Monday, October 29, 2007

Non-repeal of 377A: Remember Rosa Parks and Don't Give Up!

Hi Friends,
I wrote this letter to the forum page today:
October 29, 2007
Dear Editor,

I refer to the ongoing debate on the non-repeal of Section 377A of Singapore’s Penal Code.

Though contentious and undoubtedly divisive, the debate was necessary and may prove to be cathartic.

By voicing our concerns about “gay” rights, Singaporeans from both sides of the divide are taking ownership of Singapore. Only when we truly care about this place, would we care to take a stand and either seek to change our laws or give justifications to keep the status quo.

Personally I feel that the jury is still out about the “nature versus nurture” origin of homosexuality and I am sure that the last word has not been said about it by far. But this has not prevented me from empathizing with gay Singaporeans’ plight.

I was especially disturbed that although heterosexual sodomy (ie anal sex) and oral sex have been decriminalized, these exact same acts between two men remain illegal. If this is not discrimination, I do not know what is.

Notwithstanding law professor, NMP Thio Li-Ann's attempt to explain away why such difference in treatment can justly be classified as “differentiation” rather than “discrimination”, I am not convinced that she is not just splitting hairs.

She also alluded to the “slippery slope” of the gay activists’ agenda and how gays would demand for ever more rights culminating in same sex marriages and child adoption rights.

Perhaps the exact fear was in the white bus driver who insisted that Rosa Parks gave up her seat to a white passenger on that fateful day of 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama. If Rosa and people like her were allowed to sit as they pleased, the blacks may actually demand for equality and other rights! What a frightening thought!

Although it is uncomfortable and troublesome when other fellow human beings demand for equality and an end to discrimination, I hope that our parliament will lead rather than follow, and show that Singapore is on the way to being a progressive and tolerant society.

Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan
PS: Photo above is Rosa Parks being finger-printed after being arrested.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Why No Singaporean question and no Singaporean marches.

Hi Friends,

I will be busy these couple of weeks. ( But not too busy to write a short post here)

I was pleasantly surprised to find 2 letters in the ST forum today which more or less reflect my views about the "apparent" Singaporean apathy and about active citizenry.

The "whack the opposition to pulp" method or more simply stated "reign of terror" method meted out by Singapore's first generation leaders is an anachronism- in fact it was not even appropriate during the rowdy 50's and turbulent 60's. Globalisation ensures that we are never going back to those dark days.

We must continue to press for greater freedom and choice, which also means greater latitude to express our displeasure ( or pleasure) on any issues which we see fit.

The right to peacefully organise for any cause is a right and not a privilege. That inevitably means the right to peaceful marches outdoors.

The government now appears like a hypocrite as while it tacitly supports the protesting Burmese monks ( who if they were in Singapore would have been arrested and treated as per CSJ) it persists in disallowing peaceful assembly in Singapore's own borders. A case of pot calling the kettle black?

My opinion is that when ( and not if) the government allows the right of peaceful marches, the novelty will wear off very quickly ( ala The Speaker's Corner) and only a small vocal minority ( probably the usual culprits) will be left trying (with difficulty) to galvanise the rest (the apathetic majority who prefers shopping) to join in the protests.

Nevertheless,the government should not be afraid to hear its own people's voice.

Cheers and Freedom to Burma,

Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan

1. Why there were few questions for MM Lee
(ST Forum 10.10.07)

AT THE recent ministerial forum at Nanyang Technological University, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew asked: 'Is there no Singaporean who wants to ask a question?' (ST, Oct 5).

I attribute the dearth of questions to two factors. Firstly, the education system in Singapore does not adequately promote inquisitiveness and critical thinking. As a parent, I still find that children are primed to absorb and regurgitate information, despite changes introduced by the Education Ministry.

Perhaps the generation that current teachers hail from is one which does not truly appreciate active engagement and expressiveness by students. It is still a talk-down culture: teacher teaches, pupils listen. If one questions too much, he is seen to be difficult or trying to be too clever.

While the Education Ministry may say that the pedagogy today is different, I would argue that schools in other countries have progressed faster in this area.
Secondly, the political culture in Singapore does not encourage one to speak up, let alone question. Due to Singaporeans' belief in the efficiency and stability of the Government, most are wired to accept that 'Government knows best'. The result is that we do not question as much as others.

This is compounded by what I see as an unhealthy 'upward-reverence culture'. One tends to 'revere' his supervisor or anyone seen to be of a higher status.
This culture does not encourage the openness required for the development of naturally inquiring minds. In fact, one who questions runs the risk of being perceived as uncooperative, and 'going against the grain' of being cohesive and efficient.

Therefore, the unquestioning Singaporean public behaviour is not a phenomenon. It is a culture characteristic of our nation. The positive side of this culture is that we are a cooperative and efficient people. We obey and move very quickly.

However, in the increasingly dynamic, highly competitive knowledge economy, it will become a problem. Singaporeans will lose out to their more expressive and confident foreign counterparts who would speak up without fear.

The same strong leadership that had overseen the development of our robust economy in the last four decades should now aim to maintain Singapore's competitiveness by fostering a new brand of economy, one characterised by open debate, lateral thinking and creativity.

That way, MM Lee will be kept much busier by Singaporeans in future forums.

Danny Lee Kwok Hoong

2. Non-violent demos can serve civil society well
(ST Forum 10.10.07)

AS A Singapore citizen working in London, I shared in the universal horror at the events that have occurred in Myanmar. To express my sympathies with its people, I participated in a 'Free Burma' demonstration on Saturday.

Several thousand people gathered outside the Tate Britain museum and donned red ribbons and caps, and marched through the political centres of London (Houses of Parliament, 10 Downing Street and Trafalgar Square).

The participants were ethnically diverse, and ranged from old men in suits to parents with pushchairs. The demo was led by Buddhist monks but included Christian and Muslim individuals in religious dress.

The march took place over less than two hours, and caused minimal disruption as the streets were quiet on a weekend.

There was a small police presence but there was not the slightest hint of trouble. All present were respectful of the law and the needs of the public - the organisers even instructed us to remain quiet as we passed a children's hospital.
When the march ended at Trafalgar Square, various Myanmar individuals living in London expressed their gratitude that so many had turned out to express their solidarity.

This is an example of how non-violent demonstrations can contribute much to civil society. It united diverse Londoners, and allowed the sorrow that each marcher felt to be made into a shared, tangible experience.

Perhaps Singapore should be more encouraging towards its citizens and residents, with respect to public displays of unity.

Much has been made of the 'apathy' of our youth and the need to show a more gracious and compassionate society. A more permissive attitude towards public demonstrations may well be one way we can make significant progress towards our national aspirations in this field.

Jolene Tan Siyu (Ms) London, UK