Singapore—During a discussion concerning race organised by the National University of Singapore’s Department of Communications and New Media (CNM) on August 22, Thursday, Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said that if the rap video by Preeti and Subhas Nair had been allowed to remain online, this would mean that other similar content would also have to be allowed.
And in turn, this would normalize offensive speech, he added, which would ultimately harm minorities, and make racism a bigger problem in Singapore.
The event was attended by around 100 NUS students, staff and the general public. During the discussion people had the opportunity to talk to leading figures about particular issues. For this event, racism was the focus.
Mr Shanmugam clarified the reason why the Government had the recent controversial video by the Nair siblings was taken down.
“If we allow the line to be crossed… then it’s free for all, the Chinese can be equally offensive, and the minorities will be the losers in such a conversation.”
While the Law and Home Affairs Minister acknowledged the importance of open and honest discussions on race, he explained the crux of the matter. “The only thing that is being objected to is the tone. When you use offensive language, others will use offensive language and it takes a completely different dimension.”
Mr Shanmugam cited Germany as an example, where hate speech is on the rise from the far right. “Such discussion is today mainstream in Germany. You have verbal attacks, you have extremist violence that has increased by 25 percent.
The free speech, which insofar includes hate speech and offensive speech, because it has no boundaries, has led to this situation even in Germany, let alone France, UK and the US.
Who thinks that it will be different in Singapore?”
He told the audience that the law needs to apply equally to everyone. Therefore, if the Nair siblings’ video were allowed, Chinese people could also make racist videos about Indians and Malays.
“In any society, 95 percent of the people would not go and do these things and attack another race. But if you allow the 5 percent to do it, over time that will become 10, 15 percent,” Mr Shanmugam said.
“Once it becomes normalised, it’s perfectly normal to talk about each other along these lines,” he added. “Then to what extent do you think we will be able to have that kind of interactions we have today, where by and large the races co-exist and conduct relationships on a certain basis of respect and trust?”
“If society feels that such a video in the future should not be considered to be in breach, then the law will have to change.
And you are the people who are going to determine what the laws ought to be, because the laws reflect the social values and mores of society.”
The Law and Home Affairs Minister also said that he believes there needs to be a conversation on all levels, from grassroots and up, concerning religion and race.
“It’s a topic that is trending now and people are aware of it. We should discuss it – how do the minorities feel, how do the majorities feel. Have this openness in the conversation.”/ TISG
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