Thursday, 8 November 2007

NMP Thio gets threatening note

TODAY ran this story today. When Ansley (the reporter) called me yesterday and told me what had happened, I was speechless and more than a little stunned. I had to take a few minutes to think about what to say.

What the person did was completely unacceptable, and I felt it necessary to put that across in the strongest possible terms. My disagreement with Thio was immaterial, because nothing she said could possibly have justified this sort of action.

Even though this person must surely have nothing to do with the pro-repeal activists I had worked with -- who had been nothing less than professional and principled -- his/her acts have invariably cast a negative light on the pro-repeal camp, which has at all times conducted its efforts in a civil manner.

I do not agree that this person's acts are in any way reflective of how the pro-repeal camp had carried out its campaign. But I also felt it imperative not to detract or qualify my statements to TODAY in any way whatsoever, because this is not the time to posture or try to make any political gains. Such acts undermine the very integrity of the democratic process that I had relied on and wanted to develop, and it is important to stand up and speak up against it.

14 comments:

Kris said...

I definitely agree with you that the person's antic is deplorable and that he/she should be taken to task.

It certainly seems like a copycat tactic inspired by Alfian's e-mail. Only thing is that there is real anonymity this time since there is no way to trace the exact origins of the letter. Dusting for finger-prints will not help since dozens of people/postal staff must have handled that letter.

I just hope that this is not some reverse strategy adopted by some zealous persons from the anti-repeal camp, so as to cast further bad light on the pro-appeal side.

Recruit Ong said...

I notice in the media both you and also yawningbread have commented. Deploring aside, have you actually seen the contents of the letter? Did the reporter show you? I think it is better to read the actual thing before commenting... wait it is just another over reaction by Thio to stage another publicity stunt for herself.

George said...

Such actions is deplorable of course, and also juvenile.

But I wonder if it was a kneejerk reaction to the numerous post-parliamentary dabate media reports and articles which focused specifically on TLA?

The mass media should be more mindful, even careful about how it would come across to the public, however well intended their motives may have been.

Personally, I did get the impression that the ST for instance had been carried away in its coverage of TLA - I think no less than 3-4 articles post-parlia debate starting with the one which juxtaposed the two of you.

Siew Kum Hong said...

To kris: That possibility had occurred to me. That would be at least equally intolerable.

To recruit ong: A copy was sent to TODAY, presumably because of a recent weekend commentary on the 377A debate. According to today's ST, it was TODAY who had alerted Thio to the letter.

I have not seen or read the letter itself. But the TODAY journalist who contacted me went into some detail about what it said. I have no reason to disbelieve him. I also did not see the need to know the exact contents before commenting -- the fact that it had been sent was enough, and in itself warranted my comments.

To george: I can't say. It's hard to understand the motivations of someone who would do such a thing.

As for ST's coverage -- that is their editorial decision. They are no doubt mindful of their duties and obligations as a self-proclaimed "responsible press". :)

akikonomu said...

"It certainly seems like a copycat tactic inspired by Alfian's e-mail."

I believe that NMP Siew's keeping rather silent on the issue of Alfian's e-mail.

The only reason why the copycat was emboldened to send NMP Thio this letter, was because NMP Siew and Alex "There are limits to civility" Au gave a free pass to Alfian's deed, and to his continued rather public defence that his letter was not at all threatening.

Siew Kum Hong said...

To akikonomu: I was keeping silent because I did not want to emphasise that particular aspect of the debate. I wanted to leave that to the media. But since you asked...

TLA herself has described Alfian's e-mail as "rude" -- see today's ST. I myself thought it was nothing more than that. It was certainly ill-advised and it may have contained a vulgarity, but I think it falls short of being full of vile and obscene invective.

That may be because I am a firm believer of robust debate, and robust frequently means rude as well. So be it. I can deal with it.

So I chose not to post about Alfian's e-mail. Indeed, if I had, I would have made exactly the points I had made above. I am not sure if pissing on a grave is a criminal offence, but I did not think Alfian's e-mail to be threatening. TLA's latest comments suggest she agrees.

On the other hand, this threat was nothing like Alfian's e-mail. Alfian did not threaten physical or any other harm. Alfian was not anonymous. Alfian did not, on any possible objective reading of his e-mail, seek to induce fear. TLA herself draws a distinction between the two.

To compare the two is to compare tomatoes and durians. Tomatoes when thrown may sting a little and cause embarrassment, but durians when thrown can kill. I think tomatoes can have a fair place in a robust debate, and those engaging in public debate need to have thick enough skins to endure it. But durians have no place at all, and deserve to be condemned by everyone.

I certainly do not think for the least bit that my silence on Alfian's e-mail would have encouraged in any way the threat. I think you give the sender too much credit. Anyone sick enough to do it -- whether it was with serious intent, without serious intent but to scare TLA, as a juvenile prank or to make the pro-repeal camp look bad -- would not have been deterred by anything said in response to Alfian's e-mail.

akikonomu said...

Hi NMP Siew,

I too am a believer in "robust debate", as you call it. But tell me, how does a threat to piss on someone's grave constitute a debate? If you think that's completely fine, why don't you use that line on Thio in Parliament next time.

Certainly Alfian did not threaten physical or any harm. Certainly the language contained just one vulgarity.

And certainly I say to you, this is how bullies justify their actions and their hurtful words as well.

I wonder if you've ever witnessed or experienced bullying in schools, NMP Siew. It's not a pleasant sight. And it's often done without actual threat of physical or any harm either. And it's abetted by benign neglect and a refusal to condemn bullies.

It progresses like this:
Personal threats from bully to victim, in private.

If victim raises the issue to a third party or a teacher, the bully proudly admits to it, but insists that the language wasn't threatening, wasn't vulgar, and can't really be seen as bullying.

By publicising and reproducing his original threats and language in as many avenues as possible, and to include in them the defense that this is NOT threatening - the bully reperforms the original threat, and because those who should condemn his act remain silent, he shows other people that it's okay to address and treat the victim this way - because it's not really threatening mah.

And this is how bullies slowly encroach on a community's limit of tolerance of what can said to the designated victim.

And if something drastic should happen, if the threats should escalate beyond control, the bully and his abettors will say "How unfortunate, we strongly condemn these vile acts!"

And you wonder why kris and myself see a clear link between Alfian's email and the snail mail threat?

What constitutes bullying and intimidation is not so much a threat to physical harm, but the very fact that the bully is allowed to get away scot free while they make unusually strong, rude threats and offensive statements that just conveniently fall short of vile and obscene invective.

I hold you responsible.

-ben said...

Tomatoes when thrown may sting a little and cause embarrassment, but durians when thrown can kill. I think tomatoes can have a fair place in a robust debate, and those engaging in public debate need to have thick enough skins to endure it.

Actually, both constitute physical assault.

Perhaps the honorable NMP Siew has been taking too many cues from the Taiwanese Parliament?

Siew Kum Hong said...

To akikonomu and ben: To me, the two are on a sliding scale of speech. Alfian was rude. The threat was, well, threatening.

akikonomu queried why I did not criticise Alfian. I do not wish to dignify rudeness with comment. I have my own fair share of rudeness. I do not talk about it, and simply ignore it. That is what public figures go through, and have to do.

As for my comment re tomatoes having a fair place in a debate, that was ill-conceived and I retract that. Perhaps the better analogy to convey what I meant, would be going "pfffft" and durians, not tomatoes and durians.

Finally, akikonomu holds me responsible for the threat. I think that is a bit of a stretch, and unsupported by reason. In any case, I wonder if you have decried these comments which were posted on the keep377a.com website:

"dun juz keep s377a, EXERCISE it. jail all the bloody gays!!!!"

"Why cant you keep your skeletons in the cupboard?? Stop your soliciting. If i know my son's gay, i'll disown him. In case he brings diseases home."

"I think the Homos can be concentrated on a deserted island. This civilized world is for the NORMAL people. Those mutated and mentally sick ought to be treated! FAST!"

"Homosexuality is wrong, that's why our God Almighty send [sic] AIDS to kill all the gays. AIDS only attack [sic] gay people, straight people will never have AIDS."

-ben said...

akikonomu holds me responsible for the threat. I think that is a bit of a stretch, and unsupported by reason.

I agree, holding you responsible for it is tantamount to holding Prof Thio responsible for the antics of Fred Phelps. Debates tend to attract whackos from both ends of the spectrum.

Stay well :-)

akikonomu said...

NMP Siew, I signed both Repeal 377A petitions. I have actually blogged to argue why 377A should be repealed.

You should find someone more relevant to decry those comments made at the keep377a website. Like someone who signed the keep petition? o_0

P said...

NMP Siew,

I think by now you should have realised that your stout advocacy for the pro-repeal stand in Parliament unfortunately results in some association with the words and actions of persons who have more extreme views than yourself. Much in the same way that other people would view NMP Thio as the face of the keep camp in Parliament.

I applaud your stand on the second letter to NMP Thio, and would have expected nothing less than what you said.

But I hoped that you would have also condemned the first letter as well, as it would have sent a strong signal as to what the debate should be focused on, and what was clearly not a right thing to do. Anyway, what is in the past is done.

In any case, I am sure you wish to move on from this debate, and I hope you would speak up on other more mundane but important issues like the blatant and unrepentent actions of taxi touts (I was hoping that you can propose that transport operators be held liable for their licensees - this is not without precedent in other areas of licensing), and the apparent failures of the ERP (everyday-raise-prices) system to solve the traffic problems (they merely move them to a different time slot).

Siew Kum Hong said...

To akikonomu: But surely your point was that hateful comments should be decried, regardless of one's position? So your support for repeal should be immaterial.

To p: To your first point re association, that is true. But I've also been said to be gay. So I tend to simply disregard this sort of thing and just do my thing -- I have no choice, otherwise I'd go mad!

To your second point re the first letter (by Alfian) -- I stand by my position.

To your last point -- yes I do. See my latest post. In any case, I was not able to raise these points in last week's Parliamentary sitting as I was travelling, but I am already thinking ahead to next year's Budget debates. So if you have other ideas, please do let me know!

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