Forum: Playwright's call to supporters at odds with past actions

Mr Alfian Sa'at is a known lobbyist for "freedom of expression" in the arts.
Mr Alfian Sa'at is a known lobbyist for "freedom of expression" in the arts.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Playwright Alfian Sa'at's call to his supporters to refrain from ad hominem attacks against Education Minister Ong Ye Kung for allegedly misrepresenting his loyalty to Singapore is refreshing (Minister's citing of Alfian Sa'at poem sparks storm, Oct 9).

This is especially so, coming from someone who mocked Mr Lee Kuan Yew and his legacy while many Singaporeans mourned the founding Prime Minister's passing four years ago (Playwright Alfian Sa'at questions LKY legacy, ST Online, March 27, 2015).

Could this be a sign of the growing maturity of a writer who also wrote Death Of A Tyrant, a 2007 poem which some see as a veiled attack against Mr Lee that sadly did not pan out as he had envisioned, or simply a smart tactical switch to play the victim and feed into the perception among his fans that Singapore is ruled by a Big Brother Bully?

Mr Alfian's claim that he is primarily a playwright and not an activist seems rather rich and expedient, considering the platform he had set up to tout dissent in this country as his initial response to an open call for course proposals by Yale-NUS College, before mocking its withdrawal with a satirical "pro-Establishment" alternative.

He is a known lobbyist for "freedom of expression" in the arts, yet appears to have no qualms banning those who disagree with his Facebook vitriol from commenting on them.

While I can understand why some Singaporeans have been quick to regard a "multi-faceted" talent like Mr Alfian as a loving critic of Singapore who writes without fear or favour, I also can't help but wonder about the kind of Singapore he is advocating for.

Perhaps some of Mr Alfian's pet causes, and the last few lines of his now widely publicised 1998 poem, Singapore You Are Not My Country, may give one a sense of where he is coming from for his beloved country, notwithstanding the fact that the piece was published by a then 21-year old: "Singapore you have a name on a map, but no maps to your name. This will not do; we must stand aside and let the Lion crash through a madness of cymbals back to that darkjungle heart when eyes were still embers waiting for a crownless Prince of Palembang."

Toh Cheng Seong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 12, 2019, with the headline 'Playwright's call to supporters at odds with past actions'. Print Edition | Subscribe