Sunday, August 14, 2011

Tribute to Tan Jing Quee by Francis Khoo

I found this tribute in Teo Soh Lung's Facebook [Link]. Tan Jing Quee was a socialist who was arrested and detain without trial in the 1960s and 70s.  Francis Khoo's wife, Dr. Ang Swee Chai, a prominent surgeon in 70s was arrested and interrogated. According to her, they tried to coerce her to sign false accusations against her husband[Link].

I own a collection of the Fajar which was the organ of the USC (University Socialist Club). The ideas and thoughts of the young men and women who were members of the USC, cuts through the decades to speak to another generation of Singaporeans who are now struggling to find answers to problems we face today. Their idealistic pursuit for social justice, equality and freedom did not die under a repressive govt - the high social inequality, rising poverty and moral bankruptcy make their ideas more relevant today than they have ever been.
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Tan Jing Quee a tribute by Francis Khoo

by Teo Soh Lung on Wednesday, June 22, 2011 at 9:49am

Jing Quee was one of the nicest, most generous persons I have ever known.  His self- deprecatory sense of humour – he was always laughing at his own foibles – was devoid of vanity and was just typical of that generation who committed their lives to building a just and equal society.  I found this trait not confined to our people in Malaysia and Singapore.  South African and Palestinian friends engaged in the struggle for liberation had the same child-like approach to life and, like Jing Quee, never betrayed bitterness.

Jing Quee was my senior at University by several years, but despite my very active involvement in student politics in the late sixties, I had not heard of him.  I was not in Jing Quee’s Socialist Club and was a naive liberal believing in the rule of law but lacking any in-depth understanding of why there was inequality and injustice in society. It was only in 1972, when I had just begun law practise, that I first met Jing Quee and A Mahadeva.  We were on the editorial board of the graduate monthly magazine, “Commentary”.  Something about the two of them drew me to them instantly.  In the course of the months ahead, I viewed them as my mentors in understanding how the world worked.  It was only much later that I learnt they had been involved in our movement for independence.  I am forever grateful I met them then.  Maha died a few years ago; with Jing Quee now gone, our loss is inconsolable.

There is a dwindling band of friends who still perform the vital role he played.  Jing Quee was the ‘bridge’ in three vital ways.  Because the history of our people has only been written by the ‘other side’, the lapse of time and the separation of geography and community meant that our peoples’ story would soon be erased from our collective memory.  He sought to redress that.

He was firstly, the ‘bridge’ between the generations.  I was a beneficiary of that.  It was mainly through him that I had the privilege of meeting many of the patriots in the independence struggle.  He also sought out the younger generation to learn from them and to share his experiences with them.  His efforts meant that our idealistic youth could now have an alternative view of our history.

He was, secondly, the ‘bridge’ between the territories.  I was also a beneficiary of that.  Jing Quee consciously kept alive the links between the people on both sides of the Causeway.  He believed in the unity of the Malayan people and that Singapore was an integral part of that people. 

He was, thirdly, the ‘bridge’ between the communities.  I was also a beneficiary of that.
He was committed to a non-racial society with Malay as the national language.  He was fluent in English, Mandarin and Malay and kept close links with the three societies throughout his life. 

A fitting tribute to his life’s work would be the ‘People’s History’ project in KL.  Jing Quee was one of its architects and would serve as a repository of the collective works and memory of our people’s struggle for justice and liberation. 

Throughout our thirty-four years in exile, Swee Chai, my wife, and I  kept in close touch with Jing Quee and his wife, Rose, and his friends. 

There was one episode that particularly touched me.  I visited Malaysia some years back and he knew my health was failing me.  With Rose, he met me in Johore Bahru and brought me on a week-long odessey swing around the peninsular, starting eastwards through Kuantan in Pahang.  We spent time in the east coast states of Trengganu and Kelantan, crossed the east-west highway, spent a night in the national park,  met some orang asli and saw my first Rafflesia flower in the rain forest.  We entered Perak and then finally to Kuala Lumpur.  It was an experience I will never forget and it had been years since I had the chance to travel in that fashion.

I last saw him at the 2009 KL launch of ‘Our thoughts are Free’, a collection of poems of our political prisoners over five decades.  Jing Quee edited the poems, along with Teo Soh Lung and Koh Kay Yew,  both former political prisoners as well.   I had several of my poems and songs in it.

In one of them, I raised the question: 

what is a rebel, what is a revolutionary?

“ a rebel hates, a revolutionary loves
   a rebel hates injustice, a revolutionary loves justice

   a rebel attacks the singer and is deaf to the song
   a revolutionary retrains the singer and rewrites the song

   a rebel sees red, all vision blinkered by the burning grass
   a revolutionary see the wondrous colours that is the rainbow

   a rebel asks ‘why’, a revolutionary, ‘why not’?
   a rebel sees the impossibility of today, a revolutionary the possibility of tomorrow

  tomorrow shall come when the rebel matures into a revolutionary”

Tan Jing Quee was a socialist student leader, ran under the socialist party ticket in the 1963 general election and nearly defeated a government stalwart, was arrested for three years that year and then again in 1977 under the draconian detention without trial law.
Was he then, a rebel?  In my thinking, he was much more than that – he was a true revolutionary, a great human being, friend, husband and father.

Francis Khoo *
June 2011

*Francis Khoo, Lawyer, now lives in London. He was wanted by the ISD in 1977 and escaped to London when his friends, G Raman, Tan Jing Quee, R Joethy, A Mahadeva, Ong Bock Chuan and many others were arrested and imprisoned by the ISD. His wife, Dr Ang Swee Chai who did not expect arrest and who did not leave with him was  subsequently arrested and imprisoned in 1977.  After her release, she joined him in London.

Dr Ang is a prominent surgeon.  She volunteered her expertise in Gaza and witnessed the massacre in Sabra and Shatilla. She wrote about the massacre in her book From Beirut to Jerusalem.  Francis and Swee Chai are exiles from Singapore. We have lost two loyal and talented Singaporeans because of the misuse of the Internal Security Act by the PAP government.
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13 comments:

Anonymous said...

But since the 1990s, other than the JI terrorist group, was there any other ISA detentions?

Because I haven't read about any in the media.

Anonymous said...

Being too idealistic has its own set of problems. for a country that does not have much resources, we just have to be realistic. Rich countries liks US, UK and Europe are now suffering from being too idealistic in their policies. Have to be realistic. Love makes no sense if stomach always hungry.

mzabisa said...

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runroad said...

Being too idealistic has its own set of problems. for a country that does not have much resources, we just have to be realistic.

Here we go again, the propaganda myth of poor old Sniggerpore without any resources, back to the wall, bravely struggling to punch above its own weight. And accompanying it is the usual unspoken message: don't try and rise above your allotted position in the hierarchy, Singaporean digit, you are not worthy.

Unfortunately the reality is that Singapore's strategic geo-political position alone, straddling a choke point between oceans, is priceless. Its deep water sheltered harbour is unsurpassed. It has a hard-working, resilient population who would soar to even greater heights were it not for their oppressive leaders bent on crushing any foolish idealism about freedom and the right to choose their government without impediment. Yes indeed, too much idealism is bad for the health of authoritarian social engineers.

'...misuse of the Internal Security Act by the PAP government' is being far too polite, Lucky Tan. I would have said 'abuse', myself. Singapore's finest children like the Khoos have been driven out by the dark malice that took control 50 years ago but it will pass and judging by recent photos, sooner rather than later.

Micky Lowe said...

People forget that Singapore, relatively speaking, was reasonably prosperous as a multi party democracy in the 1950's. We were part of the straits settlements and enjoyed a degree of colonial security which overcame the communist insurgency. There was a sound judiciary, a functioning civil service, a legislative assembly and the other functioning organs of a state.

The notion that Spore was poor and decrepit before the arrival of the current ruling party is a total distortion of our history. The idea of Spore as being vulnerable and small has been used to promote policies antithetical to the people's right to lobby for policies which serve the national interest.

History has been rewritten to inflate the ruling party's contribution to Spore's growth as a nation since the 60's.

veritas said...

Re
" Rich countries liks US, UK and Europe are now suffering from being too idealistic in their policies."

They suffered because of greed and the elite who create financial engineering and blown ups.

Then the rich blame welfare for causing troubles. In fact it is well known that central bankers deliberately impoverish a certain segment of population so that wages remain low.

veritas said...

Re
" Rich countries liks US, UK and Europe are now suffering from being too idealistic in their policies."

They suffered because of greed and the elite who create financial engineering and blown ups.

Then the rich blame welfare for causing troubles. In fact it is well known that central bankers deliberately impoverish a certain segment of population so that wages remain low.

Anonymous said...

The current problems faced by USA has been the extreme extreme Right policies adopted by George Bush junior,Guess who is closer to George Bush Junior's thinking in Red Dot Singapore?check yr papers,please!

It is the time for Papies who chants ceaselessly that "for a country that does not have much resources,"It is time to wake up!

It's no longer funny. It's serious now. said...

Hey Veritas,

In our lifetime, we would see the collapse of capitalism.

The only way forward will have to be energy renewables. However, I don't any government in this world are ready to change. So, expect the greed, hypocrisy, wayang, incessant talk of competition (instead of cooperation as a world citizen, as in we're all earthlings living in one motherearth regardless of you know what), injustice and oppresion of the rich against the poor, the keeping of Thailand and the IMF and World Banks milking and keep the third world perpetually poor so that first world men like the americans and europeans could go to Thailand and fuck as many quality pussies, and many more.

It is not in the interest of the first world to help the third but rather it is in their sore interest to keep the third world poor so that modern day economic slavery could go on. Hell yeah! Who do you think is cleaning the toilets of the rich Amricans? Latinos from mexicos! Who is cleaning your shit? Fillipinas and China man? Can you see what's going on?

There is an agenda to make sure the status quo remain the same. Otherwise, the filthy rich including our own government who commands the world's highest policitical salaries in planet Earth, to have their whim and fancy. How do you think they could forgo a french cuisine class in France for a weekend?

Singapore is on the same timeline. THe government has screwed things up and again. Fucking Singaporeans are only beginning to speak up now. Fucking morons. It is suppose to happen 10 years ago but the government has so badly lost touch with the ground. Just look at his speech last night. It seems to me PM Lee cut and paste last year's speech. 5 more stressful years more with this government. You can sure expect that. That's a premium. It's amazes me how Gerard Ee took a month to icnrease the mrt and buses fares but we are still waiting out on his review of the ministers' salaries. Amazing eh? If that's not double standards, pray tell me what is?

The problem with PAP is this:

LKY should never hand power to his son. This is a bad system as Singaporeans can't accept this.

The government did not plan the last ten years and we're paying it. A clear example that the government did not plan is the very existence of the 2 casinos as a supposed viable economic plan for the next generation of Singaporeans. PAP wants your children to be casino dealers. We should vote Tan Jee Say as he was against the casino from the start and offered a viable economic plan. But as is the case in this country, those who are honest are not given a fair hearing. Let alone a chance.

Although the last election finally broke the Singaporean complex of not speaking out, more can still be done in terms having more Singaporeans, public and civil servants speaking out now for Singapore before the situation reachers a point of no return. Policies affect people's lives. Had the young Singaporean couples spoke out earlier about PAP commercialising the HDB flats, they won't be outpriced and having to wait 4-5 years for a flat? They derserve the bad hdb system because they keep their mouth shuut for too long while the government goes in to make money from the hdb flat without telling you the cost price of your pigeon hole.

Many of your children will not be able to buy flats because when they go to buy a resale flat as they can't wait for the fucking 4-5 years of ingenious waiting time by the BTO flats, they will view a resale flat with a china man couple, an india man couple, a fillipina man couple and your child a Singaporean couple will all compete in the same hdb flat unit and mind you this is public housing!!!!!

It's already happening. Your housing agent is a malaysian PR and he's making money out of you young SIngaporean couple. What in God's name has the Singaporean been doing? Listening to the government?

Listen some lah.

Anonymous said...

everywhere, gov is screwing up their people. any great leaders also screwed up some great people. equality and justice is relative not absolute.

Anonymus said...

Damn you socialists! I've nothing but utmost contempt for you people and the PAP in equal measure. We have only one relation to each other: utility.

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