Free Speech, A Forum and the Far Right

In what is part of the latest skirmish in Singapore’s culture wars, another silly rant about the upcoming NUS Political Association forum on family appeared in the ST today. In essence, the letter by Miss Ho Lay Ping opines that there is no room for ‘alternative’ views of the family unit in the forum, which she describes as disguised ‘pro-homosexuality propaganda.’

As the more perceptive have guessed by now, ‘alternative’ in the letter connotes the opposite of liberal and open-minded. Ms Ho instead refers to the ‘alternative’ conservative and reactionary view of the family, which is also (according to her) the government’s view. The reason for Ms Ho’s objection? There are no pro-family speakers invited.

This letter and the load of hogwash it contains a perfect illustration of the far right’s attempts to co-opt the rhetoric of free expression and openness. In fact, they believe in none of those things – and just make themselves look foolish by pretending that they do.

One point in the letter that appeals to many of our conditioned Singaporean instincts is Miss Ho’s main argument about representation. Because there are no conservative one-man-one-woman types speaking, the whole range of opinions on the subject is not represented and so, it is implied, the matter is somehow unjust, unfair or irresponsible.

This is the same sort of language used by our ministers when they regularly lecture the media on the need to present a ‘balanced’ view of the news. (Probably why Miss Ho’s letter was published – see this earlier opinion piece.) Clearly this idea is something only Singaporeans would be happy to accept as an axiom, whereas in other societies ‘free speech’ does not entail the need to assiduously give voice to voices you disagree with. After all, your opponents can speak for themselves. The government has a multimillion dollar PR apparatus, and the ultraconservatives have their churches, their pulpits and can organise their own little get-togethers. Neither needs the NUSPA to represent them. So just leave the NUSPA forum to take whatever angle on the family it wants, balanced or otherwise! And neither do NUS students need these so-called alternative voices to be ‘well-informed’, they’re adults who can drink, drive, vote and damn well think for themselves.

Oh, and by the way, I’ve never heard of any pro-family group inviting pro-LGBTQ speakers to give sermons or talks – hypocrisy, anyone?

In any case, I think that the NUSPA is trying their level best to make the forum a representative one, even by Miss Ho’s standards. The Guest-of-Honour, after all, is PAP MP and establishment politician Mr Baey Yam Keng. I don’t know if she realizes it but this makes things rather awkward for Miss Ho and her ilk. By saying that there’s no one at the forum to represent the government’s pro-family viewpoint, she’s implicitly accusing Mr Baey of ditching the PM and his government to pursue his own line on these touchy social issues. I wonder how Mr Baey feels about that? Will he stick to what he’s said before and support decriminalising gay sex? Or will he risk highlighting the divisions in the ruling party at this fractious political juncture? It’ll be interesting to watch.

Perhaps the author was just alarmed by his selfies. After all, metrosexuality is strongly correlated with homosexuality, isn’t it?

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