Amos Yee did not apologise, has never apologised, for the video that he made.

His father made an apology, but apparently that will not placate the lynch mob.

There is a certain pattern that one can observe once the lynch mob closes in. There will be the demand for one to apologise, admit that one has made a mistake. Expectations might be raised because some people think a sixteen-year-old might be easy to discipline. A sixteen-year-old is vulnerable because he is not yet financially independent, has his future ahead of him. He could surely plead youthful folly. And once ‘youthful folly’ comes into the picture, then one can just dismiss the boy’s point of view–it was a foolish opinion, a wrong opinion, blurted out impulsively. No need to examine those opinions on their own terms, no need to rebut them thoroughly and convincingly.

But this is the thing. A 16-year-old like Amos Yee is actually less vulnerable–and more free–than an adult who is tied to some kind of institution. And I have always insisted that one’s degree of independence in Singapore is always proportional to how much one is tied to institutions. The civil servant has his rice bowl. The academic has her tenure. The artist has his grants. The NSF has his actual freedom–his precious booking out time–to think about. A PR has her well, PR status. This is how the system has always functioned in Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore to keep people in line. I have had my own experience with this; objecting to some of the things I’d written about Lee Kuan Yew, someone actually wrote in to NAC to complain, as if NAC is my employer or funds what I write on Facebook.

Jason Neo quit his Young PAP post after calling the students from a Muslim kindergarten ‘young terrorists’. Amy Cheong was sacked from NTUC after her rant about fifty-dollar Malay weddings. Filipino nurse Ello Ed Mundsel Bello lost his job at the hospital after saying that “we will kick out all the Singaporeans and SG will be the new filipino state”. PRC student Sun Xu had his scholarship revoked for calling Singaporeans ‘dogs’. Anton Casey was fired from his job after sneering at unwashed Singaporeans who take public transport.

What to do then with Amos Yee, who doesn’t have a job, and who isn’t even in school? Where is that authority that can discipline him, punish him, make him conform? So the lynch mob starts escalating the case, so desperate to seek out anyone who might have authority over Amos. The parents are publicly shamed for apparently not being able to ‘control’ the boy. So the police are brought in. The courts. The mental institution. A vigilante even smacks Amos, convinced that he is acting on behalf of the mob.

Nobody in Singapore should have the kind of freedom that Amos Yee so brazenly flaunted, just because he is not shackled to institutional wardens. It is an audacious taunt, an affront to all those who lead defeated lives of quiet compromise. It makes them sore, and it makes them vicious.

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