PM Lee Hsien Loong at the National Citizenship Ceremony at Ang Mo Kio GRC - Sengkang West SMC on 31 August 2019 (Source: PMO website).

Joseph Nathan: Singapore cannot afford to become a contentious and litigious society

by Joseph Nathan

As I read an article by Yahoo that the Yale University has launched a probe into the last-minute cancellation of a democratic dissent course at its Yale-NUS campus in Singapore, I didn’t really give it much thought despite some netizens describing the whole incident as our government being “overly heavy-handed”.

Before its opening in 2013, the Yale-NUS College had already faced strong criticism from some of Yale’s faculty members due to Singapore’s restrictions on protests and student involvement in political activity. In retrospect, these members were proven right by way of this incident and I can see some serious headwinds ahead.

The National University of Singapore (NUS) seriously need to wake up as their never-ending saga after saga had badly dented our country good reputation as a centre of excellence. Why did NUS allow the one-week course in the first place when it lacks the capacity to embrace liberal discussion?

More Surprises

When our Singapore Police Force “SPF” suddenly arrested a husband-wife couple over the weekend for wearing tee-shirts with the message “2nd Chances Means Not Killing Them” instead of their names for the Yellow Ribbon Run, questions are being asked as to what offence they had committed.

This arrest is indeed very puzzling for many and there has not been any timely update or clarification from our SPF as to exactly what they find “offensive”, and why this offence warrants an arrest.

Now add the recent legal action by the Prime Minister’s Office against Terry Xu, the editor of The Online Citizen, over and above the on-going Lee siblings squabbles, I begin to wonder if these incidents, happening almost back-to-back, are mere coincidences or the result of some untimely knee-jerked reactions by some overly zealous individuals within the respective establishments?

The Significance of These Incidents

It is well reported that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will be going to New York on 23 September to receive the prestigious 2019 World Statesman Award from the Appeal of Conscience Foundation.

Founded by Rabbi Schneier in 1965, the foundation champions the promotion of religious freedom, human rights, peace and tolerance, seeking to uphold their philosophy of “Live and Let Live”.

As such, these unfortunate incidents show a lack of tolerance and are now standing out like sore thumbs. Question is, do those individuals involved in making these “knee-jerked” decisions even conscious that their actions may now be used to escalate the whole award into an international debate against Singapore?

If so, what is actually wrong with NUS or our SPF that they can be so dumb as to risks putting PM Lee and Singapore in such an embarrassing situation. Since these incidents are not adverse in nature or life-threatening, shouldn’t they adopt the “Live and Let Live” philosophy that is supposed to underpin PM Lee’s style of governance and helps fortify its philosophical values?

If otherwise, then they should be stepping forward to explain more clearly the basis of their actions in a more timely manner.

After 54 years of nation-building, l hopes that these unfortunate incidents are the exceptions and not the norm, and also hope that the respective entities involved will be taking corrective measures to make things right. Timely disseminating of information to help clarify issues that are of public’s concerns is important. Their silences only compound the issues and make us all look stupid.

If these were to be the new norm, then we will risk being a contentious & litigious society. Without tolerant and respect for one another, we will be divided as a nation unless we start cherishing the philosophical values of “Live and Let Live” and forge a more desirable Collective Consciousness as a nation.

Patriotic Singaporeans had worked very hard over the past 54 years to make our country economically successful and viable. Let us not take our past success for granted.

As such, this is clearly not acceptable as Patriotic Singaporeans clearly deserve better.

This was first published on Joseph Nathan – Hard Truths of SG’s Facebook page and reproduced with permission.