Friday, November 27, 2009

Post-war Iraq and its broken minds

This is an extract from a book on America in Iraq - "The Assassins' Gates" by George Packer.

I like that the author talks about the psychological devastation left behind by the war. Post-war reconstruction is not just about building institutions, the economy and infrastructure. It the software is malfunctioning - if the minds of the people are still broken - then the hardware will inevitably fail.


The line between justifiable paranoia and outright delusion wasn't easy to draw in Iraq. Dr. Butti - the chief psychiatrist at a hospital in Baghdad - himself was having trouble making up his mind about the Americans. In the turbulent weeks following the fall of the regime he didn't know which way to turn, fearing for his own safety and distrusting equally Iraq's new political groups and the American's ability to create a decent society.

The looting had been a terrible blow to their natural allies in the middle class. Now, people like him were hesitant to stick their necks out. "Is it that we are paralyzed," he asked, "or that the American administration is paralyzing the situation so they can come up with their own ideas?"


With a few old classmates from Baghdad's Jesuit high school, Dr. Butti was setting up an NGO called the Baghdad Rehabilitation and Development Group. One of its proposals was the construction of the Gilgamesh Centre for Creative Thinking. In the prospectus, Dr. Butti wrote with perhaps a bit of self-criticism:

A great number of Iraqi people are suffering a great deal because of the severed communication with the civilized world, they suffer from lacking the ability to communicate with the others, they have lost the hope in the future, they suspect anything foreign, they are not sufficient in their professional performance, they don't feel enough responsibility towards the society, they don't feel enough responsibility towards the society, they lack the power to experience freedom, they don't comprehend the correct performance of democracy, they cannot deal with group working...etc. Rebuilding what the war has destroyed is a simple effort if compared with the task of rebuilding the distorted human person.


Come to think of's funny how Singapore suffers some of the same symptoms:

they don't feel enough responsibility towards the society, they lack the power to experience freedom, they don't comprehend the correct performance of democracy, they cannot deal with group working

Hahaha! Maybe we need to fix our minds too...

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The root of Singapore's intellectual vacuum

I'm currently reading a book titled "The Assassin's Gate" by George Packer, about the politics of the Iraq war and I realised something about Singapore.

We have no interesting people here. Parker talks of how he met an Iraqi intellectual in exile in the US, who envisioned a new democratic Iraq, and how he was highly educated, extremely intelligent and an idealist.

And I realised, we will never meet characters like that in Singapore, which makes life here so devoid of ideals, and overwhelmed by pragmatism. Pragmatic economic survival is all we know because we have never met people who are victims of ideological struggles.

"Ideology" to us is fluff, "Human Rights" is a dirty word and "Democracy" is a sham.

"We are nothing without economic prosperity" - the government never fails to remind us. And over time, if the only people we are exposed to are bankers, financiers and businessmen (and ok...institutionalised artists), we will come to fully and utterly internalise this myth.

Economic prosperity is a drug. Look at us Singaporeans. We have had economic prosperity for decades. Are we happy? No. Are we better people? No. What are we? We are bored and unfulfilled, constantly plagued by the insatiable desire to have more, buy more, own more and spend more.

I remember when I was living in India, South Africa and Europe, I felt like ideas were real and I could live with less. I met with people who were children of refugees and political exiles from Iran, Palestine, parts of Africa etc. To these people, ideology was the stuff of life. It was what they lived for and what they lived by.

What do we as Singaporeans live for? Do we even know what we live by?

Call this a whim of the young middle class generation. I think its far more than that. Our parents lived through different times. They suffered poverty first and now prosperity. We started out with prosperty but suffer a poverty of mind. Do we not have a right to change that?