On Friday, The Straits Times published an article, titled “Playwright Alfian Sa'at questions LKY legacy”. In it, their arts correspondent put together several of Alfian Sa’at’s posts and comments on Facebook, one of which was written in Malay, and referred to an article that he wrote for an online journal. This includes a quotation of his parody.
Alfian had set several of the posts quoted by The Straits Times to private after he received death threats and abusive comments.
According to Alfian, when he asked the journalist why she published the piece despite this, she said, “because it’s newsy.” Alfian said that he was not interviewed for the story.
He then asked: “If you publish it, there's a possibility that my safety might be threatened. Because people are getting irrational and I don't know who might want to harm me. Which is more important to you, news or my personal safety?”
The journalist replied: “News. But if you get any death threats you can make a police report and we'll definitely run the story.”
As of publishing, The Straits Times’ article has more than 38,000 Facebook shares.
In the wake of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s death, many netizens have condemned politicians, bloggers and even businesses for making inappropriate remarks during a time of mourning.
Alfian notes that “over the past few days I've noticed the advance of the online pitchfork mob. The first few responses to my satirical pieces seem to get the commentary, but increasingly I've had people visit my page to tell me that I'm 'an asshole' and an 'ingrate' and 'attention-seeker'.”
The Straits Times article places Alfian squarely in the middle of the heated debate over how Mr Lee should be remembered, and on whether it is inappropriate to criticise his legacy during this period of mourning. Writing on Facebook, Leafy Leaf commented: “Omg Straits Times put him out for slaughter in FB. He is now more hated than LTK.”
Alfian says that the article took snippets and questions whether The Straits Times was aware that its article would incense its readers. Alfian also added that he did not intend to give his posts such a public airing.
On Wednesday, Alfian Sa’at posted a light-hearted parody on his Facebook page exploring common themes in the Singapore Story. He explains: “It was a commentary on exaggerated myth-making, this sense that just about everything in Singapore bore LKY’s touch.”
He also wrote a poem on Tuesday, titled “In Other News,” juxtaposing the not-so-newsworthy occurrences of everyday life. He explains: “[It] was my response to how we treat the life of a 'Great Man' in contrast to other more invisible and anonymous lives.”
According to The Straits Times, “Some responders to his posts suggested that it was in bad taste to share such thoughts before Mr Lee's funeral on Sunday.” No mention was made of those who agreed with Alfian.
Since the Straits Times article was published, several netizens have expressed support for Alfian.
Den Gogh explains that Alfian was looking at Mr Lee’s legacy from a different perspective, not questioning it. “We do not all have to suddenly think alike and begin to glorify and worship a person because he has passed on. I can as an individual, pray for his soul and that his family find strength and comfort during what must be a difficult time for them. However, it does not mean that my beliefs and the way I think must change,” he writes.
Another netizen, Prab Nathan, appealed to readers to respect Alfian’s views even if they disagreed, and challenged them to “write your own piece with a properly-crafted argument and send it in” if they thought what he said was wrong.
But the responses to the article by The Straits Times have been overwhelmingly negative. Calls were even made for Alfian to leave Singapore.
Explaining his discomfort, Alfian writes:
“I think the 'dick move' was that I had already decided to make the posts private to limit their spread as the funeral neared. But ST decided to amplify their spread instead. Also, the difference is that quite often on FB people who don't like what I'd written have a chance to interact with me, where they could seek clarification if they want to. Someone who reads newsprint doesn't have this avenue.”
Alfian has also noted that he is willing to wait until the 7-day mourning period is over before discussing Mr Lee’s legacy, “in the clear light of day, away from the fog of myth.”
In a Facebook post, Akshita Nanda explains that Alfian Sa’at is a newsmaker so his views are treated as news when he puts them online. The ST did the same for the LKY91 workout from MP Teo Ser Luck.
Moreover, she tried to contact Alfian on his cellphone 7 hours before the story was put online but he did not respond until after the story was online. According to her, when Alfian said that he had received death threats, she asked for the evidence and showed it to the editors. However, because the original posts had already been in the public domain, the story was not taken down.
She ended off by noting: “Nowadays nothing put online stays private and posts will be circulated and recirculated.”