Wong Jock Onn rebuts Tommy Koh’s apologia

On Sunday, 15 April 2012, the Sunday Times published Tommy Koh’s defence of the Yale-NUS project. It appears to be a response to the resolution passed by about 200 members of the Yale faculty earlier this month. See this report in Yale Daily News.

In his commentary, Koh argued that the Yale faculty should be “more humble” towards a rising Asia, and that “we are different because of our different histories and circumstances”. In so saying, there is the odour of the old “Asian values are equal to Western” argument.

Another rhetorical device used in his piece was to attack Americans for not having a perfect country themselves, and by implication, they should not reserve to themselves any right to criticise Singapore. In support of this line of attack, Koh wrote: “Singaporeans have enjoyed the right to vote since 1959. When I was a student at Harvard, the black citizens of the American south were still denied their right to vote.” Most Singaporeans would consider our so-called right to vote to be a pale shadow of the term.

Koh’s piece is archived at the bottom.

First, I want to archive Wong Jock Onn’s rebuttal, published a week later in the Sunday Times of 22 April 2012. I think it speaks for itself.

* * * * *

Non-discrimination in Singapore? Not so, Prof Koh

Professor Tommy Koh stated that Singapore is ‘seriously committed to upholding the principle of non-discrimination’ (‘Yale-NUS a timely, visionary initiative’; last Sunday). I do not fully agree.

Sexual discrimination may be minimal but we have not witnessed a female prime minister, unlike some other countries in the region.

We have, as Prof Koh stated, ‘one of the world’s most diverse populations’, but only compared to developing countries and rural cities.

When I lived in Canberra in 2002, within weeks, I met people from most regions – the Asia-Pacific, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and the Americas. The presence of white Australians was often overshadowed by other ethnicities.

Here, Chinese, Malays, and Indians constitute over 90 per cent of the population. We are diverse but cannot hold a candle to cosmopolitan cities like London and New York.

As for our attitude towards sexual minorities, we ‘have to progress at a pace acceptable to Singaporeans’, said Prof Koh, but these Singaporeans are specifically those who reject sexual minorities.

Why is Singapore developing at a rate that many have difficulty coping with, but when it comes to sexual minorities, acceptance is slow?

Why do we thrive on how others marvel at our economic progress, but expect them to accept our slow pace in accepting sexual minorities?

Furthermore, there is a difference between not accepting a minority group and having laws against their acts. Homosexual acts are criminalised and same-sex civil union is a fantasy.

What about discrimination against singles? Married couples can buy new Housing Board flats at a subsidised rate and use this as an investment opportunity.

Property agents tell me that many newly married couples buy a brand new HDB flat, sell it after a few years, make money, and move into a condominium. They use taxpayers’ money for investment, while singles are left out of the race.

Wong Jock Onn (Dr)

Wong’s letter was published in the Sunday Times, 22 April 2012.

* * * * *

Yale-NUS a timely, visionary initiative

Four reasons why resolution adopted by Yale faculty is disappointing

By Tommy Koh

Yale University is a great university. When I was living in New York City, I often commuted to New Haven to teach at Yale. In 1982, I was invited to deliver the Stimson Lectures. In 1984, I was conferred an honorary degree of doctor of laws by Yale. As a graduate of Harvard Law School, I was very pleased to be able to quote President Kennedy and say to my wife that I have the double benefit of a Harvard education and a Yale degree.

I am a proud member of the Yale family. It was with disappointment that I read the text of the resolution adopted by the Yale College faculty on the Yale-National University of Singapore (NUS) College, which will be located in Singapore and begin operation next year. Let me explain why I feel disappointed.

  • First, the resolution completely ignores the potential benefits of this visionary joint venture, for the two universities, and for Asia and America. The new college will enable the students to read, learn and discuss the great books of the West and the East, the great philosophical traditions of Asia and the West, and the great poets and writers of the two civilisations.

I hope that the college will offer a congenial and inspiring environment for mutual learning. I also hope that the intellectual engagement between American and Asian students and faculty will take place on the basis of equality and mutual respect. The Yale faculty resolution seems to be inconsistent with this spirit and smacks of cultural arrogance and superiority. The message seems to be that the American way is the only way.

  • Second, Asia is on the rise. It is the home of the world’s second (China) and third (Japan) largest economies. India will soon catch up. Asia is also the home of some of the world’s most ancient and richest civilisations, such as, the Chinese, Indian and Japanese. Asean is the world’s second most successful regional organisation, after the European Union. South-east Asia is a poster child of successful multiculturalism.

America’s engagement with Asia must reflect this changing reality. It is not a relationship between patron and client, or of a superior and an inferior. It is, with every passing day, becoming a relationship between equals. The Yale faculty should, therefore, be more humble.

After the failure of the attempt to remake Iraq in America’s image, American intellectuals should reflect deeply on that experience. One lesson learnt should be that while America can and should help, it cannot prescribe the future for other countries.

  • Third, NUS and Yale share many common values and ambitions. They are both dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. They believe in academic freedom. They subscribe to the internationally recognised human rights, both the civil and political rights as well as the social, economic and cultural rights.

In Singapore, unlike the United States, racial and religious harmony are prized above the freedom of speech and freedom of the press. If there is a contradiction between them, the US would give primacy to the freedom of speech and freedom of the press, whereas Singapore would give primacy to racial and religious harmony.

This does not mean that one side is right and the other side is wrong. What it means is that we are different because of our different histories and circumstances. It is not fair for the Yale faculty to criticise Singapore for its ‘lack of respect for civil and political rights’ without acknowledging that it is only 47 years old and that, in that short time, it has transited from the Third World to the First.

Singapore is certainly not perfect, but, dare I say it, neither is America. Singaporeans have enjoyed the right to vote since 1959. When I was a student at Harvard, the black citizens of the American south were still denied their right to vote. Even now, young black men, such as Trayvon Martin, are viewed with suspicion because of racial prejudice.

  • Fourth, Singapore is seriously committed to upholding the principle of non-discrimination. Any form of discrimination based on race, colour, religion, gender is unacceptable to Singapore.

We have one of the world’s most diverse populations. The miracle is that we have learnt to live together in harmony. There are no ethnic or religious conflict in Singapore. Women have gained parity with men.

We are not yet as tolerant as the West towards sexual minorities, but we have to progress at a pace acceptable to Singaporeans. Yale should respect that.

In conclusion, I would say to my friends in New Haven that the Yale-NUS College is a timely and visionary initiative. I am confident that it will be a success and its success will have a strategic significance in the partnership between Asia and America in the 21st century.

The writer, a Singapore diplomat, is Rector of Tembusu College, NUS.

This comment was published in the Sunday Times, 15 April 2012.

37 Responses to “Wong Jock Onn rebuts Tommy Koh’s apologia”

  1. 1 octopi 22 April 2012 at 17:19

    There is something to said for “accept our slow pace in accepting sexual minorities”. Personally I have no problems with gay rights or civil union. But accepting what the majority of Singaporeans think about gay rights is what democracy is all about.

    To be sure, this can change, and will probably change. I estimate Singapore to be roughly 20 years away from civil unions. Might be a little too slow for some, but so be it. In the mean time, keep up the hard work, advocate gay rights, win people over one at a time. Freedom is fought for, and not handed over to you on a plate. This is how things function in a democracy.

    Unless the government is being fundamentally dishonest in representing that this is the view of the majority, I think that it’s right that we respect the majority opinion.

    As for Singapore being diverse like London and New York, people do not accept that Singapore is going to be like London and New York. Already, “Singapore is developing at a rate that many have difficulty coping with”. We are not London or New York. We are not a melting pot. We are multicultural, with 3 major groups and a lot of others – that’s your cosmopolitan part. Unless we decide this is going to change, it will not change, because it is this – rather than what the government decrees, that decides our national identity. This is how we hold on to our past.

    Singapore is not a free country. If it was, we wouldn’t need Yale to come in to teach us about liberal education.

    • 2 spectrekle 23 April 2012 at 00:04

      Hello sorry ok mister octopi. Democracy is about freedom for one and all, be they a minority in sexualism or physical impairment and what not, and not as you put it so nice to hear; that the minority has to respect the majority’s views! Hello, respect is a 2-way street baby and not one way Highway down to hell. Democracy means doing what each other do best themselves of and by themselves without any one looking over their shoulder. You be what you’re and they be what they are. They don’t condemn what you do and you don’t condemn what they do. What they do is none of your business and what you do is none of their business too! Live and let live. They don’t borrow from you did they? Why should they respect the majority when the majority don’t respect them in the first place? You do what you want with your life and they do what they want with their lives. Now, just because I’m just a plain old toilet cleaner doesn’t means that I’ve to respect and obey the wishes and demands of Lawyers, Doctors, Architects and Engineers, etc, who happens to be the majority, that I shouldn’t be a toilet cleaner at all, that I should a Doctor or a Lawyer or something like their profession! Bull shit! They do what they want with their lives and I do what my life. Period. You walk your way and I walk mine. You don’t step on my toes and I won’t step on yours either. Some principals what.

      So where is the conflict? The conflicts only starts when the majority feels that they’re the Kings of this world and that the minority are their slaves that must do their bidding. Love this boy! Love that girl! Don’t love that boy! Don’t love this girl! Boy and boy cannot love one another. They must love girl. Girl and girl cannot love one another! They must love boy! Boy cannot love boy and girl at the same time. Girl also cannot love boy and girl at the same time! All must be one man one woman ok! No double timing one another! No falling out of love! And no falling in love! Girls cannot wear boys clothing. Boys cannot wear eye lashes and no makeup please! No masterbation! No! No! No! Everything No! Obey me and you’ll survive the onslaught! Disobey and you’ll castrated! In the end its they themselves who ends up with homosexual, lesbians and bisexuals children and God knows what else!

      Hello otherwise where do you think these people came from – outer space aliens ah? These very purple children they’re killing off are the very same children these very same heterosexuals gave birth to in the first place! Oh heaven me! You people gave birth to them and you want to kill them off? Denied them their rights? Deny them their freedom? Deny them their love they’re entitle to? Deny them everything that the parents got for themselves as straights? Did they asked to be born into this world in the first place. No. Did you made plans to have them in the first place? Did you plan to have straights or homo or bisexuals childrens? Did you planned with your misses that you all are going to have a baby straight boy name David or a baby straight girl name Mary? Or did they just want to screw some sexy looking woman because of their overwhelming sexual desire to let go? Suddenly she’s pregnant and bore these babies without any pre-determination? And then you people want to blame them gays,lesbians and bisexuals? Hello for your info, this world is full of them all over the fucking place la!

      Oh only straights can fuck all the young girls they see in the world. All the straights can have girlies bars to play with the girls la? All the straights can show off their fantastic emotion in HDB public stairways la? All the straights can make straight XXXX films la? And all the straights can go and see them la? Oh only the straights can have fellatio, voyeurism, sadism, mashocism, fetishism, cunnilingusism and anus sex la? They can have multiple sex partners la? They can drink, smoke and have orgies all night long la? They can have sex with their children la? They can exchange wives with one another la? Nothing wrong with all that la? Oh they can go to BKK, Manila, Vietnam, Batam, Bintang to sleep with pretty young things la? Oh straights don’t have AIDS or all the other sexually transmitted diseases la? Straights people don’t kill straight girls and vice versa la? Minority people cannot do la this? Majority can is it? Is the troubles, conflicts and all the World Wars of this world caused by homosexuals? Or the straights? Or bisexuals? Or Lesbians? Answer sincerely with your hand on your chest near your heart. Don’t everytime and everything blame the gays. Whatever they may do wrong, the straights did just as well too. And whatever the straights can do good, they can too. Are singers, entertainers, designers hairdressers, etc. straights? If they’re, then we’ll be the worst dressed animals in the world!

      Democracy has to be fair to one and all, be they the majority or minority. Not just side the majority. Minority have as much rights as the majority. Minority too have their right to life according to UN’s Human Rights Article 3.

      Democracy is two way sword. It either kills or defend. If used wrongly, it kills. If use wisely, it serves. You’re at the edge of using it wrongly if I may say so. Did not Hitler kills off the minority Jews, Gays and his oppositions? It is the Majority, mind you, and Democracy that leads to authoritarainism and that’s where the minority will have to really kowtow to the majority without a word of dissent la! Long live Julius Caesar!

      • 3 Anonymous 25 April 2012 at 11:29

        I just want to address your concept of democracy specktrekle. Technically, octopi is correct. Democracy is tyranny of the majority. The majority vote outweighs minority votes. That’s how it is. Think about it for an instant. If a referendum for say, gay marriage is out in the open. And I mean honestly out in the open, with the government effectively saying we’ll pass whatever the majority decides (this btw, is direct democracy, as opposed to representational democracy). If the majority says no to gay marriage, then the gays have no choice but to go along, and try very hard to have another referendum, and this time convince even more people to vote yes. The opposite is true, of course. If the majority says yes, then the homophobes will have to suck it up. And they too will try to have another go at it, etc. etc.

        Anyway you look at this, it is basically forcing the other side into submission by weight of numbers.

        Minority rights run the risk of being trampled in democracy, it’s the nature of the beast. The USA circumvents this by having a constitution that spells out certain rights that every body has regardless of how things are voted. (This makes the USA a republic, with a government that is democratically elected. In theory at least).

        I have no other problems with the rest of what you said.

      • 4 Michael 1 May 2012 at 18:45

        Well said! As true and correct as it can be said. I am surprised how often ‘democracy’ is used to justify authoritarianism as in Octopi’s comment. Everyone is in a minority in some way or another, if you think about it.

    • 5 Poker Player 23 April 2012 at 10:29

      “There is something to said for “accept our slow pace in accepting sexual minorities”. Personally I have no problems with gay rights or civil union. But accepting what the majority of Singaporeans think about gay rights is what democracy is all about.”

      Would you apply this style of argument to female mutilation in societies that practice it? What about female infanticide?

      • 6 octopi 23 April 2012 at 15:23

        Well one thing I can do is to morally condemn it as wrong. Not bad for starters: you feel better, I feel better. But fat lot of good it’s going to do for the ppl involved.

        First, I decide who I want to help. I don’t look for an issue first, because you could end up in 4 or 5 different places. You help them 1 society at a time. So let’s say we are helping Africa.

        Then I would look for a solution. What is the solution involved? Should I outlaw it? What if it’s a place where you don’t have a police force, and where the village chieftian is the police force?

        If I wanted to help Africa – well I don’t because I do other things, like keeping my carbon emissions down. Or I get involved in some other projects. But if I want to help Africa, I make sure that there aren’t any bigger issues in the way. How many of us know that the biggest problems are things like the Congo War, which is the biggest war since WWII? Or malaria which kills a ridiculous number of people? Or various weird diseases? Or climate change, which is causing famines all over?

        OK, suppose we got all these things out of the way. Maybe we want to develop their economies? I heard that a lot of African countries are beginning to see their economies take off, and this is due to the emergence of market economies.

        Is there debt? I heard that countries are paying through their noses for debts incurred under previous regimes, and that’s why their economies don’t grow. Is there ethical trade? Maybe the farmers are forced to grow cash crops and they are being paid shit for them. Maybe some joker in some hedge fund somewhere is screwing with the price of coffee keeping them in poverty. Maybe we should get the Chinese in and they’ll pay a lot of money for the minerals. Unless those mining rights are causing all the civil wars in the first place.

        AIDS? What about AIDS? Yeh, check that too, won’t you.

        Yeh, when all those things are done, I might give a thought to female genital mutilation. We should set up schools. Get women educated. Help them in the political struggle.

        Everything takes place in the local context. We don’t just write some words onto a piece of paper, get it passed into law, and nothing gets done, because your arm of the law doesn’t reach into villages, or your officials are too corrupt or too underfunded to get things done, or maybe when your NGOs go home, all the women who were screaming for their rights get rounded up and get shot.

        Get all the infrastructure set up first – get the law enforcement working, set up health, set your economy up. Most important, set up education. Female genital mutilation is a lot like feet binding in China. It was eradicated when there were enough progressives in society. It probably took years. We don’t snap our fingers and things disappear.

        You see, in the end it is still the same: wait for it to happen. For everything there is a season. The change will take place when the conditions are right. Think about the whole system first. So yeah, I would actually say the same thing about female genital mutilation.

      • 7 Poker Player 24 April 2012 at 10:49

        A pretty long winded way to miss the point.

      • 8 Poker Player 24 April 2012 at 10:53

        I need to quote you again – but with special effects in case you still don’t get it.

        “There is something to said for “*****!!!!!ACCEPT!!!!!**** our slow pace in accepting sexual minorities”.”

      • 9 octopi 26 April 2012 at 19:33

        OK now that you put it in caps, it does look like a very badly formed statement. So let me make more clear what I originally meant.

        I feel that it is OK for the government to say that they will wait until the Singapore public’s acceptance of gay people in Singapore.

        You already know what I personally feel about gay rights. I think that civil unions should be allowed. Personally I do not accept the majority’s opinion. Personally I do not think anybody should accept discriminating against gays. But I will accept that the majority’s viewpoint will prevail for now.

        I can list down 10 reasons why I think that the gay rights activists in Singapore have been doing a really bad job at promoting gay rights in Singapore, and why they won’t succeed until they change their tack. They have the wrong idea. You should not be trying to convinced the government. You should be convincing the general public.

      • 10 Poker Player 27 April 2012 at 11:40

        “I can list down 10 reasons why I think that the gay rights activists in Singapore have been doing a really bad job at promoting gay rights in Singapore, and why they won’t succeed until they change their tack. They have the wrong idea. You should not be trying to convinced the government. You should be convincing the general public.”

        Wrong. The only thing to do is continue doing the same thing and wait for generational change. It’s the same in the places that have already gay rights. They just started earlier.

        The wrong thing to do is behave like supplicants – leaf from the US civil rights movement.

      • 11 octopi 27 April 2012 at 19:22

        Aren’t you the guy who hates waiting? Aren’t you the one who’s loath to accept the status quo?

        I don’t know if you’re a gay rights activist, but I will speak to them in general. Your tack is all wrong. I was thinking a few days back that the young people will grow up and gay rights will be more palatable. Now I don’t think so. The conservative Christians are making a lot of headway against your movement. If you can’t win over the heartlanders, you guys will be finished. Your challenge was to find a context for your movement in our Asian context – so far you have failed. Gay rights is seen as something almost exclusively angmoh pai.

        It shouldn’t be that hard. Chinese culture is not that anti-gay. But somehow you don’t know how to do the grassroots thing.

        If you do it right, you could have 377A repealed within 10 years. If you don’t do it right, 50 years is not enough.

        I will write more on this some other time.

  2. 12 Concerned dude 22 April 2012 at 17:39

    Who the hell is this Koh dude? I hope Americans don’t see his words as representative of Singaporean intellect and reasoning skills. Because they’re not.

    Firstly, is he really comparing Singapore to Iraq? America may have failed to implement a modern government in an extremely backward desert ruled by warlords, but how is Singapore in any way comparable to that? The first step to becoming a first world nation is to develop economically so that the standard of living is high. The second step is to become concerned for civil and political rights. Singapore may have employed ruthless, oppressive tactics in the past, but they were almost always justified as helping Singapore grow economically and remain politically stable at a time when Singapore was still heavily developing. Now, that virtually all Singaporeans enjoy a pretty great standard of living, it’s about time to divert attention toward social and political issues. Honestly, it has been long overdue for us.

    Secondly, using Trayvon Martin as an example of how the US is still racist? Have you looked at the reactions to this case? The outrage of the press and public over his murder? Only the fringe lunatics are defending Zimmerman. Why not take a look at how many Singaporeans regard foreign talent to see real hate and discrimination.

  3. 13 Abraham Wilder 22 April 2012 at 22:07

    Koh’s comments were definitely intended to preach to the local choir; since he failed to address the core concerns raised by the Yale faculty’s resolution. He goes on an irrelevant tangent with 3 of his points and makes assertions which are highly debatable on another. If the Yale faculty are so off-base with this resolution, why does it sound so similar to the concerns raised 5-6 years ago in the UK in an almost identical situation where the U of Warwick pulled the plug on their Singapore campus? Aren’t all of these incidents pointing out a reality which has shown no signs of changing and which calls into question whether a ‘liberal arts education’ as envisioned by each of these Universities in-turn can indeed exist in the Singapore context? Wouldn’t each institution rightfully be concerned that any degree conferred by the Singapore-linked University be “tainted” and not have the same value as one conferred by the parent?
    Also Octopi’s comments reveal a fundamental failure of understanding in the area of human rights, and the notion of “democracy”. All of the major democracies have long agreed upon the notion that fundamental rights of a minority shall never be put to a vote of the majority. Evidence documents such as the U.S.’s Bill of Rights or the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. Certain things such as equal treatment under the law for minorities are not to be up for a vote & it is the duty of politicians, civic leaders, fairminded citizens and the independent judiciary to ensure this.

    • 14 octopi 23 April 2012 at 01:47

      The fact is that civil rights have never been granted until the majority was ready for it. In the US slavery took years to be abolished, and for many years it existed side by side with the Bill of Rights. It took years before black people or women got the right to vote. (And in 2000, a lot of black people in Florida didn’t get the chance to vote either).

      I am merely mentioning the inconvenient fact that civil rights take time and political effort to see through, and are never granted until the majority are ready or comfortable with it. It may be ” the duty of politicians, civic leaders, fairminded citizens and the independent judiciary to ensure this” but until the time when the number of fair-minded citizens grow to the right critical size, that ain’t gonna happen.

      • 15 spectrekle 23 April 2012 at 13:20

        It’s not that US Slavery needs years to be abolished but that it took years to destroy the evil people that wants to controls slavery. That’s my dear friend is two different things. If the wicked megolomaniac rich, egoistical, superior racist, predominance and powerful had let go of their guilefulness and stubborness earlier then it won’t come to be years before slavery is being abolish, now would it?.

        Now is it not an evil thing to hang on to slavery, to make other people people, other human being such as themselves, slaves and be subjected to their whims, fancies and wishes with ultra low salary, if there’s any at all?

        If that’s evil from day one, isn’t a bit late for the UN to advocate Human Right Article #4 back in 1948 that “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.” when it can be and should be done way way back then. Why wait until 1948 when thousands of lives are lost in the civil war and unaccountable deaths of slaves unknown? Now with this LAW outstanding, are they going to tell us that they still needs to give us time, that we need the majority’s agreement, that we a need slow pace to implement it! BS!

        This is exactly what happened in the US Civil War. People said stop this slavery but other people said no way man. And so they fought one another until one side wins the conflict. And who wins the conflict? Not the Blue Coats, Grey Coats, Red Coats but SLAVERY! No one wins but SLAVERY herself! But people needs to kill one another before she can wins hands down. She made people kill one another for her sake! Do people have to resort to violence to achieve their objective, be it for the abolition of slavery, abolition of death penalty or the abolition of the Internal Security Act?

        Never Say Never. Never Say Die. Never Say Ready. Never Say No. Never Say Can’t. Never Say What? Always Say Yes! People are always ready. The masses are always ready. The opressed are always ready. The suppressed are always ready. The forgotten are always ready. The disadvantaged are always ready. The malnourished are always ready. The poor are always ready. The wronged are always ready. The innocents criminals are always ready. The sinners are always ready. The deprived are always ready. The betrayed are always ready. The deceived are always ready. The maligned are always ready. The hypocrites are always ready. The accused are always ready. But are your so-called higher up in the ivory tower ‘politicians, civic leaders, fair-minded citizen and the independent judiciary’ ready for the change, willing to make the change for the betterment of the Human Race, for Mankind as all one inclusive entities with no ‘BUTS’.

        If ‘NO’ then all I can say Good Luck to Humanity la!

      • 16 octopi 24 April 2012 at 02:48


        So far from your argument, I’m hearing a lot of “the good guys should always win the bad guys” and not enough of “how will the good guys win the bad guys”. You don’t understand. In this world everybody thinks he’s the good guy.

        So whenever you’re ready to address that, I’ll go look it up. Thanks.

    • 17 octopi 23 April 2012 at 02:15

      Civil rights are a forever ongoing political discussion and the US Civil War is a great example of what can happen when the political discussion gets a little too heated up. That is why things never happen until the majority is comfortable with it.

      • 18 Poker Player 23 April 2012 at 10:25

        Octopi needs to separate clearly the “description” and “prescription” parts of his comment. A common tactic is to use “that is the reality” as an argument.He can backpedal to say it is not an argument, but the intent is to blunt the moral argument to those who can’t see through what he is trying to do.

        To make my point starker:
        try using this style of argument to victims of female mutilation in societies that practice it.

      • 19 octopi 23 April 2012 at 12:45

        You always have to use due process in order to see things through. If you ever say that the minority can force its way over the majority – well that’s why we don’t have rights in Singapore. The government always says we are the minority, but we know better and therefore you should listen to us.

        Maybe I am just being complacent because – if you read my original post, I said that it’s just a matter of time before gay people in Singapore get their rights. I never said they should be deprived of their rights. I never said they’re not going to get their rights. All I said is, they won’t get their rights today. And I said that you have to keep on fighting. You have to keep on talking.

        When I said that it’s for the majority of the people to grant rights to the minority, it doesn’t mean that just because the majority is heterosexual, they have to discriminate against the homosexuals. Most of your allies will be straight people. And you don’t have to put it to a vote: 30-40% could be good enough. Unless you have very vocal opposition. But what has to happen is that enough heterosexuals have to speak up for it. Right now, you have to face your enemies – the churches and the mosques, you have to fight this enemy before the government is going to fight them for you. The AWARE stuff was about gay rights. You have to fight those fights.

        The other thing is – this is also a fight for democracy, because this will involve one of the few instances of democracy exercising its power. It will involve plenty of gay pride days, marches, forum letters, whatever it takes. Think about how you’re going to manage the public’s perception of you. Would it be easier if you didn’t have this image of being party-goers? So many actors in Mediacorp are gay. Why aren’t they speaking out and keeping their mouths shut?

        Clinton stuck his neck out 20 years ago for gay rights, and he was punished severely for it. He was stupid – he went against the military. No president after that did anything for gay rights, although they had an unlikely ally – Cheney’s daughter is gay. Now, Obama’s not going to speak up for gay rights because maybe he knows he doesn’t have to do anything. 8 states have already legalised civil unions. The battle is fought on the ground. One day everybody will say, so many countries have it, it’s time for Singapore. That’s when it will happen.

        This is the way that democracy works in practice. If you do not understand how it works in practice, don’t lecture me about how it works in theory.

        Now since you mentioned female genital mutilation, I will put up one article that I came across recently. Try to read it in its entirety, understand it before you reply to it.


        To my mind, there is never any doubt that female genital mutilation should be abolished. But the question is, what will it take for it to be abolished? How are you going to affect policy in a faraway land? And can it ever be abolished without the Africans themselves starting a civil rights campaign? And how will that be done if the majority of the Africans in that community don’t think that way?

      • 20 octopi 23 April 2012 at 12:53

        Singapore is a modern, westernised and fairly cosmopolitan place. We have national values that enshrine acceptance of differences in race, religion and creed. We are not a redneck town (even though it’s not easy to tell sometimes).

        If under those very favourable circumstances the gay rights organisations are still unable to get the majority on its side, it’s pretty obvious that they aren’t trying hard enough.

      • 21 spectrekle 23 April 2012 at 14:22

        Majority! Majority! Majority!

        Why are you always clamouring on the ‘Majority” thing? There is no more ‘majority’ already bro. That’s old fashion. Majority was used by the Greeks. It’s out dated and antiquated. It’s draconian. Now it’s the ‘Minority’ thing already or haven’t you heard yet. Forget the ‘majority’. It’s gone and over with. Democracy is flexible one ma. Human being’s mind is round one ma. Not square ma. Majority also can change one what. What? Die die must stick to the rule ah? Die la like that. Are you awakje or not? Are you still in slumberland thinking of Alice in the Wonderland?

        If it’s the ‘majority’ people are afraid off, then there wouldn’t be any Syrian Uprising & Libyan Uprising.Need I say more? Who is fighting who now? Who is against who? Which is which now? The minority against the majority or the vice versa? Of course it must be the minority against the majority.

        What so great about being the ‘majority’? Aren’t they supposed to be the wicked evil people that the minority people are going up against? If so, so what so great being in the ‘majority’? Ya so long as the ‘majority’is still in power la, you’re in power la. But once they fall you fall with them. Don’t forget that.

        Now isn’t it better if they all can give and take a little each and everything will be over 5 minutes? Why wait 50 years down the road to get what they all wanted after years of suffering and fighting with millions dead and unacounted for, Properties destroyed and everything in a shamble. Probably will have to start all over again from the begining, which will then take another 100 years to rebuilt!

        What I’m trying to say is, Majority isn’t a good thing. Sure one day they’ll give in but we’re talking about now, the present time. Not the past. Not the future. The future will come after today. The majority is what holding back the future. If people won’t change today, there’s no future to look forward to. How can there be a future when the past didn’t change? The future is what people do today. Not tomorrow. Today. Right now. Thank you.

      • 22 Poker Player 24 April 2012 at 11:03

        octopi says:

        “You always have to use due process in order to see things through.”


        Independence of the US.

        Independence of Indonesia.

        Independence of Vietnam.

        Abolition of slavery.

        Civil rights for Afican Americans.

        Abolition of apartheid.

        End of holocaust.

        And finally, all I have to do is quote you

        “Civil rights are a forever ongoing political discussion and the US Civil War is a great example of what can happen when the political discussion gets a little too heated up. That is why things never happen until the majority is comfortable with it.”

        Raised eyebrows are worth a thousand syllogisms.

      • 23 octopi 26 April 2012 at 19:18

        How is that different from what I’m trying to say?

        Independence of the US.
        – achieved with bloodshed and loss of lives.

        Independence of Indonesia.
        – achieved with bloodshed and loss of lives.

        Independence of Vietnam.
        – achieved with bloodshed and loss of lives.

        Abolition of slavery.
        – achieved with bloodshed and loss of lives.

        Civil rights for Afican Americans.
        – achieved relatively peacefully, only after the majority accepted the logic of civil rights for blacks. Whites played a very big role in this.

        Abolition of apartheid.
        – achieved after a lot of sanctions, and after most of the whites agreed to transfer power to the ANC

        End of holocaust.
        – achieved with bloodshed and loss of lives.

        If you want to do things the violent way, if it makes you feel better, why not?

      • 24 octopi 26 April 2012 at 19:54

        May I also add that the ending of the holocaust was an accidental achievement. The allies only wanted to defeat the Nazis, and only discovered about the holocaust, or stopped pretending they didn’t know about the holocaust, after they won the war.

      • 25 Poker Player 27 April 2012 at 11:35

        “How is that different from what I’m trying to say?”

        None were achieved by subscribing to “you always have to use due process in order to see things through.”

        Singaporeans can’t seem to see the world through their government’s behaviour control propaganda. Not all oppressors are 20th century upper class Englishmen (even this you have to discount Amritsar).

      • 26 octopi 27 April 2012 at 18:56

        Then what do you call LBJ signing the Civil Rights Act?

        Or the ANC winning an election?

      • 27 Poker Player 28 April 2012 at 09:56

        And finally, working on pure logical structure alone:

        Suppose I concede:
        “Then what do you call LBJ signing the Civil Rights Act?
        Or the ANC winning an election?”

        When you wrote:

        “you ***ALWAYS*** have to use due process in order to see things through.”

        Was the word ***ALWAYS*** accidental?

        Because then I would like to see the magic you perform with my first counter-example (US independence).

  4. 28 Anders 23 April 2012 at 00:23

    It is very telling that a simle request to respect freedom of speech and non discrimination at the Yalu-NUS campus is met by such strong defensive reactions from two diplomats (Koh above and Chan Heng Chee here: http://sghardtruth.wordpress.com/2012/04/20/an-unnatural-countrys-take-on-democracy-if-yale-can-go-to-china-to-teach-and-set-up-programmes-why-is-it-so-controversial-to-go-to-singapore/ ).

    Both diplomats completely fail to address the Yale faculty’s concern and instead jump to defend Singapore’s disrespect for these liberties. One even attacking US in the same go. If anything, their replies confirm to the Yale faculty that freedom of speech and non discrimination will _not_ be guaranteed. Seems like they need a basic course in diplomacy…

  5. 29 Chow 23 April 2012 at 08:20

    Tommy Koh is entitled to say his piece but I didn’t find his reasoning to the point in addressing the Yale resolution, and that’s unfortunate because I was hoping for something more stimulating. I, for one, see nothing in the Yale resolution that should create such a ruckus as the news and Tommy Koh’s letter would suggest. In fact, because the arguments are so off the mark, I have this wild fantasy that he really didn’t want to write the letter at all but only because someone asked him to do it. Why else would he insert that line about us having a vote since 1959 when it opens us up to the countering point about the rather embarrassing way it was ensured that, almost until recently, one could almost only vote one way?

  6. 31 ;ABC 23 April 2012 at 10:55

    Tommy Koh has been a disappointment to those who looked up to him as a fearless and impartial critic of the government when it transgressed on the citizen`s rights,e.g. his letters to the press on the numbering of ballot papers.Since then he maintined a scrupulous silence when Teo Soh Lung and other “do gooders” were detained under the ISA. Does he advocate the repeal of the ISA following the Malaysian example? Will he ask the government to admit their mistake in detaining them? Will he, in view of recently disclosed confidential papers in London correct the official version of events? It is sad to see him reduced to asking for a change of street names and other postprandial pursuits.Readers of his piece will no doubt observe the he does not mention discrimination against people with political and social opinions different from the powers that be.

    • 32 Poker Player 23 April 2012 at 13:57

      Cherian George introduced a very useful word into our political lexicon – “calibrated” – why not not extend it to individual conscience?

  7. 33 ;ABC 23 April 2012 at 11:10

    And I might add: what are your views of Prof. Lim Chong Yah`shock therapy? Since you have openly supported a minimum wage law it is reasonable to infer that you would support his proposals at least in principle.This is something of great import to the country and you maintain a complete silence. Instead you busy yourself with the Yale controversy.

  8. 34 seorang 23 April 2012 at 12:47

    Tommy’s article is quite lame, but that aside, I discovered this video on Youtube, and we can see the shape of things to come here

  9. 35 The Pariah 23 April 2012 at 16:30

    Alan Greenspan – Any credibility after 2007-08 Wall Street implosion?

    Tommy Koh, Chan Heng Chee, Lim Chong Yah – Any credibility after 2011 General Election? Yada, yada, yada ….

    And the above 3 are the so-called more “conscionable” ones within the Establishment. Interesting that Walter Woon, Lee Tsao Yuen, Thio Li-Ann are keeping mum. Their silence speaks louder.

  10. 36 babablacksheep 24 April 2012 at 12:09

    Why must Singapore kowtow to Yale when coming up with a Liberal Arts college? Can’t it come up with its own Liberal Arts college? Is it an indirect admission that similar programmes like the University Scholars Programme are unsuccessful?

    What advantages do Yale and NUS get from this collaboration respectively? Will it be the same as past collaborations, e.g. between Wharton and SMU, where the benefits seem to be lop-sided and benefit the Wharton faculty more than the SMU faculty (e.g. first-class air travel for Wharton faculty and economy class travel for SMU faculty)? Is Yale using this college to farm out hires to only US-trained faculties? Talk about discrimination!

  11. 37 AYewTree 24 April 2012 at 23:48

    I think blogger Limpeh made a very good point on this. He explained that tertiary education institutions like Yale are NOT part of the US govt. What had happened and is happening on the ground and in terms of govt policies have little to do with what Yale believes in and advocates, any more than one racist American represents the views of all American. It is disingenuous of Tommy Koh to mix up the two and treat it as one to make his point. Yale faculty members are completely within their rights to call a spade a spade as they see it.

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