A few days ago, General Secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movement Mr William Wan wrote an article for The Straits Times, imploring Singaporeans to show some empathy towards Anton Casey, the Briton who had posted disparaging remarks about our public transport system online. Some commenters agreed with Mr Wan, and praised him for his outlook, while others responded with indignation, claiming he wasn’t a “true blue Singaporean” because he had “sided” with Casey.
Today, it was reported that Anton Casey had “parted ways” with his employer CrossInvest Asia, after substantial pressure from self-styled “true blue Singaporeans” in the days before. This is the latest blow to the Briton, who had earlier received death threats addressed to him and his family, and was subsequently forced to leave the country for Perth. While I in no way condone Casey’s remarks, I feel the need to ask – are we really a nation who bays for blood, who thinks it fair and just for someone to lose his job, his home, his family over a mere comment or two made online? Is a “true blue Singaporean” really one who cannot forgive, let alone forget? This is, and should not, be a part of our psyche, let alone our identity.
But I’m not here to cull choice phrases in order to launch inflated personal attacks. We’ve had enough of that already in recent times, and this is one part of our culture I cannot stand. Whenever we see something even mildly offensive to any minority or marginalised group, we instantly become the most vocal advocate for racial equality, social equality, gender equality we can possibly be, even though chances are we have never done anything meaningful to support any of these causes before. But it upsets our sensibilities, so we lose our sensibility.
Well my sensibilities are slightly different. They are offended when I see bullies masquerading as vigilantes, assuming the role of the judge, jailer, and jilted lover all rolled into one. Casey, in an earlier post where he
labelled a taxi driver a “retard” for wearing mittens, expressed his mock frustration that “after 11 years’ residency, [he was] still trying to understand these people”. Although he probably didn’t realise it, he was spot on. Casey made the mistake of grossly misjudging the reactions of Singaporeans towards his brand of humour. He made the mistake of thinking that whatever he posted on Facebook would stay on Facebook, to be seen by his friends and his friends only. It’s true that the lines between private and public space on the Internet remain very much blurred, but just as I won’t absolve him of blame, neither can one choose to presuppose guilt, because if there were any malicious intent involved, I think you’d agree that death threats are considerably more malicious than calling people poor and smelly.
Everyone feels indignant when a rich, successful expatriate hints to us that we are scum, but we can be more gracious than that. In no situation should we ever respond in kind, and by denigrating him demean ourselves too. If, however, you still think I’m not a “true blue Singaporean” on the basis of the words I write and the views I express, then the title refers, for it is not you or I or even Anton Casey that should leave Singapore, but our predilection for hasty judgments, vengeful diatribe, and moral grandiosity.