Keep standards high in freedom of speech


Expressing your opinions in religion and politics are guaranteed ways to kill a conversation or a friendship. No one really wants to know what you think.

If we can understand that about interpersonal relationships, why shouldn’t the same logic be applied to national relationships? Why do some of us still want low standards to freedom of speech?

In Singapore, the freedom of speech is held to very high standards. We are very, very allergic to any act that stirs people into a hot fury. When people are angry, they are in danger of doing irrational things and this country has had enough of it in the past.

When a country becomes unstable, it becomes unmanageable. One way to destabilise a country, is attack the faith of its people. Politics and religion especially, are perpetual motion devices. Once you light it up, you may not be able to put out the fire. Look at the fighting that is going on in the world. Some of these go back decades, even centuries with no end in sight.

Recently, Shanmmuggam, the Minister for Home Affairs announced that authorities would take two individuals to task. One, an imam’s remarks made in sermons and two, an NUS academic’s comments about the imam’s remarks.

In 2005, a Benjamin Koh was prosecuted for casual banter on the internet. In 2009, Ong Kian Cheong and his wife was prosecuted for distributing the banned “Chick Tracts” publications.

I say these are good things.

We’re not like France where you can go as far as drawing insulting cartoons, or in America where militant pastors can conduct provocative acts. In many parts of Europe, you (and entire political parties) can openly promote anything from Nazism to open racism.

If you do any of that in Singapore, the only people you’d be preaching to will be your inmates in your cell at Changi.

Is that wrong though? Some of our peers are pushing for the liberalisation of free speech. To downgrade our standards to those that of European countries.

“It would get people arguing and thinking. It would make Singaporeans more tolerant”, said a very liberal friend of mine. Maybe it would… maybe it would… but are we prepared to pay the price of unrestrained freedom? It may cost a bomb. Literally.

Consider the state of affairs in the world today. So much murder fuelled by religious fiction, so many restless minds that need but one small reason to spring into action. Do we really want this one freedom that could threaten the ten thousand other freedoms that we enjoy?

In Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan , the philosopher postulates that the sovereign has authority to assert power over matters of faith and doctrine, and that if he does not do so, he invites discord.

Discussion on faith is important. But to be able to live our lives peacefully and happily is a joy that few countries can profess to enjoy – but we have it.

Let’s not let this go to waste.


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