Friday, April 29, 2005

*Letter published in Today*

Well, yeah cheer cheer goody yeah and all that but the title they (Today) used is rather odd really.
TITLE: Slamming irrational views chokes freedom of speech
SUBTITLE: Furore over Chua's remarks is more than about evil of racism

Dear Sir,

Mr Chua was my classmate and friend of whom I have known him since 2000. Over the course of the past 5 years, I have never heard him make any overt racist remarks or display any form of racist insensitivity beyond those normal of off-the-cuff remarks and a lot milder than anything you could conceivably hear even in very polite company.

But unfortunately he did a foolish thing. It seems that he posted some of these remarks on a private blog trusting that his close friends would understand he meant no malice because that was not in his nature. Furthermore, he trusted that as a private blog (his homepage was password protected), these comments were personal and not meant to incite any form of violence or racism.

Therein lies the crux of this issue, should not a person be allowed to speak, think or write, as he feels as a private individual in a private capacity in a private space and not attract sanction? As a firm believer in the freedom of speech, I hold with what Voltaire said, "I may disagree with you, but I will fight for your right to say it." So unless such comments are made in a public space with the intent to rouse hatred and violence, I believe that a person should be allowed to make those comments but in turn the public should be encouraged to debate them.

Similarly, I do disagree with racism on the basis that it is irrational. Nevertheless, that should merely form the basis for an attack on that irrationality and creating a solid debate meant to show the error of those views. Instead what I see are a lot of ad hominem attacks, that while cathartic, do not go towards persuading others of more virulent extremist views that those views are wrong.

But more fundamentally, if we are to go down the line of sanctioning views, even those made in private, on the basis that they are irrational or unpopular, we end up reaffirming and strengthening the already chilling effect that self-censorship has on speech in Singapore. The result will either be an extreme form of political correctness or conversely an extreme form of conservatism, neither of which would be conducive to debate or public policy locally.

At the end of the day, the issue is not simply whether racism is bad, it is much more than that.


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