When I was a young boy, my Uncle who was a great fan of Lee Kuan Yew explained to me that the system Singapore adopted for its Government was rightly termed "benign paternalism". Today, "paternalism" is viewed in a negative light by most people. The dictionary in my computer includes in its definition of paternalism the idea of rights restrictions "in the subordinate's supposed best interest". But what if the restrictions in the past were REALLY done in the nation's best interest? It's very easy to decry today the human rights restrictions of yesterday but what if we're here today because of the rights restrictions of yesterday? I'm not saying that this is so but the fact is we don't really know, do we?
Every country has its embarrassing past. The right thing to do is for the Government to acknowledge they were wrong and to apologise to the people. They do that quite easily in the West. Many countries have apologised to their people of aboriginal descent for all the wrongs done against them in the past.
Asian countries are usually reluctant to apologise. They seem to think that the matter will fade from our memory when nobody talks about it and so they ban publication of articles on the topic.
In this age of the internet, it's impossible to conceal the past.
Google will lead you to websites of all kinds including those that are
highly incendiary and to youtube videos too and you can listen to the
voices of past political detainees and the human rights abuses they
suffered. China has tried to conceal some of its past and it is to some
degree successful because it ruthlessly bans many sites online and even
dips its fingers into major search engines to block out searches
for potentially embarrassing topics such as the Tiananmen Square
Massacre. Its small success is also due largely to the language barrier
- the people of China prefer local Chinese sites for social networking,
blogging and all their other internet needs and it's easier for the
Chinese Government to control and monitor these homegrown sites while it bans many foreign websites.
What if China apologises to the people for the Tiananmen Square Massacre? Its leaders can always issue an apology and admit they were wrong. They can compensate the families of victims of the massacre. The amount can't be more than a tiny fraction of what China spends in one day in monitoring and keeping vigilance over the internet.
What will happen if China admits it was wrong and apologises to the people? I can't think of anything bad that can possibly follow. Will there be a riot? Of course not. It can only please the people that the Government is now acknowledging its wrongs and is prepared to take responsibility for the past. It may even give some assurance to the people that they can expect justice and fair play in the future.
Singapore today is very different from what it was a couple of decades ago. What happened 25 years ago won't ever happen again today. Everyone knows this. Even the most hardened anti-establishment person knows this to be true. It's a different Singapore today. The past is gone. It's all hunky-dory now.
The reason why I was motivated to write this is because of an article I've just read on Yahoo News about M. Ravi dancing in the Speaker's Corner. I have a lot of respect for people who are passionate about human rights and are willing to sacrifice themselves in the service of others but sometimes, it's easy to go overboard with what we are passionate about and this can affect our health, both physical and mental.
I am reminded of a story about a British soldier who hid himself in the Malayan jungle during World War II after Japan invaded Malaya. It was decades later when he emerged from the jungle looking for Japanese soldiers. He hid behind a tree just as a group of people were passing by and he could hear them speaking Japanese. Suddenly, he jumped out from behind the tree and pointed his rifle at a group of frightened Japanese tourists and he was about to pull the trigger when an Indian rubber tapper who had been observing everything from behind him shouted, "Hey, the war is over!"
Yes, the war is over! Forget your angst! It's party time!