[Suggestion Essay] We want Freedom Of Speech! But how do we get there?

This was my first opinion essay on freedom of speech before learning more about the political and media landscape of Singapore

I did not feel offended, so why should /would people feel offended?

My response to that would be:

  1. Don’t bite more than you chew.
  2. We are always told by our parents to not play with fire. Play for as long or as much you want, as long as you can bear the consequences no matter how dire. (Offbeat Perspectives Quote)

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The mindsets of the interviewees (@ the Free Amos Yee Rally) were that – Singaporeans should be given the freedom to say what we want as 1) we would know the limits and that 2) we should also not take offence by what people say.

If we proclaim such a statement in a liberal country, no one will bit an eyelid because.. it has become a culture, a norm, similar to our daily consumption of rice. However, if we want to bring Singapore into picture, that’s a whole new angle of a story.

Rather than just focusing on the fact that we are entitled to more freedom of speech, we should also explore the issue on a much deeper level and see what action plan we can take to lead to our ideal goal of achieving liberty in freedom of speech.

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We can’t just want to attain what we want hastily without thinking of the impact. We got to have the progress and steps first before reaching our ultimate end line, which leads us to the first question –

1.“How do we define what content or way of expression is considered appropriate by our society’s terms?”

 E.g. There are mixed views towards what is considered “respectful”. Some feel using vulgarities are totally acceptable because many Singaporeans say it like second nature e.g. due to Influence of American media, peer or work culture.

What about bringing in the issue of diverse racial and religious beliefs? An unspoken topic we have been brainwashed to view as something too sensitive to even hint on. If we are not even opened to broaching on it, how can we be expected to be opened about letting others express their opinions towards it?

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Constructive criticism over negative insults. Focus on the situation, not senseless emotions. Criticise the ideas, not the people. Sensibility and sensitivity over mindless pushing of our own ideology onto others.

Thus, after conversations of these difficult topics have been normalized on a personal level, we can move on to the 2nd question –

2. “How can we ensure majority of people to express their thoughts responsibly?

Through in-depth Cyberwellness?  I’ll bring in education, racial, and religious organizations. Teaching Singaporeans from a very young age how to communicate openly but also respectfully on sensitive topics (Up till University life).

Difficult topics raised can be race, religion, sexuality etc. We have to keep in mind our pre-existing Asian, multi racial and religious environment and culture, and presence of conservative mindsets.

Change has to transit at an appropriate pace according to societal standards because once we implement something, there’s no turning back. People would want more and more liberty, and the leaders have to handle precariously the unchangeable consequences.

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Such as …the deadly outcome a mild offensive remark e.g. misunderstanding, followed by collective tension and beliefs, leading to ill-feelings and conflict, before it causes community riots. We need to remind ourselves to not let history repeat itself.

Our younger generation should never take our current peace and harmony for granted. We are slowly forgetting to treasure the high importance and value of amity. Similar incidents have happened before in other countries with diverse ethnic groups.

If everyone choose to think they can say whatever they want, and that any racial group or religious believers should just ignore and not be bothered by it, that’s just plain dreamy ideal. You may have a liberal mindset. I may find it acceptable. But that does not equate to what majority may feel or think towards it.

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Riot reaction may lead to dire or even worse, deadly destruction.

Though I found Amos Yee funny due to his sheer and rare audacity that we hardly see in Singapore, no one can be sure of the reaction and aftermath if more offensive remarks were made. I’m sure many Singaporeans felt offended or were affected by Amos Yee words or way of expression.

Hence, how can Singaporeans to practice how to express their views openly, but also in a manner that the mainstream society will find tolerable and acceptable? This leads us to the 3rd question –

3. “What platforms or ways can we provide to people to encourage difficult topics to be discussed on in an open yet civil manner?

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e.g. How should our sexuality education be adapted to the changing times? Yes, our laws are against the act of homosexual sex but even LKY did expressed that “It’s only a matter of time before it’s accepted here (Singapore) and we should “leave them alone (not disturb them)”.

Pre-marital sex is also gaining prominence at an earlier age, adding on to the increase of diverse sexual orientations.111If that is the case, should our sex-education take on a more in-depth, comprehensive outlook to suit the diversity of views, and better connect with the younger generations? E.g. educating on diverse sexual attractions and orientations, inculcate the right attitude towards viewing and treatment of the LGBT community, loopholes or improvements that can be changed in our policies and laws. What some interviewees suggested were more TV show discussions with governmental people and common Singaporeans.

This is something existing, just that it’s lacking in terms of depth, coverage, openness. We also have inter-religious organizations which engage in sharing sessions. But then again.. we usually barely scrape the edge of the iceberg.

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We should openly and teach in-depth our younger generations in schools, racial and religious organizations, community outlets and workplace – on the various type of races and religious beliefs, not just touch ground on the surface level e.g. the diversity, differences and sensitive topics.

Once we have reach that comfort and familiarity level of talking about it, we can move on to discussion and debate between the various races, religion be it in schools, or between different religious and racial organizations. All these followed by increased involvement of mainstream media and online media.

Finding the right balance between the (limits and freedom) of speech will be the ideal scenario for us to progress as a more opened but still tolerant nation of each other’s differences.

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“People should feel free to express diverse views, pursue unconventional ideas, or simply be different. We should have the confidence to engage in robust debate, so as to understand our problems, conceive fresh solutions, and open up new spaces.”

– Lee Hsien Loong (2004)

If that’s the goal, we got to work towards it, not just talk about it 🙂 A goal without an action plan and commitment would get us nowhere.

A simply analogy – for us to pass the finishing line, we got to put in the effort and dedication to train and practice. With that, comes progress; and progress will eventually lead us to our ideal outcome.

To end off with a quote.. It can starts from EDUCATION.

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Opinion of & written by: Curious Misfit

We want Freedom of Speech.
We do not want to be placed on a leash.
But how can we remove the leash?
When we bite each other whenever we wish.

To check out more of our posts on Singapore’s media landscape and censorship, click HERE

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Main image credits:  Paris Chia Photography (website), @Instagram@Facebook

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Article for reading: 1994 – 2015: A Chronology of Authoritarian Rule in Singapore

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