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“We decide what is right. Never mind what the people think”: The iron grip of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew

To judge only by appearances, the outpouring of grief by a million-and-a half Singaporeans at the funeral of their country’s founder and longtime prime minister Lee Kuan Yew last week resembles that of Americans at the funeral of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945. But, it also mirrors North Koreans’ weeping with unfeigned grief in 2011 over their deceased “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-Il, about whom the less said the better, and of Russians’ in 1953 over the body of Joseph Stalin, who had repelled the Nazi invasion and built a superpower with a safety net but terrorized, imprisoned and murdered millions of innocent people in many countries, including his own.

So much for appearances. Lee Kuan Yew was quite a bit more like Stalin than like Roosevelt, but, since Singapore is a tiny city-state and world-capitalist entrepôt, he also resembled New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, under whom that world city, too, became cleaner, safer, more prosperous – and more sterile, unequal and unjust not only for many of its African-American and Latino-American citizens but also for the one-third of its residents who are poor immigrants and whose lives, like those of one-third of Singapore residents, are glimpsed by most of the rest of us only when we see them at work.

 Like Giuliani and Stalin, Lee was clever, disciplined, effective, prescient, racist, vicious, vindictive and a control freak. He cleaned the streets and waterways, selected the shade trees, imposed a somewhat robotic examination-driven meritocracy in education, and secured the comforts of investors, and tourists, and tiny Singapore’s 70,000 resident millionaires (in U.S. dollars) and 15 billionaires by importing more than 1.5 million virtually rights-less migrant workers to keep wages down and instill fear and cultural sterility in generations of Singaporeans:

I am often accused of interfering in the private lives of citizens. Yes, if I did not, had I not done that, we wouldn’t be here today. And I say without the slightest remorse, that we wouldn’t be here, we would not have made economic progress, if we had not intervened on very personal matters – who your neighbor is, how you live, the noise you make, how you spit, or what language you use. We decide what is right. Never mind what the people think. (The Straits Times, April 20, 1987)

Many ordinary people kissed his feet for that. Welcome to human history and to the downside of human nature. ...

Read entire article at Salon