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Standing by my beliefs

by Kirsten Han

It’s been a long day, and I am KNACKERED. I’ve been buzzing with nervous energy all day long, going over mental lists of things that I need to get together for Second Chances in the Park tomorrow. I’ve checked my email and phone about a million times, convinced that someone is going to contact me with some catastrophe at any second. I’ve also been casting worried looks at the sky, hoping and praying that the weather will be good tomorrow. (I’ve just sneaked a peek at the weather forecast, and wish I hadn’t.)

At 12:16AM, I’m at that point where there is really nothing else I can do but cross my fingers, cross my toes and pray for a good day tomorrow. Pray that it doesn’t actually rain, pray that people show up, pray that everyone will have a good time.

But at the same time, I know that there are probably many people out there who would like to see us fail.

Naive. Stupid. Idiotic. Dreamer. Blind. Criminal-hugger. Disrespectful of drug abusers and their victimised families. Sentimental. Manipulative. Liar. Christian crusader out to force everyone to be in line with my own religious beliefs (despite my actually being agnostic). Since I started writing about the Mandatory Death Penalty in Singapore and started being involved with We Believe In Second Chances, I have received all these criticisms and accusations. I’ve been surprised by the vitriol and aggression from people who have never even met me. (I wonder if they would express themselves the same way if they were to say it to my face instead of anonymously on the Internet?)

A year or two ago I would have been devastated, completely flattened by such anger and criticism. My self-esteem would have been in tatters. I would probably never have left my bed ever again.

But yesterday as I read yet another comment from a death penalty supporter I realised that it didn’t hurt me at all. Yes, he was making ad hominem attacks. Yes, he was accusing me of all sorts of stuff. Yes, his words were designed to hurt me. But I wasn’t hurt. The words were just words, bouncing off me with nary a dent. Because, no matter what anyone says, I’m doing what I believe is right. And I stand by my beliefs.

The beauty of true democracy and a marketplace of ideas is that not everyone will agree. People are more than welcome to disagree with me. I welcome the discussion and the debate. I’m more than happy to try to persuade you, while you try to persuade me. But using personal attacks achieve nothing at all, and this year I have finally learnt how to be self-assured enough to withstand such onslaughts. It’s something I would never have been able to learn in a classroom, and I am grateful to all the experiences I have had this year for teaching me this lesson.

I believe that the State should not be able to murder people. I believe that the State should not hang young drug mules. I believe that restorative and rehabilitative justice works better than retributive justice. I believe that the Mandatory Death Penalty is wrong. I believe that for Yong Vui Kong, life imprisonment is enough; there is no need to spill his blood. And because I also believe that my country can do better, I am willing to speak up about these beliefs. That is why I am involved with TheOnlineCitizen, why I initiated the Anti-Mandatory Death Penalty Photo Project and why I am involved with We Believe In Second Chances.

Tomorrow – or I should say today – we will be having Second Chances in the Park. No matter what the weather’s like, I will be at Hong Lim Park at 4pm. If it rains heavily, if we cannot go ahead with our scheduled performances and if we have to replace our picnic baskets with umbrellas, we will at least sign the birthday banner for Vui Kong, to show a boy on death row that during this Christmas season he has not been forgotten. That even as he awaits his fate there are people on the outside of Changi Prison who are thinking of him. That even as he has to spend his 23rd birthday alone in a cell there are people who hope that he will be able to live to see his 24th.

I hope I will see you there too.

This post first appeared in Funny Little World