Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Are you In or Out?

I am happy that a fellow blogger has taken the effort and time to refute my viewpoints on political freedoms in Singapore (refer to my earlier entry Warwick: Freedom of what, from what, for what?) by citing a number examples of how people have been hounded down and, for some, out of Singapore. I do not hope that the Singapore government will come knocking on my humble blog for a 'take-down' order. Nor do I hope to face a judge one day regarding maintaining a 'seditious' blog, for none is intended. To the extent that I harbour any political views, it centres on my family and my children's continued well-being.

Many of these examples of the alleged lack of freedoms in taking a particular stand, especially those against government policies and actions, have been reported in the local press and overseas as well. Having traveled somewhat, I can see the stark difference the same episode is reported in the local and overseas media. But this is a good thing because it forces people to look at all sides of a story. This will surely be an unseen consequence of the government encouraging its citizens, now especially students, to venture overseas to learn. Yes, local reporting tends to be sanitized, and for many, un-exciting. But at the end of the day, I hope that our objective in updating ourselves of the news is to be informed of the truth. If our objective is to twist words to suit our particular orientation to the 'truth', then that 'truth' is suspect.

Every strongly-held opinion or view of the country and the world needs to be defended robustly. It must withstand criticism, or otherwise be withdrawn. If it cannot be defended truthfully and honestly, then it does not deserve to live a day longer. Voltaire famously suggested that, "I may disagree with what you have to say, but I shall defend, to the death, your right to say it". I disagree. When what is being said is a lie, then it cannot, and should not, be defended, much more with your own life.

But I am not suggesting that everything is perfect on this island state. The Buangkok (White Elephant) MRT is perhaps symptomatic of the problem with the system that has been in place for so many years. Referring to that elephant incident, a former Permanent Secretary commented in private that the government lacks a sense of humour when it found fit to have the police haul people up for questioning. But to the police, they cannot not investigate as the prevailing system is one of due process, logic, fairness and most important of all, transparency. To some, this is yet another example, albeit a light-hearted one, of the probable lack of political or social expression in Singapore bound by a system that a majority has subscribed to (through the ballot box).

Going in or getting out?My point is that, ultimately, it is more effective, and more sincere, to effect change from the inside rather than from the outside. When you stand by your words with your future grounded to the country, then you can be taken seriously. This is the stance taken by the powers that be, and I am not ashamed to agree with them. That is why I admire people like Nelson Mandela, who, in spite of the unjustness of the then dominant peoples, never quit the country.

Before we ask for more freedoms, do we have the courage of our convictions, or do we quit the country at the slightest threat?

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