Saturday, December 03, 2005

For whom the bells toll

Convicted drug smuggler, Nguyen Tuong Van, was hanged in Changi Prison yesterday. He suffered the ultimate penalty for smuggling drugs through Singapore - a country that has little, if any, tolerance for this kind of criminal activity. On the other hand, it was reported that vigils were held in cities around Australia, with bells and gongs sounding 25 times at the hour of his execution.

In the past couple of months, his fellow Australians have lobbied long and loud for clemency. This is remarkable, given that Nguyen Tuong Van was a Vietnamese who became a Australian citizen. Some parts of Australian society have been known for their racist attitudes, from the political sphere downwards. Yet in this episode, nearly half of the country spoke out for him - and it isn't as if he has done Australia great service of any sort. Australians can certainly hold their heads high. This incident has demonstrated that Australia is a society full of compassion and backs it up with action - to the discomfort and soul-searching of its Singapore counterparts. But compassion alone is not enough to administer a country well and to protect its people effectively.

It is naive to expect different countries and societies to always agree with one's point of view, or that it will change its laws overnight. While the Australians see the death penalty as barbaric, Singapore sees it as a regrettable but necessary action that is for the greater good. Calling Singapore names is the last thing that thinking, rational and humane societies should do. Exaggeration of the sort that Julian McMahon, one of his Australian lawyers, made (that Nguyen was "completely rehabilitated, completely reformed, completely focused on doing what is good...") does not give any credibility to him, nor the Australian, position at all. After all, how green can a green plant be?

It is done. No matter what our views on the matter, and how strong they may be, let drug runners beware - there is no escape in Singapore if you intend to carry illicit drugs, which only purpose is to kill and destroy families, through its soil.

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