I posted previously on the Black Sunday thingy and painted a positive picture of the direction we could be heading. It would be good if the non-prosecution of the black-shirted patrons at Starbucks leads to the opening up of the space permitted for free expression of ideas and opinions. However, I would like to throw in a note of caution. Hence, this ‘Take 2”.
Arguably, the Black Sunday concept is a form of civil disobedience. If we take civil disobedience to be the refusal to comply with a law on account of deeply held views about the injustice of those laws, then the gathering of black-shirted persons (on the assumption that it infringes the Public Order Act) would be a form of civil disobedience.
Whilst I support the amendment of some of our laws to create greater space for free expression, I certainly would caution against disobeying current laws simply to make a point about the need for free expression. The Pink Dot event that took place at Hong Lim Park demonstrates how we can use the existing avenues for expression in an effective manner without breaching any law.
Given the light-touch approach adopted by the authorities in relation to online criticism, citizens should use the internet in a free and responsible manner to address current issues. The Speaker’s Corner is something that I was cynical about when it was first created. But, I think now it has morphed into a tremendously useful venue for interest groups and NGOs to make their views known. We should use the space available to raise the issues of concern that we have.
The problem with attempting a ‘protest’, ‘march’, ‘gathering’, etc in contravention of the law is that it does not serve any political purpose. Civil disobedience (seen in its historical context) is not merely about point scoring or seeking attention through gimmicks. Civil disobedience has been effective only because of an effective marshalling of popular public opinion. Civil disobedience also represents a powerful statement of non-compliance with a law that may legitimately be judged to be unjust. Racial segregation in the American South led to civil rights activists engaging in defiant acts such as ‘sit-ins’ at segregated places such as restaurants and bars. During the Indian independence movement, Gandhi and fellow Congress leaders marshalled the power of peaceful non-cooperation as a means of drawing attention to specific unjust laws. For instance the ‘salt march’ was an attack on the revenue and also one that was capable of resonating with a majority of the people as salt itself was a commodity in common use in India. It involved attacking the British monopoly of the salt trade and a clear infringement of the Salt Act. Defiance of the law in that context where a nation was struggling under the yoke of colonialism, is arguably more acceptable and tactically wise.
Let’s face it. We lack freedoms in Singapore. But, we do not suffer under the yoke of tyranny in the same way that some have suffered in other places and at other times. We have had our share of unjust imprisonments. But, these are issues about which we should voice our concerns and opinions through the media that is opening up to us these days. The net is available. Online petitions can be used. Write letters to relevant officials. Use the space at Hong Lim Park. Use the existing freedoms and build upon them.
I do not support civil disobedience for its own sake. There must be an overriding moral case against a law for civil disobedience in relation to that law. I do not believe that there is an overriding moral case against our existing laws on Public Assembly. I do not agree with those laws. I think we can do better. But, that is not a reason for me to disobey those laws. Non-compliance with law by citizens undermines the rule of law as much as non-compliance with law by the state.
Are you organising an event? Apply for a permit. You can’t get a permit? Go to Hong Lim Park.
In the meantime, speak up for change in the laws.
I do not agree with the approach of the Black Sunday movement. But, I hope that the authorities continue to give these chaps the breathing space they desire.