Oct 30, 2007

Dr Thio Li Ann's Infamous Speech

Recently, NMP Thio Li-Ann received what she described as "hate mail". Personally I would describe it as karma.

Looking around the Internet, it appears that a great number of Singaporeans do find Thio Li-Ann's own behaviour quite hateful. Click
here, here, here, here, here and here, for a few examples.

What happened? Last week Thio Li-Ann had gone to Parliament on a mission to attack the rights of gay people. I believe that she set a new national record. Her now-infamous speech has probably made her the most intensely disliked NMP in the entire history of Singapore. Among gays and straights.

I am quite serious. Which other Nominated Member of Parliament, past or present, has ever attracted such a storm of angry, negative comments from the general public of Singapore? You tell me.

Even the respectable, gentlemanly Dr Cherian George from NTU (also Stanford, Columbia and Cambridge University) could not find a single good thing to say about Thio Li-Ann's speech. Here's Cherian, in his own
" .... more distressing than the final result of the debate was the retrogressive speech by the high-flying legal scholar Thio Li-Ann. Her convoluted, caricatured rendering of political philosophy and comparative politics needed to be corrected by good political science, but she got away with it in Parliament. Her theories about what constitutes a minority could have been debunked by any graduate student of sociology or anthropology, but this did not stop her.

Then there was Thio’s tasteless digs at homosexual sex, which some of her comrades considered witty, but really deserved no place in the highest forum in the land. Thio has been celebrated for supposedly speaking up for the silent majority. This is an insult to the majority, most of whom have the basic decency to know the difference between what should be uttered in public and what should be confined to close friends or private blogs.

Thio also did a disservice to the majority of God-fearing Singaporeans – we who would like to believe that our faiths are ultimately about compassion, not the hateful, hurtful cheap shots that Thio felt compelled to deliver on our behalf. How I wished a theology professor or other religious scholar would have stepped into the debate at that point, to show how it might be possible to express a faith-based objection to homosexuality – minus the hate speech .
"Hate speech". Wow, wow. Isn't that a rather harsh sin for one distinguished professor to accuse another distinguished professor of? I wish I could say that Cherian was exaggerating. Unfortunately I think that Cherian was just being his usual self. That is to say - very perceptive, very accurate and very precise with his choice of words.

See for yourself what hate speech
means. Note how the term is legally defined under the laws of Ireland, Canada, Iceland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway - "... publicly making statements that threaten, ridicule or hold in contempt a group due to race, skin colour, national or ethnic origin, faith or sexual orientation" etc.

Then ask yourself whether Thio Li-Ann's parliamentary speech would have constituted a criminal offence, if she had made that speech in any of those countries. Although I, as an ex-Deputy Public Prosecutor, have prosecuted crimes only in Singapore, and not in any of those other countries, I personally think that the chances would be ... high!

And so this is a rather sad moment in the history of Singapore. Hate speech has made its own way into Parliament. For so many years, Singapore has placed significant restraints on the freedom of speech, supposedly as a trade-off for ensuring the greater good of social harmony and peace. Yet hate speech has managed to make its own way into Parliament.

And according to reports, it even gained the noisy, boisterous support of some chair-thumping PAP Members of Parliament.

What happened? Where did we go wrong? What a sad moment this is, for Singapore. Prime Minister Lee, you should consider reviewing the selection process for NMPs.

1 comment:

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

I have decided to close the comment section for this post.

The parliamentary session is over, the decision has been made, and a lot has already been said. Let's move on, and strive to build a kinder, more compassionate and more intelligent society.

For the good of all the human beings that live in it, regardless of their race, religion or sexual orientation.