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Troubling nonchalance from the MLC on “killing children” remarks by its member

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The following is an email sent to the chairman of the Media Literacy Council (MLC), Professor Tan Cheng Han, and the MLC committee members, on 27 November by the writer.

Dear Mr Tan and members of the MLC,

I write to express my utter amazement and complete disappointment at the seemingly nonchalant manner in which the Media Literacy Council (MLC) has responded to the Facebook postings of one of your members, namely Mr Calvin Cheng.

Mr Cheng, I am sure you are aware, was a former Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP), a title which he publicly utilises to identify himself.

Although Mr Cheng did not serve his full term as NMP, it is a title which he is most recognised for.  The title thus lends him some weight when expressing his views.

Mr Cheng is not new to controversy or to making controversial remarks. Indeed, in his blog post of 24 November (see here), Mr Cheng said he “often... would lead with a seemingly provocative and outrageous statement” in discussions.

On 17 November, Mr Cheng posted the following on the Facebook page of a friend who had asked where had all the liberals gone, in a post on the aftermath of the terrorist attack in Paris:

“The terrorists are not common criminals, it's not about crime punishment and deterrence.

“They are a mortal enemy intent on killing and destroying.

“So you kill them before they kill you. And their children too in case they grow up to take revenge.

“It's as simple as that. Please don't complicate matters.”

Mr Cheng’s remarks drew criticisms from some.

When asked for your comment, Mr Tan, you seemed to have brushed off the criticisms and concerns expressed by some, and you related what Mr Cheng had explained to you.

What is conspicuously missing in your response to an email from Ms Jolene Tan, who expressed her concerns, was the MLC’s position on the matter.

Does the MLC accept Mr Cheng’s explanation?

Your response did not indicate if you did.

If you did, it would be most puzzling indeed.

It is quite clear, as Ms Tan had explained, that a reading of Mr Cheng’s original post shows that he was advocating a pre-emptive strike against children of terrorists who would or might undertake or seek revenge in future.

Here, I would like to emphasise these words Mr Cheng used in his post:

“in case” and “revenge”

The use of “in case” shows that Mr Cheng was referring to a pre-emptive strike against such children.

Please also note that Mr Cheng, in his mention of “terrorists”, did not specify or indicate that he was  referring only to the terrorists of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

In fact, Mr Cheng seems to be referring to terrorists in general.

It is important to note this because Mr Cheng’s suggestion could also be referring to non-war zone situations. That is, children of terrorists anywhere could or should also be killed.

In a later blog post and in his explanation to you, Mr Cheng claimed that he was referring to the act of self-defence when one is faced with the children of terrorists wielding weapons before one.

In your response to Ms Tan, you said:

“[What] he intended to convey was that even if it seemed harsh, one may have to kill such children when they are facing you with weapons given that they are trained to kill.”

However, this was not what Mr Cheng had said.

As I have pointed out above, his post referred to pre-emptive strikes on children – “in case” these children too grew up to be terrorists and sought “revenge”.

“So you kill them before they kill you.”

That was what Mr Cheng said.

His words had nothing to do with whether one was being faced by a child with a weapon.

Indeed, he said:

“It's as simple as that. Please don't complicate matters.”

Yet in his own words which he penned in his blog post, Mr Cheng also said the issue of “killing children” is a “complex” one:

“Firstly, on the issue of killing children per se, one may react to it with revulsion but it is a complex moral question.”

And again:

“However, the problem is even more complex than that, and asks even more uncomfortable moral questions.”

Mr Cheng thus seems to be rather confused – one moment saying that it is a “simple” matter, while the next claiming it is a “complex” one.

It seems to me that Mr Cheng is either thoroughly confused by his own arguments, or he is trying to explain away what he truly feels – that children of terrorists should be exterminated, period.

But Mr Cheng does not seem to stop at the killing of children as a solution to the terrorist problem.

He also seems to advocate the removal of families as well.

Referring to the Chinese, he wrote:

“The Chinese up to this day believe in 斩草除根 to prevent a cycle of bloodshed.”

Loosely translated, the Chinese words mean: Cut the weeds and dig up the roots.

And then referring to the Chinese president, Mr Cheng added:

“Xi Jinping not only deals with his enemies, he makes sure their families are also destroyed.”

Such actions by the Chinese, Mr Cheng claimed, “has been the case for millennia of Chinese history which has led to the most enduring and glorious of civilisations.”

Mr Cheng also has another reason for wanting to eliminate children and families of terrorists. We shall come to this later.

You can thus understand why I find it puzzling and indeed disturbing for the MLC to now tacitly accept Mr Cheng’s after-thought explanation, given the very purpose of the committee, which I need not remind you of.

To advocate the imposition of death on or the murder of children is unsettling enough, but Mr Cheng goes further than that and apparently supports the elimination of families as well.

It is even worse when one also selectively quotes articles out of context to justify such a view, as Mr Cheng has.

In his blog post, Mr Cheng referred readers to a news article on CNN. (See here.)

In his blog article and in his Facebook comments, Mr Cheng referred to remarks by an analyst in the CNN report.

Mr Cheng wrote, quoting the report:

An analyst in the article above notes “The war won't end as quickly if ISIS can readily replace its fallen soldiers with brainwashed children.” "It will be a matter of generations," he said of how using child soldiers will affect the Middle East. "It will take maybe 20 years, 30 years. It's a long, long process and it's very dangerous."

Mr Cheng then wrote:

“This is important. An entire generation of children under ISIS including their own, have been ‘brainwashed’ to see anyone not subscribing to their ideology as enemies, and should be killed.  They fight like adults and replace the adults when they are KIA.  This leads to a 20 to 30 year problem, especially since “It takes a significant amount of time and money to rehabilitate child soldiers, experts say”.”

It is important to note that Mr Cheng highlighted what “experts say”, that “it takes a significant amount of time and money to rehabilitate child soldiers.”

First, do note that Mr Cheng’s position has somewhat shifted from talking about children of terrorists to “child soldiers”.

The two are, in fact, quite different.

Second, do note that he seems to hold the view that because rehabilitation for child soldiers (and supposedly children of terrorists as well) “takes a significant amount of time and money”, it is perhaps more utilitarian (a word he also used in his blog post) to simply eliminate the children.

Indeed, without missing a beat, Mr Chen wrote on his blog [emphasis added by me]:

“Therefore, given a problem of a whole generation of children that are already trained to kill, and given that rehabilitation is difficult, and given that this will lead to 20 to 30 years more of strife and suffering for many, many more human beings, what is the utilitarian thing to do?”

It is a shocking argument and justification for the elimination of children based on lazy assumptions and presumptions.

It is indeed shocking that a committee member of the MLC – an organisation set up to protect and educate, among others, children on the evils of the world – to actually advocate the killing of children caught in conflict.

One would, in the name of deeper understanding and humanity, return to the United Nations’ provisions and conventions, particularly on the Rights of the Child.

While Mr Cheng may dismiss these as “liberal” viewpoints, they are nonetheless universally accepted rules of engagement.

I would refer the MLC to the UN’s State of the World’s Children reports throughout the years, which include its report on children involved in war or conflicts around the world.

In its 1996 report, the UN said:

“Every conflict forces children to live through some terrible experiences. Indeed, millions of children have been present at events far beyond the worst nightmares of most adults.”

It was perhaps with such atrocities in mind that the UN finally came up with greater protection for the child, including in times of war, in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

“Articles of the Convention that are especially important in wartime include all those related to survival and to family support,” the UN said.

And among these protection enshrined in the Convention are “protection against exploitation and violence; protection against torture, or any other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

The UN also said:

“The Convention also makes specific mention of children in war. Article 38 calls on States Parties (i.e. governments) to apply the rules of international humanitarian law that are relevant to the child, and to take every feasible measure "to ensure protection and care of children who are affected by armed conflict."

“Article 38 also urges governments to take all feasible measures to ensure that children under 15 have no direct part in the hostilities.”

We would do well to keep these in minds when we consider matters involving children. For if we do not, we would be a lesser people who would subject the most vulnerable among us to the worst of atrocities which indeed these terrorist groups already do.

What then would be different between us and them?

One could go on and show up each nonsensical argument of Mr Cheng in this episode, but I trust that the MLC and its members can see these for themselves.

But the truth is that while there will always be those like Mr Cheng who, in their egoistic craving for attention, would subject themselves to provocative and sensational postings online, the more important question is the position of government-appointed and publicly funded entities such as the MLC, on such matters.

And in this regard, I find it troubling that the MLC would not unequivocally state its position on Mr Cheng’s views on the killing of children as a justification for the resolution of the terrorism problem.

As this is a matter of public interest, this letter will be made public online.

Sincerely,

Andrew Loh