Today, however, Mr Wang's fun is denied. The ST Deputy Political Editor, Paul Jacob, has a rather sensible article on the matter of the Seditious Bloggers. Mr Wang can nitpick a little here and there, but basically he thinks that Paul has got the right Big Picture.
Sept 17, 2005
Online activism? Root out those spewing intolerance
By Paul Jacob
THERE are some things, many actually, that are more important than freedom of speech.
One that we ought to uphold, especially with the mix of races and religions here, is that people should have a right to be protected from invective because of the beliefs they hold.
Why did it require the authorities here to step in and initiate action against men who ranted about Islam and Muslims online?
Why weren't active civic-minded Singaporeans online prompted to pummel and bombard them? Why not the moderators of the sites which host these chats or blogs? Why not those within the Muslim community itself?
Where was the consciousness and outrage of other individuals and a society which is supposed to promote and cherish racial harmony.
Now, instead of being aghast at our own late action to stand up against them, we are debating the merits and wisdom of the authorities stepping in and hauling them off to court.
What's also receiving attention is the use of the Sedition Act which, among other things, warns against those who raise discontent or disaffection among citizens or residents here, and those who promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes here.
There's also speculation that's been generated online: that the case is an effort to curtail debate in cyberspace which, because of its vastness, is where the authorities have the most difficulty patrolling or imposing control.
Others suggest the action is really a move by the authorities to send an indirect message about the limits of political and other discourse that have taken root in cyberspace.
I would have expected more soul-searching.
Have we, collectively as a society, grown immune to, or become so accepting of, coarse and contemptible behaviour?
Have we grown tolerant of such goings-on because we believe that people who use the Internet to promote hate and intolerance are a minority and that their messages would make little headway?
Or it is because we trust that someone else will step in and put an end to it?
The authorities do step in. But there are still many people out there at it. That they can prowl the Internet, undeterred and unchallenged, is cause for concern.
If there is a cause for which online activism is needed, it is in chasing down, challenging and rooting out those who continue to promote their intolerance.
There are thought to be more than one million active Internet users in Singapore, and the maths would suggest there are more people with the ability to do good and police the system than there are those who preach intolerance, ridicule and call others' beliefs into question.
So rather than question why it is that the authorities had to act, or the merits of which is the more appropriate law to use, or whether this is a prelude to a political clampdown, the Internet's cause will be better served if active users weigh in and do their own clamping down.
What these guys have done, as some have already suggested, is to give bloggers and chatrooms a bad name. And if the community does not want to have big brother watching, then it's best that it does the watching itself.
As a consequence of us bloggers being bloggers, there is some natural tendency on our part to view these sedition cases as a potential threat to ourselves. We may tend to see these sedition cases as the government taking action against bloggers, rather than the government taking action against racists.
Both views are correct in their own way, but I think that the latter view brings us closer to the heart of this matter. As a very active blogger myself, I am personally quite unperturbed by these sedition cases. I do not see anything in these cases which make me feel that I should, for my own safety, curtail my own blogging activities. I simply do not see anything similar between what I write, and what those three seditious bloggers have written.
If I belonged to a racial or religious minority group in Singapore, I might even rejoice. The next time I come across a blog or website insulting my race or religion, I might just pick up the telephone and call the police. And I know now that there is at least some chance that they will look into my complaint.
(Mr Wang also has a strong feeling that this is how most investigations into future sedition cases in future will be initiated).
In all honesty, I find it very difficult to see these sedition cases as real threats to the principle of freedom of expression in Singapore. I saw a very real threat in the Acidflask case; I saw real threats in the Martyn See case; I saw real threats in the banning of Shanmugam Murugesu's face. I do not see any real threat in these sedition cases.
The distinctions lie in the nature of the messages that were being spread. In Singapore, I think that the real (and longstanding) concern surrounding the freedom of expression is that the overwhelmingly dominant ruling party may use its powers to suppress the expression of critical or alternative views. These are views of people who want to point out what they see as an existing wrong in the system, or who think that they can show a different, better way to do things. We may not necessarily agree with their views, but their freedom to express such views is nevertheless something we should fight for (or at least be concerned about).
To me, however, racist messages advocating violence just do not fit the bill. I have no intention of fighting for people's freedom to spout messages clearly intentioned to be offensive towards particular races or religions.
I am happy that the government is coming down on the seditious racists. I am also aware that many bloggers will raise the subjectivity element - how does one tell where the line is to be drawn? Mr Wang will leave you with the following tidbits for thought:
1. If your posts are similar to those of the seditious racists, then you are in danger of getting yourself in trouble. Are your posts anywhere close?
2. If a clear line cannot be drawn, are you saying that it is preferable for violent racists to be completely free to run amok and spew their hate messages absolutely as they please?
3. Ask yourself honestly - how would you feel about this matter if you were a member of a racial or religious minority?