I am writing in response to the recent issue of libel threats between A*Star and a Singaporean student over the latter's personal weblog.
Relevant as issues of freedom of expression (as raised by Reporters Without Borders) as well as the right to protect one's reputation (as raised by SM Goh and MM Lee) may be, it is all too easy to get caught up in a blame game between Mr Yeo/A*Star and Mr Chen, and reduce this entire issue to a finger-pointing exercise.
I am writing from the perspective of national identity.
During my involvement with the recent MCYS youth workgroup initiative to explore building national identity (among others), I realised that eventually, it is not the physical or tangible that will form the basis of a Singaporean identity.
Indeed, is Singapore just about nasi lemak, our every-changing city-scape, and the Great Singapore Sale?
What, then, is Singapore - and being Singaporean - truly all about?
Many in civil service have lamented the increasing number of ‘quitters' in this country. In recent years, many youth initiatives have attempted to ‘link' overseas Singaporeans back to the nation, so as not to ‘lose our roots'.
These exercises, coupled with the advent of internet communications, has resulted in a greater expression of diverse views - political or otherwise - manifested in the form of online forums, weblogs, editorial letters and more. Many have embraced this phenomenon as a reflection of Singaporeans taking greater ownership of our nation.
The practice of litigation against detractors by politicians has cultivated a society that does not encourage alternative opinions. Many overseas Singaporeans, such as the late Grace Chow, have lamented the lack of freedom to express unconventional views for fear of threats such as those facing Chen Jiahao. The migration option, then, is often the last ditch effort by the disenfranchised individuals to find another place they can call home, without fear of litigation for the expression of an alternative political opinion or the political censorship of media and the arts.
The question is, at a time when managing diverse opinion has become high on the national political agenda, when libel threats are now being directed not at opposition leaders but our young students - what is most important for us as Singaporeans?
Is it being able to prove that we can have a peaceful and stable society, even if at the cost of intolerance for plurality in the broadest sense? Or that, as Singaporeans - Singaporeans of any belief or persuasion - we can partake, as equals, in the discussion of national issues that matter to us?
It is one thing to put in place (and in practice) measures to ensure social harmony and internal security, and quite another to (perhaps inadvertently) reinforce the silencing culture of fear and apathy that ultimately denies our country of the vibrance and progress that could otherwise be.
Eventually, what it is that captures our roots - our national identity - will be the realisation of a country that we not only call home, but one in which we can feel a legitimate sense of belonging. A place where we need not fear denigration for - and can in fact be confident of - our views, our sexual orientation, our education levels, our material wealth, our social standing.
*** I know that the idea of Singapore worth dreaming about - and fighting for - is out there. I only wish to witness, and be a part of, that positive change that I hope will happen - within this lifetime.