Singapore—What started out as a private disagreement via emails between Singaporean academic Cherian George and Polish blogger Michael Petraeus turned public when the blogger, who is popularly known as Critical Spectator and has been a staunch supporter of the policies of the government of Singapore, published email exchanges between the two, wherein the tone was less than friendly, to say the least.

Professor George, who teaches at Hong Kong Baptist University’s School of Communication, where he also serves as associate dean for research, took to Twitter and wrote, “Couldn’t resist feeding this troll. He’s made our emails public. Wonder if PAP knows how trolls like him and (former Nominated Member of Parliament) Calvin Cheng hurt it. The populist demons PAP’s using to suffocate critics will poison the culture sustaining its antipopulist technocratic model,” adding the link to the email exchange that Mr Petraeus posted.

Mr Petraeus, a marketing specialist based in Singapore, said that he made the email exchanges public “after somebody asked me about it in one of the Facebook groups”. He published a lengthy response to an article on mothership entitled, “S’porean prof Cherian George calls out Critical Spectator as a ‘troll’, says people like him hurt PAP.”

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On September 28, before the two men emailed each other, Professor George had tweeted, “The Straits Times is supporting the #Singapore government’s attack on independent journalists, not for lack of professional ability but for want of ethical application.”

Mr Petraeus responded to his tweet thrice, including one tweet wherein he wrote, “And, while we’re at it, what “independent” journalists are you talking about here? Those who have to be bankrolled by foreign donors to even carry out their mission? Those who stand with Mahathir asking him to promote democracy in Southeast Asia? Is that independence?”

Professor George did not answer Mr Petraeus on Twitter, but did email back when the blogger wrote to him. The complete email exchange can be found here.

After Professor George’s tweet, Mr Petraeus wrote “I have to say that I’ve read prof. Cherian George‘s comments with great personal satisfaction. It turns out that I’ve managed to convert him into a PAP supporter, vocally concerned about the party’s image and performance.”
Mr Petraeus asked, “How is it that such a free speech advocate is so uncomfortable with a single dissenting opinion? Least of all an academic – whose professional progress should be based on evaluation of all sorts of views and diligent exploration of their roots, in pursuit of the truth (however personally uncomfortable it may be).
That’s what academics are employed for.”

In his first email response to Mr Petraeus, Professor George did not mince words, writing,

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“If I do not engage with someone on social media, it could be for any one of the following reasons: I don’t have the time; I don’t think I will learn anything special from that individual; or I don’t believe the medium or context is conducive to a meaningful exchange of views on the topic.

As for the particular problems you are facing, please feel free to decide:

—never to vote for me (which doesn’t matter to me since I will never run for election in Poland, nor in Singapore for that matter);

—never to pay for anything I write (most of my opinions are free);

—never to enroll in my university (you are probably over-educated anyway);

—never to like anything I post (I’d be worried if you did); and

—never to pay any more attention to anything I say (I doubt I’d notice).”

Ouch./ TISG

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Cherian George: POFMA will deepen culture of self-censorship