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CORRECTED (10am 10 July 2013. Typo in headline fixed)
I read an article by Mr. Alex Au on his blog (‘Five Pink Dots on, government still paralysed’, 29 June) recently that made me uneasy. Among other things, he attacked the military, accusing it of the very serious charge of “doubtful loyalty” to Singapore’s Constitution.
I recall swearing to protect the constitution with my life during my National Service days. In what way does Mr. Au think I or my fellow NSmen have been disloyal to it? How have we broken our oath?
I realise the article has little to do with this grave charge against the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). I even come to a conclusion that Mr. Au may have simply been clouded by his anger. He did not support his claims of military disloyalty with any evidence whatsoever. Indeed, he did not provide any evidence for his many other accusations either -- against the government, against the judiciary, against the civil service, against the media, against some varieties of religious people (against virtually every institution it looked like that wasn’t four-square on his side on the issue of gay rights).
Yes, the article was primarily about the position of homosexuals in Singapore and I understand Mr. Au’s anger and frustration – being in the minority is often an uncomfortable thing. I also do share some of Mr. Au’s concerns on 377A.
But, lest Mr. Au and many others forget, 10,000 or even 20,000 out of 5 million people who turned up at Pink Dot 2013 do not make up the majority.
Mr. Au claims that in other parts of the world, things on the gay front have been “galloping away”. What he didn’t add was that in United States, the Supreme Court was only recently able to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act by a slim 5-4 decision. Even a liberal figure like President Barack Obama waited till the end of his first term to announce his support of gay marriage. Earlier this year, France – that supposed beacon of free love and romance – faced riots after the government legalised same-sex marriage.
Is the movement as advanced or popular here in Singapore? Probably not. In this case, Mr. Au might be trying to impose his own views on the rest of us, all in the name of wanting Singapore and our society to be more modern, responsive and progressive.
Mr. Au sees the wish to scrap 377A as being synonymous with the desire for a fairer and freer society. But he fails to note that his single-minded push to change the laws on homosexuality, move societal norms and impose his views on others goes against the very “democratic” and forward-looking qualities he hopes to achieve.
Equating the government’s failure to overturn the status quo on gay rights with paralysis is one way to looks at things. But it takes strength for a rock to stay rooted while rushing waters move swiftly around it. I think the government’s choice to stay still on the 377A issue is not because it is backward or static, but because it sees itself needing to be responsible to both the majority and the minority on this issue. This means while gay people are allowed to lead their lives as they please without fear of prosecution, the majority is afforded the symbol of 377A. It is a messy compromise at best, but sometimes we cannot have neatness without feeling like we are wearing straightjackets.
I do believe that those who accept the status quo of 377A are still the majority, including some who choose to stay silent out of respect for their gay friends. This does not mean we discriminate against gay lifestyle. In most cases, I would like to believe that we genuinely support our friends who have “come out”.
Governments cannot ignore the silent majority even as they ensure the rights of the minority are protected. They certainly cannot impose the views of a vocal minority on the rest just for the appearance of progressiveness.
Whatever you feel about our government, they have here a difficult dilemma that is faced by senior management in any organisation. How, when, why and how much do we move?
On the other hand, as a blogger, Mr. Au is in an enviable position of not being required to care for the views of the silent majority. The mood of online audiences today and the anonymity of the internet allows and encourages the vocal minority to be provocative in their views, regardless what others may think.
Casting our national institutions, including the SAF, which most local men are or have been a part of, in a bad light may have been taking it one step too far. And as much as I may sympathise with the many other causes – like the value of Bukit Brown and the need to address inequality – cited in Mr Au's piece, I must, as a responsible citizen, also acknowledge the areas in which Singapore has done well.
From riding out the 2008-09 global financial crisis relatively unscathed to the latest efforts to ensure that needy Singaporeans had access to N95 masks during the haze, I think we have to recognise the government does serve all Singaporeans. Acknowledging these successes is how a democracy avoids throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
With the popularity of events like Pink Dot, Singapore is showing more signs of becoming a more normal democracy. But to have productive civil discourse we need more than one-sided commentaries like Mr. Au’s. Our exposure to the rest of the world is slowly but surely causing us to question our own ideas of what Singapore’s Asian-based value system holds.
Mr. Au could do well to remember that this change needs to happen on its own time and not at the will of a few.
Marcus Wong Zhen Jie, 29
Other Your View letters:
YOUR VIEW: We have responsible people on the Internet
YOUR VIEW: Let's not criticise for sake of it
YOUR VIEW: Singapore must not become an 'angry and bitter' society
YOUR VIEW: What right do I have to complain?