‘And yet, there may be a push for greater latitude on recreational drugs from Singaporeans, who have observed the relaxing of laws in the West. ‘ If I were Singaporean and looked to the West, I would not want to relax drug laws. What is worse? A few deaths from capital punishment or hundreds/ thousands of deaths from addiction plus the concomitant rise in crime. Far more poor and vulnerable people drawn into the drug trade. It sounds as if the middle (and upper) classes want to engage in recreational drug use and are indifferent or wilfully blind to the wider consequences.
Your observation about relaxing the drug laws is exactly the consensus Singaporean attitude to this issue.
What is happening now is that locals who want to take drugs will go to Thailand, who have recently decriminalised marijuana, which can be taken in foods. I think that the Singaporean authorities conduct random urine tests after flights land from Bangkok!
If anything, after visiting Singapore this year, I’d rather we impose more draconian measures. Not death penalty or anything like that, but one that will make people think twice.
This is so déjà vu!
We have the splendid example of ‘Prohibition’ in the USA between 1920-1933, and now realise what an absolute fiasco that was.
Legalise the lot, and let Darwinian self-selection take its course. It really is as simple as that.
I guess those who want to use drugs could seek refugee status in another country. Singapore is unlikely to have a problem replacing them given that it currently has the most desirable passport in the world (apparently). Also not wanting to import recreational drug use is not the same as prohibition.
Indeed. An overwhelming amount of criminality such as burglary, muggings occurs by those looking for loot to feed their drug habits, as well as the forming of criminal networks that can also become involved in trafficking etc. If it were de-criminalised and drugs made available to those inclined in the same way that alcohol is, our prisons would find themselves rapidly emptying, at huge savings to society and a more peaceful one at that.
However the plethora of US Drug Enforcement Agencies and the US Coastguard would be bereft!
Even our own ‘dearly beloved’ Legal ‘Industry’ would feel the pinch, and have to continue on the meagre fare of rewriting the law to satisfy political expediency, and sorting out the ever growing backlog of ‘miscarriage of justices’.
However we might use the money saved in setting up a properly trained Judiciary, one that places Justice before Law, if that is humanly possible.
Placing Justice before Law is substituting one person’s opinion for the consensus of many. Sometimes this advances Justice. Most of the time it does not.
Thus our simply wonderful Court of Appeal, the envy of the known world, whilst simultaneously being a national disgrace, as events of the past few days have shown.
Really? You don’t think our prisons are also full of people who have been led there by alcohol, one way or another, be it crime to feed their habit or violent acts, and domestic abuse carried out whilst under the influence? Take a closer look.
Yes, really. The supply of drugs is sufficient for those who feel the need; the plain difference would be in the diminishing amount of crime caused by having insufficient funds to feed their habit at the lifestyle-feeding rates that criminals demand. Take a closer look.
But you use legalised alcohol as a supporting argument, whilst I would contend that many people are in prison because of alcohol, despite it being legal.
yes, and the consumption of alcohol is declining as well, reaching a peak in 2004.
I feel that you and Charles are somewhat talking past Aphrodite. Her original comment is a thought experiment about a notional Singaporean, invited to choose between Singapore’s draconian drug enforcement and the more liberal regime typically obtaining in the West.
Her hypothesis, which I think is very plausible, is that the Singaporean would be very likely to stick with the Singaporean model, having observed the societal havoc wrought on the West by drugs; whereas your and Charles’s hypothesis – also plausible – is that legalising drugs reduces crime.
The crucial difference between the parties to the debate concerns perspective. Your and Charles’s dialectic proceeds from the perspective of societies in which drug use is a given, whereas Aphrodite’s dialectic proceeds from the perspective of someone wishing to prevent drug use becoming a given in the first place.
Yes good point. I had rather forgotten how the ‘tea drinking’ Far East has always rather despised the drunken, unwashed foreigners from the West!
The late James Clavell brought it to my attention some years ago in one his splendid novels. Sadly I cannot remember which one!
Thank you Richard, though to what extent it was a thought experiment, I don’t know. I lived in Singapore during my early formative years and to a great extent was raised by the amah (Singapore feels more like home than the U.K.). Three generations of men in my family have lived and worked in Singapore.
That’s a really helpful summing up of these two perspectives. Thank you!
Absolutely right. Yes you can buy drugs here if you want but it is not going to be easy at all. I grew up here and drug use is not a given at all and no one wants that to become the norm.
Are you a Singapore National?
Your thinking is flawed. Consumption of drugs tends towards anti social behaviour. People’s lives particularly, in poorer areas, are blighted by drug takers, even before you consider the secondary effects of crime, and health.
Too often this debate is framed in terms of the middle classes “harming no one” with a bit of blow or cocaine at their dinner parties.
Drug taking has effects on other innocent parties, so is not a victimless pastime. The libertarian argument fails this test.
Give ‘them’ access to cheap drugs and they will either die or give up.
Either way the collateral crime rate should be much diminished.
We’re all supposing that legalised drugs, sold in shops and subject to taxation would be cheaper than those sold on da street. I’m not so sure.
You therefore also propose that those rendered unhealthy and unfit for reminerative employment shall be excluded from government provided health care and the dole. If not, your proposal shifts costs to a different governmental departments without a likelihood of cost savings and no certain benefits of cost reduction.
Also legal access will likely yield greater use. A little emphasized aspect of the US experience with prohibition is that alcohol related illnesses and deaths diminished through its imposition. In some analyses, legalized drugs can be summarized as killing kids.
That’s what the US seems to be doing now. My observation is that Darwin isn’t moving fast enough.
I dont think so. In the US, Big Corporations are seizing the business opportunities of cannabis legalisation and the results are not (I believe) good for the people. (They already have Big Pharma and Big Food, which seem to have done a terrible job at making Americans healthy. The mind boggles as to what Big Weed will achieve now it has been added to that mix). Nor has the legalisation of cannabis in the Netherlands been an unalloyed good thing.
I am saying it is a utopian solution, just that it must be better than the present catastrophic mess we find ourselves in.
The objection to this line of argument would surely be that not all stimulants, drugs – whatever we want to call them – are the same. True, alcohol in great quantities does damage, but drugs do the same and worse forms of damage more speedily. Moreover they tend to be more directly psycho-active than alcohol, hence damaging to processes of self-command, self-control etc which prevent criminal behaviour.
(Smoking tobacco, by contrast, is actively conducive to focussed thought and – presumably – to peaceful conduct so its total ban was a futile intrusion upon choice.)
Finally, both tobacco and alcohol were bedded down in western culture, which meant or means that they are surrounded by rituals, occasions and customs which civilise their use. Hard to establish the same structure of subtle restraints for a various pharmacopoeia of substances.
Perhaps a society can have too much of a good thing? Is it not Byron who observes that where the Turks preferred a pipe and a pathic the English were happiest with a girl and a bottle? The society which avails itself of all such consolations might well be headed for the rocks… and not Scotch on the rocks, either…
True all drugs may not be the same, but they do have one thing in common, they are, thanks to prohibition, extremely expensive.
It is this expense that fuels a simply enormous collateral Crime wave, that is far more destructive than the drugs themselves.
I think WSC may have upstaged Byron with “Rum, bum and baci” or sometimes “rum, sodomy and the lash”, when he described the workings of the late Royal Navy.
“ Smoking tobacco, by contrast, is actively conducive to focussed thought”. I think to argue that, you would have to cost-in the damage to focused thought caused when craving a fag.
Charles we have never had a war on drugs. Nixon allowed anti communist countries in South America to export cocaine. Many of the countries in South America, had ex Gestapo and SS running security. The book Cosa Nostra By John Dickie outlines the influence of the Mafia on the Democratic Party and Unions. Edgar Hoover denied the existance of the mafia until the 1970s.
Much of the rigid control of Singapore is to prevent a re-run of 1964 Race Riots.
1964 race riots in Singapore – Wikipedia
As Salaafism has increased in Malaysia since 1964, any re- run of 1964 Race Riots would be far more bloody.
I doubt if any Unherd reader was present at the race/religious riots of Punjab and Calcutta 1947, Biafra late 1960s or East Pakistan/ Bangladesh 1970. If people had seen and smelt the death, then the Singapore controls are worth the price worth paying.
Would a Muslim Malay have better quality of life in Malaysia or Indonesia?
The World is not perfect. In South East Asia Singapore’s approach is the least worst method, prevent violence from drugs and religious /racial conflict. People can leave if they do not like it.
Who on God’s earth gave this the ‘thumbs down‘, are you blind?
Legalise, and make it a medical issue. As William S Burroughs believed (not that it did him much good). The violent criminality can still be dealt with because there will still be laws against violent crime, but the drugs themselves wouldn’t be illegal.
If I may. I am Singaporean, born and bred and against the death penalty and in the past have donated to the cause and supported the very few individual activists (there was no organisational opposition).
Jeevan Vasagar has run with the typical story any liberal journalist would file.
He neglects history. The opium trade (19th to early 20th century) has created a bitter folk memory, especially among the Chinese. Early Singapore was devastated by easy access to the drug – the coolies sought pain relief in the opium dens when medical care was scarce.Local school history books still recount asian community leaders’ pleas to ban opium sales falling on deaf colonial ears. Wider Chinese nationalism was sparked by the 1840 Opium War and the drug trade is still associated with nefarious western motives. You wouldnt believe the depth of feeling and public support for the death penalty for drug trafficking until you have some understanding of this background. An essentially conservative population that has this strong historical memory and encounters the effects of a liberal drug policy in western countries through the media and travel is not going to be easily persuaded to drop the death penalty even in part. Capital punishment can apply for a grand total of 33 crimes including murder, kidnapping, the possesion of ammunition etc. Richard Branson and western commentators have no idea. Neither do our newly minted anti-death penalty social justice warriors like Kirsten Han and the Transformative Justice outfit – they diverge too much into race and fantasise about abolishing prison and have more of an audience out of the country.
What can work albeit at a glacial pace as shown by the 2012 thaw (the judges were finally given some discretion over drug mule cases instead a mandatory death penalty) is to address systemic unfairnesses that even hardheaded Singaporeans can sympathise with.
Foremost : The lack of proper legal representation during trial (only an actual handful of lawyers have the experience or willingness to take these drug cases, none of the big names or foreign lawyers operating in the country dirty their hands with them). State assigned lawyers do tend to phone it in. Mules who are extremely young, desperate and poor, intellectually impaired can be saved from a conviction – battling a very strict system AFTER conviction by causing international embarrassment is exactly the wrong approach. The anti DP activists have to build capacity in this area and it will be a painful slog but I don’t see them doing this.
It sounds as if the middle (and upper) classes want to engage in recreational drug use and are indifferent or wilfully blind to the wider consequences.
There is some truth to this as the activists are drawn very much from the educated and westernised middle classes while the majority of local drug addicts are from a vastly different socio-economic profile.
I am aware of how the experience of the opium trade influences Chinese attitudes towards drugs today, I was going to mention it but I think it is better coming from an insider. I am not pro-capital punishment but at the same time, I am aware leniency generally leads to more criminal activity when the rewards are high enough, or not so high even. I am not sure about the argument that mules are less intelligent from lower socioeconomic backgrounds is valid as the majority of less intelligent people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds do not become mules. Moreover, when the drug trade does take hold then it is usually those who are from lower socioeconomic backgrounds who are the casualties. I think open discussions should be had. Also if there is no market, then it would not be lucrative. It is in the interest of the dealers to create a market in exactly the same way the British created a market. The Chinese are right to be extremely wary. Every action has consequences, often unforeseen.
Many of the mules are deliberately chosen and “sacrificed” to the CNB (drug enforcement agency) via tips to distract them from other shipments. There is a pitiful aspect to them and they are not the big players. The big players will be ensconced in good class bungalows in District 11 and swanning about country clubs. Vasagar’s point about the decades of official friendliness towards the Myanmese military junta who dabble in the drug trade is valid. Many of the mules are also foreigners and bring about unnecessary publicity.
As for the race angle, many traffickers are drawn from the malay community as that is the community is most affected by drug addiction. The reason is not necessarily poverty because you need only look at Malaysia to see the same issue there. Drug addiction rates are high in islamic countries like Iran, Pakistan because unlike alcohol, there is no direct prohibition against drugs. Seriously. I saw my first drug addicts when I visited Malaysia as a kid -holloweyed individuals begging in the car parks whom I was warned to never engage with.
I agree with you about honest discussion, let’s see.
Without the users there would be no big players, no market. Maybe start a campaign of awareness amongst those who dabble in drugs and believe it harms no-one. If you were a member of a drugs cartel, you would see far, far worse sights than hollow eyed addicts. It is a brutal world. As you point out, lax laws increase drug problems. Widespread addiction is a relatively recent event in the West. I think Pablo Escobar was the drug lord who flooded the US with affordable cocaine. Drug addicts are a pitiful sight, but people are frequently carried away by emotion. Policy should not be based on emotional responses but on reasoned debate around and about facts. I do wonder if Singaporeans who have been influenced by the West consider drug taking to be more acceptable than those who have not been. I had a very good friend who sadly died. He was a heroin addict and worked as a mule. He had a great time travelling until he was caught. He spent three years in a Bangkok jail. He was not from a poor background, far from it. He was from North America. I asked him how he justified being a mule. He said he told himself it was for personal usage but he knew it wasn’t. He knew he had lied to himself so he did not have to acknowledge the harm his actions had contributed to. I admired him for being able to face up to the consequences of his actions. He never expected any pity or compassion. He had a good heart and he was a fascinating conversationalist but felt he had wasted his life.
I say we impose severe sanctions to make Singapore bend to our norms. If that fails, send the NATO troops in. If it were a true democracy, the state would be sponsoring gay pride events and debanking heretics.
Interesting article. After visiting Singapore and other stricter Asian countries, the fact that women can go jogging at 11pm without worry of being assaulted highlights the benefits of authoritarianism – many women wouldn’t feel safe going late night jogging in London, Paris or some American cities, so who really has liberty? As long as their laws don’t impose on your personal lifestyle, some will say it’s worth the sacrifice (maybe not if you’re gay, though).
Indeed on the subject of safety. There was a quotation to the effect why should the experience of living in a city be dictated by the most disruptive elements? I prefer law breakers to fear the state rather than law abiding citizens fear law breakers. Obviously that shouldn’t justify Chinese style dystopian “safe cities” mass control. But drug abuse is a scourge and less harm is done IMO by bearing down on it than by tolerating it.
Any Western party that pitched the following – harsh punishments for crime, controlled immigration, complete meritocracy….
Would get pretty much zero support or votes from women in the West.
So, the reason “women can go jogging at 11pm” in those countries is, ironically, because women have very little say in those specific aspects of their governance.
As a woman who has lived in a large, English-speaking Western city for 35+ years, I know how true this statement is.
Sadly this is not the only proof of women doing a massive disservice to themselves in English-speaking Western countries.
I just looked it up: Singaporean women had voting rights before the UK or US allowed women to vote, so they do have a say in their governance.
I added the “English-speaking” distinction, because I am not sure if French, or Austrian women, or women in formerly communist countries are similarly misguided.
Maybe the long-standing English (British?) expectation of girls to be pleasant at all times, to hide even the effects of violent crimes against themselves and their children has uniquely English-speaking origins? Singapore is three quarters Chinese. The Chinese aren’t famous for their angst of being seen as pleasant.
Anyone who has ever been to Singapore will know that it is safe, clean, modern and just a nice place to be. There is no way the people of Singapore will jeopardise that to appease left wing social progressives in the Anglosphere who disgust them. Sure, no place is perfect, but Singapore is a model of what a 21st century could be in many ways. At the minimum, it demonstrates that you can have large multicultural cities that need not resemble third world, drug ridden hellholes.
Does the renowned Singapore Cricket Club now allow women in?
Who cares? Not I.
Just curious if one of the last ‘bastions’ had fallen.
If you want a large, multicultural city that doesn’t resemble a hell-hole, you need strict laws and a government that is not afraid to enforce them.
It is no coincidence, in my opinion, that the UK hate-speech laws, and the 2010 Equality Act, made their appearance after Blair threw open the doors to mass migration. Such laws are required to keep the peace once you go down that route.
In Singapore’s defence, as an independent nation in 1965 they were already multicultural.
Lee Kuan Yew was an Anglophile who (as the author says) studied and was called to the bar in England. He had a great love for British institutions but saw some of the pitfalls in the changes which had recently been introduced and so implemented modified versions in Singapore. For instance, he was initially thrilled by the, then new, NHS. But he came to realise that if there is no personal cost in visiting a doctor, people will soon lose a sense of personal responsibility for their health. The system which was eventually set up in Singapore is widely considered one of the best in the world with the lowest costs. Whereas the NHS…
He also built on institutions that the British had set up and improved them. The Central Providential Fund – a mandatory savings account that all citizens and their employers pay into – was set up by the British and was extended by Yew to cover (subsidised) housing costs, pensions and out-of-pocket healthcare costs.
I have often thought that Britain could take many lessons from Singapore – a kind of reverse of the Lee Kuan Yew story. I think the British mentality might warm to the CPF i.e. a direct link between people working and the benefits they receive, where shirkers and scroungers find it hard to hide. They would probably approve of the return of National Service along Singaporean lines. They would certainly like the high-quality council housing, the strict discipline and high expectations in schools, the tough law and order stance including a return of capital and corporal punishment and the Establishment’s focus on National Pride rather than identity politics.
Oh for a modern day British Lee Kuan Yew!
Correct. Going to see a doctor cannot be free. £20 is a reasonable fee. But the quantum doesn’t matter so much as the actual act of paying.
My argument against that though is that I live in NZ and you are charged around £30 to see a doctor. Fine if you have the money, but what tends to happen for those who are hard up is that they either keep putting it off until it becomes rather serious and end up in hospital, or simply turn up in A&E with minor symptoms causing a backlog of genuine cases
The author admits of Singapore that “It is a comfortable place to live, with low unemployment, high-quality state-built housing, an exceptional public-education system and one of the world’s highest life expectancies, at 83 years.” He concedes that “There is a fairly high degree of personal freedom”.
He sets against this a single, particular court case in which – perhaps – clemency should have been exercised and was not.
Just as one swallow doesn’t make a summer so one injustice does not invalidate a jurisdiction. The rest of his article seems to consist of swipes and sneers.
I think he’s giving the standard progressive liberal take on Singapore. My wife is always complaining how the BBC, for example, treats her country. Any article on Singapore must have at least one criticism, and any praise tends to be back-handed.
Yes, Singapore is in many respects a comfortable and safe place to live. Yes, the government is strict, although since the passing of Lee Kuan Yew back in 2015, they have relaxed a little. The drugs problem described is typically mistakenly focused on race, when it is mainly about class.
Sometimes you have to look really hard to find trouble in paradise, but that doesn’t stop some from trying. Drugs are just one element, although an easy target for all sides. In California, we’ve made a conscious decision to legalize illegality of all kinds, whereas in Singapore, it’s still against the law to break the law. Shockingly, their approach leads to less law-breaking.
Yes – the saying here is ‘low crime doesn’t mean no crime’.
So a successful ex-colony must be forced to accept our values. I think the writer missed the point about them being as ex colony. Also, given that the majority of the British public still support the death penalty (for some crimes) this piece justifies the complaint about it being (Narco) Liberals that are seeking to impose their values on other countries. Worked so well in Afghanistan, didn’t it!
My friend’s granddaughter died in her bedroom from a Fentynal dose two weeks ago. This death sentence is very unexpected and personal for thousands of families in the US.
Looking at the state of security in London or Paris recently, this article looks like an advertisement for Singapore
Singapore doesn’t want to be San Francisco.
Whilst I am no fan of the death penalty, I find it interesting that these sorts of discussions are often framed around the exception that proves the rule, namely the “innocent” drug smuggler who is unfairly hanged.
If one were to look at the USA, how many innocent lives there are not only taken directly by drugs (opiates, often pushed by Pharma as the gateway), but also blighted and ruined by the secondary effects of crime and antisocial behaviour? It must run to the hundreds of thousands.
And yet people are happy to lie to themselves and others to try and claim some sort of libertarian view point, whereby people are only doing what they like, of their own free will, and not harming others. I would contend quite the opposite, and that stacked against that, the one “innocent” drug smuggler is a small price to pay to avoid the carnage that Western countries have unleashed on themselves in the name of liberalism.
I have to sympathise with the Singaporean government. A very small number of judicial hangings versus a great many drug- and crime-related deaths is a fairly easy equation to understand! It may not work elsewhere, but who are most of us, non-Singaporeans, to say the death penalty is intrinsically wrong in another democratic state?
I thought colonialism was meant to be a bad thing, but some on this forum who profess such seem to exclude a colonialism of imposing their own beliefs about drugs and judicial punishment. Oh! how morally superior we are compared with those barbaric states that actually protect the vast majority of their citizens! Oh! how wonderful is our progressive ideology compared with states that protect the majority from a minority, and at the expense of the poor suffering criminals!
Left-leaning progressive ideology is surely one of the most hypocritical of beliefs.
The irony is that at the turn of the 20th century, european trading houses and the colonial government were selling opium and deriving a healthy profit thereof while the locals were aghast and begging for a ban on drugs.
Why are we NOT sending our illegal immigrants or Channel Paddlers to Singapore rather than Ruanda? It sounds like the perfect environment for such feral material.
Singapore does not take any illegals.
When I first arrived here – I’ve lived here 18 years now – next to my office was a ‘detention centre’ (ie prison) for such offenders. Detention followed by repatriation only.
I’m certain we could come to a ‘deal’, they are an entrepreneurial people after all.
Who was the chap in the caption photo “killed by the Singapore state in 2005” and what was he executed for?
If I’m right, that picture is of Nguyen Tuong Van. Look up his full story on Wikipedia.
He was caught in the transit lounge of Changi Airport while smuggling drugs between Cambodia and Australia to pay for his criminal brother’s debts. In many ways a tragic story.
I looked it up. Makes no sense. Just default on the debts. It’s a lot better than drug trafficking. Something else was going on.
Extremely horrible things sometimes happen to people who default on criminal debts.
The strict controls in Singapore are to prevent the 1964 Race Riots. Since the increase in Salaafi influence in Malaysia and future riots would be far more bloody.
1964 race riots in Singapore – Wikipedia
Also to prevent the development of drug gang violence.
I doubt any readers of Unherd have been preset during religious induced conflict such as Calcutta in 1947 or Biafra late 1960s. If they had been, they would probaly accept a reduction in freedom is worth it. We live in a imperfect world and Singapore has a decision that the least worst option, is the best.
I’m surprised you didn’t mention Ruanda, the most ‘successful’ Holocaust in history. 90% of the target population eliminated in about 42 days, with predominantly hand held weapons (pangas) directed by ‘crystal’ radios. All in all simply astonishing!
I forgot, was thinking about religious conflicts.
They must allow our opium in, otherwise we’ll burn the city down…
Have my doubts the death penalty has much impact overall. How much does it really come into the calculus of a potential criminal?
The chances of being caught tend to make the biggest difference to criminality. The Article doesn’t really cover what the proportionate chances are in this City state as opposed to another western democracy, but one suspects it’s much higher. And how that is is perhaps the more inquisitive question to be asking.
Slightly aside, but one suspects the continuation in Singapore more ‘performative’ for the politicians.
It seems strange you can say it makes no difference. I lived in Canada and the owner of the local tabac was held up three times at gun point. The third time he was not frightened, he was enraged. He snatched the gun off the woman and shot her in the back as she fled. Even back then, the politically correct of Canada were outraged. While he was awaiting trial for attempted murder, he told me he wanted to return to Tehran because the penalty for theft was amputation of the right hand and people did not steal even when shops were unattended.
Saudi Arabia also practices ‘hand chopping’ with very positive results.
I visited the gold souk in Doha, Qatar, in the early eighties and was amazed to see the shop owners leaving their shops filled with 22 carat gold jewellery, piles and piles of it, unattended as they walked around chatting to other shop owners who had left their own gold unattended. I don’t know what the punishment for theft was in Qatar then.
Chopping! First time, every time!
I didn’t actually say that. Read again. Slower perhaps.
Nonetheless the death penalty in the US doesn’t seem to make that much difference does it, so suggestive it’s other factors. I think most criminologist conclude the risk of being caught far outweighs anything else.
Now if you are saying the answer to other lower level criminality is a few more amputations do you think that sellable to a western democratic populace? As regards crime in Tehran, you’re happy with the brutality shown towards women and other protesters for simply not wishing to wear a headscarf? Crime occurs in different ways and Iran is a criminal state.
The death penalty in the US is only for extreme crimes. You are not comparing like for like. I just recounted an experience which was pertinent to whether capital punishment makes a difference. I made no moral judgement on the society.
Quite right, you didn’t. One need not support hand chopping in order to point out that that punishment has a very strong and effective deterrent effect. Opponents of CP find clever ways of trying to prove that it has no deterrence, but I suspect they are wrong.