[About this blog] Inspired by local soccer player Mike Lim during my rookie reporter days at Singapore Polytechnic, I set up this blog in August 2002. I feel that blogging is a novel platform to document interesting facets of my life and my thoughts on certain issues. [Email blogger] ephraim@singnet.com.sg

Saturday, August 01, 2009

[The DNA Coding That Makes Us Singaporean]
It is time again to take the flags out from the storeroom. On TV and radio, we hear familiar strains of national songs. Soon it will be National Day again. With each year, the memories accumulate. There is little which is completely new or exciting. Instead there is the reassurance of what is familiar, of ritual and tradition. As with other young Singaporeans, my children grew up cele! brating NDP as part of the annual cycle of events.

Life is about memories. One day scientists may be able to produce human clones. But a clone is a different invididual because it has different memories. Some memories are shared. That's what creates a community. The greater the memories shared, the more cohesive that community becomes. That, however, makes it harder for members of such a community to bond with members from other communities.

Communities defend their collective memories tenaciously. Attempts to erase them are met with the fiercest resistance. Put another way, communities which readily forget quickly disappear.

Singapore is composed of ancient communities which were brought together by historical accident. If Raffles did not have to return Java back to the Dutch in 1815, he would not have founded this island as a trading post for the British East India Company. Singapore would have remained one of many unremarkable islands in this archipelago. It was the opportunities created by free trade, law and order which attracted our ancestors here. Economics alone, however, are not enough to forge a sense of nationhood. The first stirrings of nationalism were not about Singapore but about revolution and independence in ancestral lands far away. The Second World War, the hard years of Japanese occupation and the dismantling of empires quickened the historical process. And an intense debate about the nature of Singapore's nationalism had first to take place. Independence through merger with Malaysia was a dead end from which we had to reverse. Yet the idea that an independent city-state without its traditional hinterlands could survive, let alone prosper, seemed improbable.

After 44 years, we have much to be grateful for, much to celebrate. Our collective memory of struggling to become a nation has become a part of us. Because we understand instinctively the potential divisiveness of race and religion, we have to be intolerant of intolerance. This acceptance of diversity is what makes Singapore what it is today. It has become a part of our collective DNA. It is the coding which Singaporeans of different races and religions share in common, and which unites us as National Servicemen. It is the same coding which enables us to flourish as a cosmopolitan city with cultural links to different parts of the world.

Paradoxically, it is our differences which unite us. But only provided we have this bit of DNA which is expressed in the flag we wave together on National Day.

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