The banality of sedition

October 15, 2005
John A. Tessensohn
Osaka, Japan

THE seditionists’ flimsy mea exculpa in Convicted for sedition, blogger insists: ‘I’m no racist’ (Today, Oct 8-9) is disquieting because this incident shows how blogs have denatured and desensitized admittedly “normal persons” like Koh, Lim and the rest of his ilk from the dangerously volatile issue like race relations in Singapore. By his own description in the Today report, Koh said he “blasted away” on his blog and even engaged in “another blog war” that resulted from his earlier entries – strong fighting words that are easily recognizable by legions of sedentary keyboard warriors who dwell in a nether world of trolls, lurkers, noobs, rotflmao, flame throwers and other denizens in planet blogopolis.

The causus belli of his blogging racist tirades? He was offended by the consternation displayed by a group of Malay picnickers after he had walked his dogs too close for their comfort at East Coast Park.

Admittedly, the very nature of blogging with its unfiltered expression and publication online almost as instantly as a thought strikes makes some of these blogs engrossing and edgy reading. But while this quick-trigger sensation is sauce of the blogging goose, it is now sedition for the real world gander, especially when it comes to race relations in Singapore.

All racist rants are clearly more dangerous than entertaining blogging, for example, about what color underwear a lingerie model may have laid out for herself that morning, but I digress. Words in blogs are published and put out there for the world to read and react to.

By Koh’s own admission, he counts on having Malay friends, one even showed up in a gesture of comradeship at his hearing. But Koh flatters to deceive because Koh and Lim would not be sitting in a cold, dank prison cell today if he had been equally conscientious to ask his many Malay friends’ opinions about the wisdom or propriety of publishing online the contents of his racially offensive blogs.

Such is the banality of these bloggers’ strain of racism. Koh et. al. , like many other Singaporeans would most likely have friends of different races, and are not your archetypical, mouth-frothing, right-wing racist fanatics. But racism inherently dehumanizes and debases the individual and refocuses some irrational rage onto an abstracted target of hate.

One’s friends are never part of that group that is scurrilously targeted because of its race, even though they are members of that race. People, in their worser states, can probably think or compose such vile and hateful racist thoughts, but before the advent of the blog, such thoughts should not be hastily published, for the entire online world to read and dwell upon, by easily as pressing an ENTER button. The liberating and empowering faux authority of blog publications can amplify such baser impulses and cause mayhem.

The blogger may be liberated by the medium but is a willing captive of the machine. The blogger minimizes contact with the multifaceted human dynamic, flesh and blood-based interaction and is certainly more at ease with a no-contact, non-tactile reductivist exercise in self-gratification – a supreme master or mistress of their domain. One clearly knows if one engages in too much self-gratification, the physiological and psychological consequences are not for the faint hearted.

For the record, I am not asking the Singapore government to ban blogs or the Internet (they must have either seriously considered the feasibility or are currently secretly planning to do so as I write this). But using the Sedition Act to police and regulate such blogs could be akin using a cangkul (hoe) to crush a kacang putih (peanut) – typical of the Singaporean instinct to law and order – just like to a dog, everything looks like a fire hydrant.

A more enlightened approach would have been that in addition to short and sharp imprisonment for such offenses, community service by the offender at the many self-help groups like MENDAKI or SINDA could help sensitize first time offenders like Koh and Lim.

In schools, students should be encouraged to volunteer time at such self-help groups, and that how and who can contribute to such organizations are not solely based by their color of their skin or their article of faith.

While I am loathe to praise the Singapore government for its over-efficient curtailing of the precious few liberties that Singaporeans can still indulge in, this enforcement action was a long time coming. A jail sentence sends a strong deterrent warning to those that have played with the fire of racism, deserved to get burnt, but a more nuanced approach to promote race relations against such offenders and other Singaporeans need to be applied.

I saw this article in the Singapore Window. I felt it sums up the whole issue of the racist bloggers very well, dealing with the disgusting racist diatribe of some who are not your “archetypical, mouth-frothing, right-wing racist fanatics” while at the same time, highlighting the “over-efficient” (I love this word! Its so true of the Singapore government..) enforcement of the Sedition Act which may not be the best long term solution to the problem.

On a related note, when I was talking to my elder brother about the issue, he actually had received a forwarded email containing such racial slurs. And I asked him to send it to me for me to take a closer look. And boy was I truly surprised! Believe me, it was VERY VERY VERY vile and disgusting! I’m simply shocked at the level of stupidity and narrow-mindedness such people are. And the fact is such people do exist among our midst. Argh. Leads me to question to what extent our education system, housing system, racial harmony day etc has been successful…


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