flag as an inspiration and motif would also get his work banned outright, being in flagrant violation of the State Flag laws (Govt’s red flag up over art, 25 Jan 2003, Today). Just last year, another artpiece was slammed for showing utter disrespect to the source of its inspiration during the ‘Paint the Town Red and White‘ exhibition. And who could forget the image of our waterpolo boys in full on skimpy NDP mode burned in our retinas.
No wearing of Singapore flag on the head
In 2007, the regulations were updated to read as follows:
Use of Flag
…9.—(1) No person shall use or apply the Flag or any image thereof —
(a) for any commercial purpose; (b) as a means, or for the purpose, of any advertisement; or (c) as or as part of any furnishing, decoration, covering or receptacle, except in such circumstances as may be approved by the Minister, being circumstances wherein there is no disrespect for the Flag.
…(4) Subject to paragraph (5), no person shall use or apply the Flag or any image thereof as or as part of any costume or attire except in such circumstances as may be approved by the Minister, being circumstances wherein there is no disrespect for the Flag.
…(6) Subject to paragraph (7), no person shall produce or display any flag which bears any graphics or word superimposed on the design of the Flag.
(7) Paragraph (6) shall not apply to the production by or on behalf of, or the display by, any Government department of its flag.
(8) In this rule, ‘‘receptacle’’ includes a paper, plastic and refuse bag.
Meaning, if you don’t want to be $1o00 poorer, it’s better to play it safe and not display it at all, or hire someone to stand guard 24 hours a day by your flag just to make sure it doesn’t get flipped over or have any birdshit on it. You also can’t throw away a crumpled dirty flag into a ‘receptable’ even if it reeks worse than a soiled diaper without asking the Minister for permission. It’s also strange how locals get slammed for being creative, but nothing is done to apprehend Malaysian football fans for defacing it in what’s obviously in contravention of (6) above, unless of course, the law doesn’t apply to foreigners.
Bad spelling is a greater crime
The word ‘disrespect’ is also ambiguous; burning or using it wipe your buttocks after a dump is a clear fine straightaway, but what’s more dodgy are scenarios like wrapping a newborn infant in it, using it as a blanket or posting the flag on your blog with the words ‘I LOVE SINGAPORE’ photoshopped over it. With so many restrictions, it’s really not surprising that our willingness to express our national pride is..(get ready for it)..flagging.
Happy National Day, Singapore.
Filed under: 1950s, 1970s, 1980s, 2000s, 2010, 2011, Art, Beauty pageants, Festivals, Foreign workers, Justice system/Lawsuits, Ms Singapore Universe, Public holidays | Tagged: Art, flag, Foreign workers, justice system, Ms Singapore Universe, National Day, Singapore flag | 1 Comment »