A new book, Our Thoughts Are Free: Poems and Prose on Imprisonment and Exile, was launched on Feb 28, 2009. I wasn’t able to attend the event as much as i would have loved to.
The book is published by Ethos Books. Its edited by Tan Jing Quee, Teo Soh Lung and Koh Kay Yew and contains writings of 7 ex-political detainees who were detained under the Internal Security Act which provides for detention without trial: James Puthucheary; Said Zahari; Ho Piao; Tan Jing Quee; Francis Khoo; Teo Soh Lung; and Wong Souk Yee. There are also short biographies of each of the ex-detainees.
I was told a day or two before the public launch that it was supposed to be held at Geylang East Community Library but was cancelled by the library and had to to held elsewhere. Not surprising since the library, as part of the National Library, is a government agency. Still, what the library did was downright pathetic. (Read also TOC’s report here. The Singapore Democrats’ article features a poem by Tan Jing Quee)
I spent some time typing out the synopsis and a bit of the Introduction from the book. I hope readers who see my post will be interested enough to get the book and also let others know about it too. I believe its available in bookstores such as Select Books and Kinokuniya.
Nietszche’s words, now a popular saying, asserts that “that which does not kill us makes us stronger”. What is seldom observed, however, is that the real threat often isn’t an external force but an internal one. The real danger, for example, from physical incarceration and enforced exile – as this collection Our Thoughts Are Free shows – is the mental and spiritual asphyxiation that isolation, loneliness and deprivation can cause. To survive these is the greater struggle and, as history has given us in countless examples, language as creative tool may be instrumental in saving us from ourselves.
This collection of poems and writings is such a record of survival; of those who knew by instinct to let words open doors and windows to connect with a world denied them, the outside, and the one within, the more imperiled. Highly articulate, their voices uphold the inviolability of the human inner life, and attest to the fruitful relationship between art and adversity.
It is said that adversity introduces a man to himself. This collection has the potential to do that: to surprise us with our own empathy, and to move and fortify us with the conviction of our essential freedom within circumstances few of us will experience at first end.
Lee Tzu Pheng
Political repression has been a feature of the political life in colonial and post-colonial Malaysia and Singapore. It is a fact not widely known or appreciated, even for those who are aware of this brutal reality.
From the beginning of the 20th century, the British had utilized three principal laws in dealing with political dissidents and activists. These were the Aliens’ Ordinance, Banishment Ordinance and the Societies Ordinance. However, it was after the end of the Second World War when there was a growing challenge to British authority that these repressions gained a new momentum.
This new phase of British repressions commenced with the introduction of the Emergency Regulations Ordinance in 1948, giving unprecedented powers to the police to detain and imprison political dissidents without trial. This set of laws was transformed in various guises, first into the Preservation of Public Security Ordinance by the Marshall government in Singapore in 1955, and subsequently permanently enshrined in the statute books by the post-independence governments in both territories as the Internal Security Act in 1960.
It was under these various laws that countless political dissidents and activists have been detained for indefinite periods, ranging for a few months to decades. There is no comprehensive record regarding the number of persons who have been detained over the years by both the colonial and post-independence governments.
The six poets and one writer represented in this collection were all victims of these laws, separately detained in different periods in the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s. Collectively, their poems form a unique record of their feelings and experiences arising from such political imprisonment without trial. Many readers may be surprised to learn that political imprisonment without trial has become a more or less permanent state of affairs in our political system.
The poems are written in the individual style of the various poets, and speak plainly, clearly, and sometimes defiantly, of the conditions under which they have suffered. They deserve to be read for that alone, if only to reveal a facet of Singapore life and society in the recent past, which has unfortunately laid the basis for the continuing climate of fear and apathy which has seized the general population.