Race & religion have long been taboo subjects in Singapore. Why? You already know - it's in our history. Singapore places such a premium on public order and security that it will suppress free speech and other civil rights in order to ensure that we never ever have problems like racial riots again.
In principle, it's a justifiable trade-off. I would agree with it. It's just a matter of balance. In actual practice today (as opposed to, say, the 1960s or 70s), I think that the suppression of free speech is often carried out to an unnecessary degree.
In my opinion, Singaporeans today have become a highly docile, peaceful lot. We're like poodles or goldfish. Or chickens. Violence has already been removed from our genes. We're so apathetic that the only thing that could get us on a rampage is the Great Robinsons Sale .
What about inappropriate racial/religious remarks being posted online? Certainly such remarks will annoy, shock or strongly offend many Singaporeans. And from past experience, we know that the authorities will take a serious view. But I really doubt that nowadays those kinds of remarks would lead to any actual physical violence. The risk seems largely imaginary.
A likely profile of the perpetrator would be a pimply-faced, nerdy, techie-geek of a teenager. Yes, he may run loose for some time secretly posting racist remarks on the Internet. Don't worry too much. When exam time comes, his mama will take out her cane, turn off his computer and make him sit down to do his 10-year series.
This is not to say that Singaporeans will never be at risk of mass violence. It could still happen. In fact, the threat is very real. I am quite worried that it may happen tonight. I'm referring to the Thailand-Singapore soccer match in Bangkok. Reports like this disturb me:
ST Feb 3, 2007
Tight security for Asean football grudge match against S'pore
BANGKOK - Police will be on high alert on Sunday at Thailand's Asean football final with Singapore, fearing recently fanned sporting and political rivalries between the two countries could erupt into violence.
The possibility that tensions could boil over at the deciding Asean Football Championship final was underlined on Saturday when disgruntled Thai fans raucously protested a shortage of tickets after lining up for hours.
Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has advised fans attending the match to stick together in groups and to keep alert and calm at all times.
The Bangkok game turned into a grudge match after Singapore scored a 2-1 home victory against Thailand in the first leg of the final thanks to a disputed penalty.
In an unusual action, widely criticised outside Thailand as bad sportsmanship, the Thai team stormed off the pitch for 15 minutes to protest the referee's controversial decision to award the 83rd minute penalty to Singapore.
Underlying the tension is anti-Singapore sentiment fanned in recent weeks by the Thai media and military, which have accused the island-nation of seeking to spy on Thailand's military communications.
The accusations came soon after a strain in diplomatic relations caused when Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister received Mr Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed as Thailand's prime minister in a coup last September. The Thai government was offended that a figure they regard as in disgrace was accorded such an official audience. Singapore has maintained that the meeting was completely unofficial and between two 'old friends'.
If I were the Singapore government, or the FAS President (ahhh, one and the same), I would have asked for this soccer match to be postponed. For a week or so. To give the Thais some time for simmering emotions to cool. That would greatly reduce the risks of soccer violence.
I hope things turn out okay tonight. It doesn't matter to me whether our national team wins or loses. In fact, if winning would endanger their safety, then I hope they lose. Perhaps I am too kiasi. But then I am Singaporean. And I think I see clear and imminent danger. I don't like violence.
And this time, I don't think the risk is imaginary.