Keep calm and know your history

Seen in any context, proclaiming Malaysia's Merdeka Day on Aug 31 as Singapore's unofficial independence day as well is absurd, because Singapore did not exist as a sovereign entity on that day in 1963, but as part of Malaysia.

Hence we celebrated independence from British colonialism on Aug 31 for two years as Malaysians, and not as Singaporeans.

Perhaps such clear lines between national identities, the past and the present, and the freedom to inform and misinform, can be hazy for those with shifting allegiances.

But it should not be so for level-headed Singaporeans who can comprehend basic facts, including the very obvious one that our nation came into being as an independent city-state - from Malaysia - only on Aug 9, 1965, with all the sovereign rights of statehood which guarantee a little red dot its seat at the United Nations.

Such international rights are not conferred on Malaysian states like Johor and Sarawak by the way, unless they also choose to leave the Federation one day, as certain quarters have alluded to in recent years.

Whatever these differences may be, none of Malaysia's neighbours would view it as their place to arbitrate over an internal matter without an invitation by all concerned parties, as this would go against Asean's principle of non-intervention in the domestic affairs of fellow member states.

Clearly an understanding of this basic etiquette seems lost on historian Thum Ping Tjin when he called on Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad to be the champion of democracy, human rights, freedom of expression and freedom of information across South-east Asia - a cause that has also seen him and some of his colleagues avail themselves to collaboration with other foreign entities to dabble in local issues here via the media.

If Dr Thum really cares for Singapore as his colleague has claimed, he certainly has a strange way of showing it.

Malaysian activists who wonder aloud presumptuously whether the dawn of "democracy" in their country will rub off in the same way for Singapore, should focus their energies on helping their government succeed in getting their own house in order first and foremost.

Singapore does not need any foreigners, including our close neighbours, to show us how to run a tight ship, especially when we continue to do relatively well for ourselves on the global stage.

Above all, Singaporeans should stay calm and not overreact to the stunts of some circus act.

Toh Cheng Seong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 04, 2018, with the headline 'Keep calm and know your history'. Print Edition | Subscribe