Bread. April 2007
The oracle from St James
Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew told members of Young PAP -- the youth wing
of the People's Action Party -- that on the question of homosexuality,
Singapore has to "take a practical, pragmatic approach to what I see
is an inevitable force of time and circumstance."
These comments came in answer to a question from Loretta Chen, who had asked where censorship was headed in the next two decades. The event was a dialogue session with the Young PAP held on 21 April 2007 in the Dragonfly room of St James Power Station, a trendy night spot.
Like oracles from old, you cannot be sure what exactly Lee meant. He was speaking in generalities. Was decriminalisation really at the back of his mind? Was he trying to say why it cannot be done, or why it should be done? What is meant by "practical"?
One has to allow for the fact that he was answering a question, and thus extemporising, but even so, it is particularly opaque.
What little we can see from the answer seems to be that, firstly, he is persuaded that homosexual orientation is innate, though he cast it rather simplistically as a genetic thing.
Secondly, that something "is an inevitable force of time and circumstance". Presumably that inevitable force is full gay equality, though he didn't spell it out.
But all these amount to just philosophising if they are not followed up. In practical terms, what changes in policy and legislation, if any, are being mooted? What does he mean by not upsetting anti-gay groups' "sense of propriety and right and wrong"?
Does his "practical, pragmatic approach" mean repeal of Section 377A of the Penal Code (which criminalises "gross indecency" between two males) anytime soon? Or in the next two decades? Concrete steps are what I'm interested in; there's no point drawing any conclusions from mere words.
* * * *
As reported by the Straits Times,
Further down the same news report, it said,
That this suggests that the younger ministers are more "conservative" does not surprise me. There have been various other indications in the past, starting with an observation my friends and I have made -- that there are a disproportionate number of Christians in the cabinet.
However, it isn't entirely due to religion, though the Christian influence does impact specifically on their reluctance to address the gay issue. I think the process by which the government tends to accumulate "conservatives" is more subtle than that. But that also means it's happening without them even realising it.
We all know how difficult it is for the People's Action Party to persuade people to join them. At every general election, this fact comes out somehow. Few people like to be associated with a harsh authoritarian regime. The ones that do will therefore tend to be those who do not mind being part of an authoritarian set-up, with personal beliefs that subscribe to the virtues of benevolent authoritarianism.
It should be no surprise that those who subscribe to political authoritarianism also tend to subscribe to moralistic authoritarianism. Thus the instinctive tendency, as Lee described, to say "no" to relaxation and "stop this, stop that."
* * * * *
Yet, for all Lee's attempts to don the cloak of the liberal in the cabinet, I find it hard to square what he's said with the fact that censorship is still very much alive.
Just last Friday, the organisers of the Singapore International Film Festival announced that the Singapore-made film Solos (Loo Zihan/Kan Lume) will not be shown . The government censor has insisted on three cuts, all related to scenes of homosexual intimacy, despite an appeal. The Film Festival, as matter of principle refuses to screen films with cuts.
Is it so difficult to consider 2 simple facts: that giving a film an R21 rating will keep out anyone under 21 years of age, and that no one will accidentally encounter homosexual intimacy, since one has to take the trouble to pay money and buy a ticket to see the film? Who is going to be offended?
That the censor will not budge, the Minister for Information, Communication and the Arts, Lee Boon Yang, will not budge, is consistent with the view that our ministers are generally "conservative". More than that, they seem to be incapable of thinking.
But the fact that they still insist on their stand also suggests that Lee's claim that he argues for less censorship is less than meets the eye. Has he actually told the cabinet that "all this censorship and so on makes no sense to me"? Because if he did, I can't believe they would defy him.
All said and done, who do we believe anymore? Words have been devalued. Time to show us some action.
© Yawning Bread