ST: Vitriol from ‘offended’ individuals a concern

We have penned a letter in response to online vitriol against Amos Yee, the teenage blogger who has drawn public anger over his Facebook and blog posts attacking Islam. While some of Amos’ posts are admittedly careless, some of the reactions against him, including death threats, were extreme and disturbing.

Here’s the letter on the Straits Times Forum:

If the URL is no longer working, you can read our unedited letter here, which more or less similar to the edited version.

Reactions to Amos’ posts are disturbing

We read with concern that Amos Yee is under police investigations for posting allegedly offensive contents on his blog.

Our biggest concern go beyond Amos’ posts itself, which the authorities are already addressing, but over the vitriol coming from “offended” individuals themselves. Such vitriol have seemingly gotten a free pass in spite of its obscene, threatening, abusive or insulting nature – the very offenses that Amos has been previously charged for.

Some extreme reactions include threats of violence against Amos that are disturbing to say the least. Unfortunately these reactions – some of which are made by adults older than Amos – do not face same level of public scrutiny and disapproval as the teenager’s admittedly careless comments.

Surely as a society we should not condone threats of physical harm in response to a perceived verbal or visual insult or offence. There is no moral equivalence between the two, the former being much more serious that the latter.

Furthermore, isn’t taking offence in itself a manifestation of an intolerant streak? The idea that one’s views or beliefs should forever be shielded from criticism, analysis or ridicule is not one which should be condoned by a mature society.

The United Nations declaration of human rights of 1948, among other things, guarantees the right of free speech, freedom of religion, freedom from religion and to leave one’s religion. But not one of its 30 articles guarantees freedom from being “offended”.

That there can be no such “freedom” follows from the fact that when people have differing opinions, such opinions could be offensive to others who don’t share such views. It is a price we all pay, and should willingly pay, in a multicultural, multi-religious society.

In Singapore, there appears to be an increasing trend of some people filing police reports as a form of” vigilante justice” on social media. While the rule of law is to be respected, the authorities should only be involved if the discussion poses clear and immediate danger of harm.

Discussion in general should be based on fact, rationality and civility – without resorting to the higher authorities to mediate or intervene. This is the only way to encourage everyone in Singapore to participate in discussion about the topics and values important to us.

Paul Tobin

Humanist Society (Singapore)