Vitriol from 'offended' individuals a concern

We read with concern that Amos Yee is believed to be under police investigation for posting allegedly offensive contents on his blog ("Teen blogger probed for insulting religion online"; Sunday).

Our biggest concern is not Amos' posts, which the authorities are already addressing, but the vitriol coming from "offended" individuals.

Such vitriol has seemingly got a free pass in spite of its obscene, threatening, abusive or insulting nature - the very offences that Amos was previously convicted for.

Some reactions include threats of violence against Amos, which are disturbing to say the least.

Unfortunately, these reactions - some of which come from adults older than Amos - do not face the same level of public scrutiny and disapproval as the teen's earlier admittedly careless comments.

Surely, as a society, we should not condone threats of physical harm in response to a perceived verbal or visual insult, or offence.

There is no moral equivalence between the two, the former being much more serious than the latter.  

Furthermore, isn't taking offence in itself a manifestation of an intolerant streak?

The idea that one's views or beliefs should forever be shielded from criticism, analysis or ridicule is not one which should be condoned by a mature society.

The United Nations declaration of human rights of 1948, among other things, guarantees the right to free speech, freedom of religion, freedom from religion and freedom to leave one's religion.

But not one of its 30 articles guarantees freedom from being "offended".

That there can be no such "freedom" follows from the fact that when people have differing opinions, such opinions could be offensive to others who do not share such views.

It is a price we all pay, and should willingly pay, in a multicultural, multi-religious society.

In Singapore, there appears to be an increasing trend of some people filing police reports as a form of "vigilante justice" on social media.

While the rule of law is to be respected, the authorities should be involved only if the discussion poses clear and immediate danger of harm. Discussions, in general, should be based on fact, rationality and civility - without resorting to the higher authorities to mediate or intervene.

This is the only way to encourage everyone in Singapore to participate in discussion about the topics and values important to us.

Paul Tobin
President
Humanist Society (Singapore)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 18, 2015, with the headline 'Vitriol from 'offended' individuals a concern'. Print Edition | Subscribe