The other day, I got a survey from some students over at Nanyang Technological University's School of Communication and Information (Nanyang Tech, a good school, is located here in Singapore). The survey had to do with blogging behavior, whether I was self-censoring or erasing any of my blog posts in light of some incidents that happened last year involving the Sedition Act.
[Here, in Singapore, seditious behavior includes the promotion of "...feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes of the population of Singapore" or "to point out, with a view to their removal, any matters producing or having a tendency to produce feelings of ill-will and enmity between different races or classes of the population of Singapore..." Last September, three Chinese men, two in their mid-20s and one teenager, were charged with making seditious and inflammatory racist comments on the Internet against the Malay/Muslim community. All three pled guilty. The punishments, IMO, were mere slaps on the wrist compared to what I felt the three should have been given; however, the Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, made it quite clear that such remarks would not be tolerated here, even if posted on the Internet.]
The survey itself was rather basic, with questions on the types of topics I write about on my blog (personal or non-personal), my familiarity with the Sedition Act, and so on. However, there were two questions where I gave some additional comments (that were not asked for by the students). I thought I would share my answers and comments to these two questions here:
15. I practice self-censorship on my weblog (5-point scale where 1 = Strongly Disagree and 5 = Strongly Agree). I answered 4, "Agree."
Most of my “self-censorship” takes place during the pre-writing and writing phases. On those posts that I write myself (as opposed to copying someone else’s work), I may take up to a couple days writing the piece, which gives me time to think of what I want to say, how to prepare a better argument, cool down if I’m angry, and so on. Once the post is published, I rarely self-censor.
19. How much has your blogging content changed since the incident of the Sedition Act? (5-point scale where 1 = No Change and 5 = Large Change). I answered 2, "Little change."
I support the Sedition Act as it’s currently written. In fact I wish other countries (especially Western countries such as the U.S.) had Sedition Acts that were modeled after Singapore’s. As a Muslim, I’m concerned about the Islamophobia and xenophobia expressed by non-Muslims, especially in my home country. I question whether I will ever be able to bring my wife back to the U.S. to meet my family, whom she has never met (despite our having been married for several years now). Based on what I have read over the past four years since I left the U.S., I am not sure we can pass through the country without experiencing any anti-Muslim bigotry. *I* often experience bigotry against Islam (and even myself for being a Muslim) just by reading the various comments on my blogs and that of others.
Incidents like the Danish cartoons need to force other countries to question a fundamental trade-off: whether an unregulated freedom of speech is more important as a national value, with all of the attendant consequences that may happen both nationally and internationally, or a regulated freedom of speech that minimizes potential social upset both locally and abroad. Singapore, with its earlier experiences (e.g., the race riots of the 1960s), has decided (wisely, in my opinion) to regulate free speech for the greater benefit to Singaporean society. The Prime Minister recently said that an incident like the Danish cartoons would never have happened here, and I both agree with and applaud him for making such a statement (in fact, I did so a few weeks ago in one of my blog posts). The Danish have learned, much to their chagrin, that what is published locally can have international consequences. Media sources – including bloggers – need to consider the consequences of their writings and be willing to self-censor when necessary. Incitement against any race or religion is wrong, full stop, and those who incite the hatred of others may find that their work rebounds against them to their detriment.
Just ask Julius Streicher.