two motives for graffittizing singapore

Fri, 22 Apr 1994 20:17:42 EDT

Fay case. This is to create a slight itch in others, under threat of writing
other, longer (you know what that means) posts if this is not picked up on.
My interest here is the two most common motives for visitors of whatever kind
to deface the public spaces or monuments of the Other:

1. Emulation of local political dissidents. Defacing walls is the easiest
act of political dissidence to get away with; and the Singaporean regime,
which is techically (or categorizable as) fascist, has imbricated its politi-
cal legitimacy with the code of social discipline (routine subordination in
Everyday Life) it ruthlessly enforces (eg against spitting, chewing gum,
failure to flush public toilets) under which rubric it subsumes the
suppression of defacing public spaces by punishing not merely the act, as
committed by Fay, but possession of the implements of destruction (Magic
Markers, paint-spray cans) as prima facie evidence of intent to commit the
act. I have seen nothing in the many posts on this issue about the *actual*
motives of the defendant in perpetrating the act, only reports of courtroom
dodges used by his defense attorney. What I am suggesting here is that Fay
either did, or did not, have contact with Singaporeans, in particular age
peers who more likely than not, if he did have such contact, have been local
secondary school or university students. Sensing popular revulsion against
fascist repression extending to the pettiest details of public behavior, he
may have taken upon himself, given visceral hatred of an intensity of social
discipline unknown in Ohio as background motive, to try to get away with
what his - hypothetical - local age peers cannot. Here, the onus of guilt
by reason of suppression of human rights, above all alternative outlets
for expression of diverse forms of expression (in that anything which is
in any way offensive to anybody has a political dimension to it, albeit
not necessarily its central dimension), must fall on the regime.

If the hypothetical contacts and sympathies posited in the foregoing
paragraph were absent, then his reaction to the local self-discipline (with
the regime-contrived interdigitation with regime legitimacy hence becoming
a side-issue or no longer relevant to my case), his act becomes mere racism,
ethnocentric arrogance, and irresponsibility. Furthermore, given the Chinese
majority in Singapore, and given as well the legacy of Western Imperialism
in the form of the Unequal Treaties shielding Western nationals from the
jurisdiction of local courts of law on the Chinese mainland, the sentence
should be carried out as a matter of historic justice.

2. There is a well-known and long-established tendency for violently-
inlined persons, qua self-appointed representatives of dominant (or
hegemonic, if you like) subcultures at home, or as elements of the means
of violence abroad (occupiers, mercenaries, advisors, goons and thugs),
to deface monuments or other symbolically important artifacts of the locals
as a means of indicating overt contempt by reason of the victims' inability
to defend themselves. Witness the swastika defacements of Jewish cemeteries
as an example of the former, and vandalism committed in Egypt over thousands
of years: Greek mercenaries employed by Saiite Kings of Egypt in revolt
against the Achaemenid Persians have been found, for instance, on statuary,
including I think the Abu Simbel monumental statues of Ramesses II; and in
later times the Sphinx has been used for artillery practice by invading or
occupying French or preceding or subsequent Turkish-sponsored garrisons,
I forget. If this motive, the display of contempt by a visitor from a
superpower to a small and weak, if ferocious against its own inhabitants,
city-state, then this is racist imperialist arrogance, and should be punished
as the law provides.
Query to a China person on the list: Is the punishment called "caning" so
called because it had once taken the form of the striking of blows on the
same part of the anatomy with the broad side of a bamboo board, known in
the Chinese historical literature as "the cangue"?

Daniel A. Foss