Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Freedom of Speech

There is nothing absolute about free speech, in spite of what many in the US would claim and do practice. There, you have people who say and do the most fantastic and shocking things, as well as hear the most reasoned speeches. Be that as it may, there is nothing absolute about free speech. Taking perhaps an extreme but nevertheless a real and recent example, thousands were trampled or felled to their death in a Bagdad mosque just because someone spread the word that there were terrorists carrying bombs among the worshippers. You cannot blame the worshippers for the panic that ensued because other terrorists had done such heinous acts just a couple of hours before nearby.

What if there had been more consideration before the utterance of a rumour? Lives would not have been lost. Similarly, especially in multi-racial communities where the cord that binds the various races can be very thin, a rumour that a member of a race has done something adverse to one of another race, troubles can erupt, particularly if it has been formenting for some time. Injury and death is usually not far behind. This was Singapore's experience in the 1950s racial riots. A friend of mine who lived through those days passed me a book written by a former Prime Minister of Malaysia that discussed racial problems and persons in particular in those days. This book was never widely circulated, at least in Singapore, probably because of its content.

I enjoy peace and harmony in Singapore today because of the enlightened racial tolerance policies instituted many years ago, and consciously practiced over the years. I look forward to more of the same in the future so that I am assured that my son, and son's son, will never see the dark and ugly side of racial hatred and jealousies just because the colours of our skins do not match. I am happy to state that I have many friends who are not of my race, who I respect for their abilities. I am certain these same sentiments are reciprocrated.

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