The white elephants of Buangkok have evolved. They are now a symbol of active citizenship, of free speech and of the aspiration for a better society. Oh, they have also become T-shirts.
The girls put together an info sheet explaining the background and purpose of their school project. There is this little paragraph which I want to discuss - particularly the part that I have highlighted in bold:
"We would like to remind the public that even though the White Elephant has become our mascot and symbol for the project, we are in no way attempting to judge or condone the Buangkok MRT incident. Rather, we are using the accidental fame of the elephants to spark interest in our project; they also serve as a reminder that legal boundaries are important and should be adhered to even while expressing one's views and opinions about political issues."If you look at the overall paragraph, well, you know what it is - just as they say in the army, it is a "cover backside" paragraph. The girls are saying, "Please ah please ah, we scared ok, don't sue us, prosecute us, fine us under the Seditious Defamatory Unlawful Assembly Public Entertainment or Whatever-Whatever Penal Code." Okay, who can blame them - this is Singapore, after all. But Mr Wang invites you to pause for a moment to think a bit more carefully about this part:
"... they also serve as a reminder that legal boundaries are important and should be adhered to even while expressing one's views and opinions about political issues."As a lawyer, Mr Wang would like you to remember that legal boundaries are indeed important, if only because if you cross those boundaries, you run the risk of being sued or prosecuted. However, Mr Wang also wants you to remember that the legal boundaries we are talking about are not like the immutable laws of physics or the laws of God.
The legal boundaries we are talking about are man-made. They were written by a Tan Ah Seng or a Lim Ah Kow sitting in an government office somewhere drafting statutes. The Bill then goes to Parliament and a bunch of MPs talk about it in a hurry (after all, they have 256 other things in an agenda) and vote 79 to 2 in favour of it (after all, there is the party whip and all the PAP MPs have to vote the same way) and then the Bill is passed and, voila! we have a law. A law that is as imperfect as the Tan Ah Seng and the Lim Ah Kow and the MPs who talked about it in a hurry.
So that's how you get your legal boundaries.
That's if you're lucky. If on the other hand, the law in question comes from the Penal Code, chances are that after it was created by an Englishman named Stephen MacCaulay more than 100 years ago and then imposed on the colonised people of India, Malaysia and Singapore. And since then the law has probably never been changed. Yup, we're talking about laws like theft, rape, robbery, unlawful assembly, murder etc etc. We're still living with the laws from the 19th century, essentially unchanged.
So respect your legal boundaries, because if you don't, you may get into trouble. But don't be so quick to respect the law because you assume that the law is some Great Wise Thing which was bestowed upon us by the Heavens. Nah, nothing like that. In relation to that kind of respect, just give about as much respect as you would give to a Tan Ah Seng or a Lim Ah Kow or a dead Englishman who passed away one century ago. Or three or four MPs in Parliament debating on a Bill in a hurry. You know.