9. Singapore at war: SARS and its metaphors

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The spread of SARS in Singapore in early 2003 became a public spectacle in which a deadly illness was metaphorically transmuted into a threat to the integrity of the nation. The “War on SARS” entered the popular imagination in parallel with the war in Iraq. The military war on terrorism circulated in the same discursive space as the biological war on disease, thereby invoking the language of military strength, a community united in adversity, the defence of national borders, and the threat of a pestilence that had the potential to kill the economy. Singapore became an ideological battleground where disease was central to an imagery of the fear of social disorder created by an unknown enemy. This chapter examines the ways in which SARS acquired metaphorically charged meaning beyond the basic epidemiological concerns. A reformulation of Singapore’s national identity as a fragile and vulnerable nation served to generate mass ideological mobilization, made possible through discursive spectacles in the national media. Successful eradication of the disease became a “defining moment” in the history of Singapore, and brought about a resurgence of national identity.


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