BY SHARON SNODGRASS ([email protected]) ON 27 JAN 2014
How many of us would advocate hanging for a verbal personal insult? Or cutting off a hand for stealing? Or whipping and cutting off the livelihood of someone who was rude? And extend that punishment not just to the rude person but to his young son and wife?
What an online mob in Singapore just did to British banker, Anton Casey, his Singaporean ex-beauty queen wife and their five year old son who collectively fled to Perth was similarly harsh. He took his family to safety after death threats and people asked whether his firm, Crossinvest Asia, would fire him for insults to Singapore’s public transport taking people. The uproar quickly spiralled into an online tirade against him. It culminated in his address and mobile numbers being circulated online.
Surely, while what he said, was clearly rude, utterly crass, and denigrating the public transport-taking section of Singapore’s public and all non-Singaporean residents who take public transport, the punishment was far worse than the crime.
And he did apologise. Even if the first apology was issued through a public relations firm and seen as insincere, he quickly realised, that was insufficient and personally issued not just an apology, calling it the greatest mistake of his life and offering to do community work. He sought not just to say sorry, but to atone for the wrong. Even if he is doing this on the advice of his public relations consultant, surely someone who has offered to try and make amends, should be taken up on the offer and given a second chance.
After all, if anything his remarks reflected badly most upon himself. Except that it was soon to be topped by the vitriol online complete with death threats and abuse aimed at not just him but his wife and five year old child. The spontaneous online mob that quickly gathered as the screen grabs from his facebook page circulated, had netizens baying for blood. And this was not in the wake of a fatal accident and presumably not fuelled by alcohol unlike the real riot in Little India in December last year. Unless the online citizens are given to swigging their beers while typing their angry missives in the privacy of their homes.
He did not, it should be remembered drive his silver porsche at very high speed, with the invincible belief that he could pass through a red light unharmed, or crash into an innocent taxi driver and passenger, with a young PRC female student by his side late at night unlike an earlier incident in Singapore in 2012. Nor did he leave his pregnant PRC wife to apologise to the public and try and make restitution to the families of the victims who lost a father, husband, breadwinner or beloved daughter.
Nor did he mean the remarks to go public most likely as they were posted on his private facebook page and he cited “security lapses” for them going public. His employer with what sounded like typical British understatement, said his remarks were “in poor taste” was obviously under heavy public pressure to fire him from public remarks made. With “friends” like these on facebook needs enemies and if someone you know keeps spewing out stuff you do not like, there is always the “unfriend” button.
As a member of the public taking transport, being called poor and smelly simply made me raise my eyebrows, laugh and move on to run to catch my bus. At the end of the day, Singaporeans, whether rich or poor, smelly or not, and all the non-Singaporean residents who take public transport, like he and his son, are definitely more than how much money they have or whether they have just taken a shower. After all, human dignity is surely much more than the sum of how much we have in our bank accounts and how much we smell.
It is a lesson that Anton Casey seems to have learned in a hurry. So really, the question is what is a commensurate response to a verbal, online insult? One sincerely hopes death threats are not commonly regarded as civilised. A deafening silence maybe or a snide remark about how he is definitely one of the poor having to take public transport and fly economy class, just like the rest of us? Or simply a half amused sarcastic send up of the upper class snob Anton Casey seems to be as Joyce Hooi did a la PG Wodehouse in the Business Times.
Whatever our responses are, they say much about ourselves, as his remarks said of him.
Sharon has worked for the Singapore government in positions ranging from looking at the use of technology in tourism to political analysis of Asian countries. She cut her teeth as a journalist for one of the leading dailies covering local political news. She then spent a considerable number of years in the private sector with an investment and consultancy company specialising in the commercialisation of intellectual property. She holds degrees from Oxford University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.