Some obviously don’t find Amos’ video to be offensive. Howard Lee from TOC says he’s a Catholic but he was “hardly offended” even though Yee touched on Christianity in “ways that are stunningly and obviously inaccurate.” As of today, April 4, 3,400 people have signed a petition calling for the release of Amos and stating that they are not offended. Even Alfian Sa’at, a local playwright, said that he was slightly irrated but still not offended as he was used to Amos’ anti-theistic critiques.
So why am I offended? And am I the only one? Judging by the many virulent comments on Facebook, I doubt I am alone. Many others were offended, and rightly so. We aren’t being petty or unforgiving; we just are offended and rightly so. Being offended and being willing to forgive the perpetrator are two separate things; in fact, there’s nothing to forgive if you won’t the one who was personally aggrieved by the offender’s actions.
What was it about Amos Yee’s video that was so offensive? It’s plainly obvious that Amos had intended to provoke people by using vulgarities and by calling almost one quarter of Singaporeans (all who had paid their respects to LKY) “necrophiliacs sucking Lee Kuan Yew’s dick”. When someone accuses you of something so obscene, so derogatory, it’s hard to say you’re not offended. Amos thought of the most meaningless and insulting form of name-calling he could, given the occasion, and he took it to maximum effect, repeating it three times in 8 minutes. How could I not be offended? Amos wanted to be offensive and he succeeded.
I’m not offended because he insulted LKY and gloated about his death because I’m not LKY and I don’t really identify myself with him. But many other Singaporeans do and an insult on their leader is like an insult on themselves, because they so closely identify themselves with LKY. I can understand this. I would feel offended too if I had a benefactor who gave me a decent job, provided me with affordable housing and allowed me to send my kids to school at almost no cost. Then along comes some kid who has no idea what he’s talking about, and it is as if he is pissing on my benefactor’s grave. I would feel really offended too.
And what about his remarks on Christianity? None of them were necessary for him to make his point. Instead, they were designed to provoke and offend. He drew the analogy because he said many “Christians seem to be a really big fan of him”. He therefore singled out this group of people for ridicule because he didn’t like how they supported LKY. He called their God, Jesus, power-hungry and malicious, deceptive, not actually compassionate and kind. He said the religion’s impact and legacy won’t last and implied that it was full of bull. He then called LKY’s followers “completely delusional and ignorant, and have absolutely no sound logic or knowledge about him that is grounded in reality, which Lee Kuan Yew very easily manipulates, similar to the Christian knowledge of the Bible and the work of a multitude of priests.” That’s a lot of derogatory remarks for one small segment of the video. How is a Christian supposed to not be offended? It was a crude and blatant attack on Christianity. There was no argument or logic involved, just a series of accusations and offensive remarks.
Identifying with the leader of your religion, especially your God, is part of any religion. In Christianity, Christians feel offended whenever their Jesus is criticised. Sometimes the criticism comes about as part of an intellectual discourse with well-formulated arguments, and devotees don’t mind. But what Amos did was very different. It was a meaningless attack that had no intellectual foundation. Christians have every right to feel offended. That they have not resorted to violence is an indication of their self-restraint, not an indication that Amos Yee’s video wasn’t offensive.
Sure, Amos may have made some good points about income inequality and so on, but that doesn’t change the fact that he made offensive remarks which he should be held accountable for. I don’t think he deserves a serious penalty like a jail term. A small fine would suffice but we can’t just ask the Government to release him. There are consequences for making offensive remarks and hurting others and Amos must face them. What he did was harmful to others. That harm wasn’t physical, but it was still harm nonetheless and the Government therefore has a duty to punish the perpetrator.