Singapore—Noted playwright Alfian Sa’at talked at length to media outfit mothership.sg concerning his cancelled course on dissent at Yale-NUS, which has been in the news for a number of weeks now.
Mr Alfian, who has broken his silence concerning the matter on October 2 with a Facebook post explaining his side, told mothership that his original intent had never been malicious, but had been meant to explore forms of dissent within the legal framework of the country.
He even said that perhaps he should have called the module “legal dissent and lawful resistance” instead of “Dialogue and Dissent in Singapore”, and said that he personally does not know how to set up a protest himself.
“There’s been a lot of misunderstandings in terms of what it means to dissent and resistance. Maybe I should have called it legal dissent and lawful resistance. I myself don’t even know how to (protest), so how can I teach that?”
The playwright clarified that what he wanted to do was to explore creative ways of disagreement, “really to try to take a look at how people do it within a society where you cannot do many things. But what can you do within the bounds of the law, like satire and stand-up for example? These are still forms of dissent.”
This would serve, he believed to empower young people and to let them know that their voices matter.
“A lot of young people think they are so powerless in Singapore, that they can’t really participate and their voice don’t matter. But there are creative ways to say no, and your ‘no’ still matters. You should take heart because your voice matters as young people.”
He even addressed the issue to bringing the students to Hong Lim Park. “Going to Hong Lim Park… If all the students were Singaporeans, it is fine. But half of the class are foreigners on scholarships and student visas.
I want them to go to Hong Lim Park because that’s the only space for legal protests. I want them to have a sense of what the space is like. But what if one of them suddenly wants to test the limits? Who’s going to be responsible for that?”
He also told mothership that he respected the decision from Yale-NUS to cancel the module, but that he received it in good faith.
“I can’t say I was angry or disappointed, I just felt like, okay, the decision has been made and I respect that.”
Mr Alfian wrote on October 2, “I don’t like to be scapegoated” and said that felt that the school was taking advantage of his silence.
He had originally declined to speak on the matter, as he said he “expected the college to handle the matter in a transparent and professional manner.”
However, he was surprised that “a narrative was produced that was at odds with my own experience of interacting with the college.”
The playwright refuted the allegations that he had rejected the revisions to the module, among others, and said that he was being caricatured “as defiant, reckless and incompetent.”
He also said he has a trail via emails and WhatsApp messages that would back up his side.
Mr Alfian wrote, “I can say, in all honesty, that I do not care at all whether the decision to cancel the programme was made internally or whether there was external pressure. I think it is the college’s prerogative to cancel it based on their own risk assessment or even evaluation of its academic merit (though I have to mention that no issue regarding the programme’s lack of academic rigour had ever been raised with me). It is not my mission to find out why. But what I care about is that the college takes full responsibility for their decisions, and not try to shift the blame on my supposed non-compliance.”
I don't like to be scapegoated. I don't think anybody does. It is very easy to see the artist as the 'troublemaker'….