Sunday, February 19, 2006


From the reactions from certain sections of readers here, I gather that quite many seem to oppose liberal views towards free speech and its inherents.

According to conservatists, it seems, freedom of speech incites riots and social disorders. Our local government often cites the ethnic riots of the 1960s to drum into us that liberalism is a bad thing, that if folks are given too much leeway and freedom, they will start to run amok and create social distress, destroying everything we are supposed to hold dear.

Now, I can understand that, back in the early days of independence, there was a need by our government to wield an iron hand over its citizens, due to the immediate threat of communism and other insurgents from our neighbouring countries, who were also grappling with the early years of independence.

Now, 40 yrs on, Singapore has progressed, in terms of economic development and solidarity as a nation. Yet we are stuck with certain archaic, out-of-place policies that seems more at home in feudal, autocratic nations than a developed, democratic nation.

We have people jailed without trial for decades on end under the Internal Security Act; people who are persecuted for making what has been deemed "seditious remarks" under the Sedition Act(This was imported by the British, whom as far as I know do not invoke such a law today), and people who get the death penality for crimes ranging from murder to drug smuggling.

We have policies that allocate a racial quota on every HDB estate; a electable Presidency that has only one elected President since it became a electable position, and a government-control media system that employs heavy censorship.

Sure, these conservatives will argue, convincingly, in fact, this is the system that has served us well for 4 decades. As the saying goes, if it ain't broken, don't change it. Is this really the case?

To that, I can only say this: Societies change, and the key factor to liberalism is change. What may work 40 yrs ago may not work today.

Take slavery in America, for example. It was legal to own slaves, until the American Civil War changed that. Change inevitably happened because people knew that it was simply unethical to own slaves, and Conservatives were up in arms for years to reverse the prevailing trend. And in the end, the Conservatives failed to prevail.

Our system of government is based on a highly-structured level of social engineering. For example, policies to allocate flats, according to a social quota may work in the beginning years of independence, may have worked wonders to bond together various racists who were more accustomed to living amongst their same ethnic groups, but over time it becomes redundant, because if us Singaporeans are so race-conscious today, then something is seriously very wrong with our society, and no race quotas will ever work in the direction of social bonding, if that were the case.

Laws such as the Internal Security Act were effective in eliminating the communist threat when it was first enacted, because Singapore then was very vulnerable due to its fledging new military force. To still enforce this Act today would be somewhat of an overkill, even if it were applied to terrorists, because trying to detain someone indefinitely without trial is a gross abuse of human rights. The Sedition Act, first elected in old Elizebethian times, is so archaic, to invoke it is akin to hurling Singapore back to the good old days of the Inquisitions.

With regards to the freedom of speech and media, we are often reminded of our the riots of the 1960s, and how ethnic riots could have been prevented if laws curbing such freedoms were invoked. 40 years on, and the same rhetoric is been pandered around like some old Gospel truth. Has our society been so stagnant in intellectual growth that, given the freedom to speak our minds, we will run amok and riot like those crazy mobs in Indonesia and other countries over some minor issues? If that really is the case, I am truly ashamed to be called a Singaporean.

The truth is, the time has come for Singapore to liberalize certain facets of our society. At the very heart of liberalism is change. Resisting change, or resisting the tide of change, is futile, and all you will get at the end of it all is social regression, not progression.

History has shown us the irreversible trend of destruction wrought by conservative ideas. China was torn apart by the Eight Powers because Empress Cixi failed to anticipate the power of change, embracing the death throes of old, conservative Manchu values in the face of growing modernization and commercialism.

Singapore, as a economically developed nation, cannot remain bogged down by conservative values, lest she trots down the well-beaten path of social disintegration.

The Beast


At 2:45 PM, February 22, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Insightful and well written..if only our national newspaper would publish these kinds of articles

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