ST Forum: Writer's article unfair and undermines civil debate (Nov 1)

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Nov 1, 2007
Writer's article unfair and undermines civil debate

I REFER to Mr Janadas Devan's article, '377A debate and the rewriting of pluralism' (ST, Oct 27).

It is unfortunate that Mr Janadas Devan was 'exceedingly' depressed by the parliamentary debate on S377A of the Penal Code. However, one's personal feelings and sentiments such as 'was left looking stupid, speechless, confused, sour-faced and uncivil' is neither a rational nor relevant argument.

The use of expressions such as 'she tore to shreds so many of our cherished beliefs' obfuscates real concerns of what such beliefs may be and whether they ought to be so cherished in the first place. This emotional appeal insidiously draws attention away from the validity of opposing arguments.

Nominated Member of Parliament Thio Li-ann validly used the phrase 'chronological snobbery' in her parliamentary speech to counter the argument that S377A was 'archaic' and therefore should be repealed. Mr Devan's observation that 'chronological snobbery' was first coined by Owen Barfield and C.S. Lewis, is irrelevant. First, his observation fails to justify the 'labelling' of S377A as 'archaic'. Second, parliamentarians do not assert originality in their speeches, but
instead seek to express views relevant to law and policy making.

Mr Devan alluded to Professor Thio's use of uncivil and unkind phrases such as 'shoving a straw up your nose to drink' and 'Mundur Singapura' ('backward' in Malay).

He observed that the first phrase has been used in 'American anti-gay pamphlets'. A cursory sweep of gay activists' propaganda will reveal the convenient labelling of all contrary viewpoints including reasoned arguments, as 'anti-gay'. Such labelling avoids a substantive debate of the real concerns. S377A prohibits acts of gross indecency between two male adults. Any argument for or against its retention must
necessarily consider the repugnancy of anal sex or sodomy justifying its classification as 'gross indecency'.

He further observed that 'Mundur means 'backward' in Malay, and 'backward' here alludes to that 'straw' and another orifice'. If Mr Devan had read Professor Thio's speech carefully, he would have noticed that the phrase 'Mundur Singapura' was spoken in the context of not allowing our society to 'regress' to early civilisations where
indiscriminate sex was prevalent and there was no laws governing sexual behaviour. This is hardly uncivil or unkind. It is inappropriate and unconscionable for anyone to suggest otherwise.

Parliamentarians speak to the population at large. To use colloquial language at times to illustrate a point is perfectly permissible.

For Mr Devan to declare and wax lyrical about his depression, is at best highly self-indulgent.

Yvonne Lee Ching Ling (Ms)