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Singapore's problems remain

As a political columnist for The Tech I have read many a reply to my political views. As a writer understanding the importance of free speech and individual beliefs, I encourage these responses and hope that my writing will make people think and react, no matter how positively or negatively.

However, when I am frontally assaulted by a barrage of namecalling, as I was by David B. Mercer '92 in a recent letter ["Singapore column misleads," Nov. 2], I must respond, especially when the letter in question is founded upon mindless drivel, as his was.

Mercer responds to my last column ["Tech banned in Singapore," Oct. 23], which criticized Singapore's newest anti-press legislation as an undemocratic initiative on the part of Singapore's prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew. In a brief two paragraphs, Mercer arrives at the conclusion that, in the column, I displayed a "great ignorance" of the "geographical, historical, and political situation of Southeast Asia."

Mercer wrongly concludes that as I mentioned no other research source besides an article which appeared in The Economist, I had none, and was therefore misinformed. He then proceeds to provide a stunningly apologetic and insulated view of the political situation in Singapore and Lee's god-like benevolence and success. To Mercer, even Lee's unimpressive showing at the last election was the result of his own "fine leadership."

However, Mercer fails to mention any sources for his information, leading me to believe that he synthesized it based on his own extensive diplomatic experience with Singapore. Having known a citizen of Singapore for five years, I can safely say that political conditions in Singapore are not as rosy as he believes.

Mercer asserts that Lee established seats in Parliament for opposition leaders in an effort to nurture opposition parties. Mercer fails to mention that the first opposition party member elected to Parliament since the 1960s, J. B. Jeyaretnam, was flushed out by government-sponsored lawsuits. Lee may place his own cronies in power, but legitimate opposition leaders are arrested, convicted, or just exiled. Chia Thye Poh, a member of Parliament, was brought up on charges of being a communist when he formally protested Lee's harassment of his party. Chia now lives in exile for political crimes. He has never been tried.

Last year's Asia Watch human rights survey listed Lee's government as engaging in "a systematic campaign to destroy both civil society and the rule of law." The group has implicated Lee's government in the abuse of the Catholic Church, welfare organizations, the national university, media correspondents, and opposition political parties.

The report states that Singapore's government has "mistreated detainees, jailed them again for complaining about mistreatment, jailed their lawyers and even pursued a vendetta beyond the borders of Singapore against one of the lawyers for the detainees who was also an opposition spokesman." Such behavior is hardly the "nurturing" of "opposition" that Mercer calls it.

While providing a sparkling propagandist, encyclopedia-like explanation of democracy in Singapore in defense of his views, Mercer fails to address the real issue, the recently approved anti-press law. Mercer may babble all he wants about Lee's supposed love of "opposition," but he cannot, and does not, dispute the fact that Singapore's parliament, under Lee's guidance, imposed an unusually harsh sedition standard on a democratic nation. Mercer's analysis is fervent and spiteful, but he irresponsibly skirts the issue with unsupported declarations and excuses for a government he apparently knows little about.

Despite Mercer's passionate disagreement with me and my views with which he began his letter, the piece metamorphosizes by the end into a dispute about the editorial content of the Asian Wall Street Journal. The newspaper, which he claims was never banned (I never said it was), he believes, was inaccurately portrayed as an Asian version of the American newspaper. Mercer insists that the two are under different management, when, in fact, the Dow Jones publishing group owns both.

Mercer also insists that the Asian Wall Street Journal can be found in "the many libraries around the nation."

Mercer hasn't read a newspaper in months.

The Dow Jones group announced weeks ago that efforts by Lee's government to squeeze the paper out of circulation forced it to halt distribution to Singapore.

While I can appreciate Mercer's disagreement with my column, his personal opinions and bogus analysis do not warrant his unsportsman-like accusations of my ignorance.

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Matthew H. Hersch, a freshman, is an associate opinion editor of The Tech.

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Last year's Asia Watch human rights survey listed Lee's government as engaging in "a systematic campaign to destroy both civil society and the rule of law."

[gfsandwich,1,1.5,0]

To Mercer, even Lee's unimpressive showing at the last election was the result of his own "fine leadership."

[gfsandwich,1,3,0]

Mercer may babble all he wants about Lee's supposed love of "opposition," but he cannot, and does not, dispute the fact that Singapore's parliament, under Lee's guidance, imposed an unusually harsh sedition standard on a democratic nation.