In defence of the censorship of the National Library Board (NLB)

The text which is being responded to can be found on Jaxe Pan’s Facebook Wall at https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152260052372993&set=a.10150123113852993.275966.505297992&type=1. I did not reproduce it here in entirety as I do not have permission to.

I will have to start off by stating my stance and my intention clearly. I don’t want to harshly and spitefully rebuke the arguments (implicit or otherwise) put forth by Ms Pan, even though my stance differs from hers. I wish to show anyone who would be interested in my view of what appears to be incongruous, illogical or inaccurate, while also affirming what is true of what she has stated.

I will start with a brief run-through, picking out certain parts and rephrasing them to make their meaning clear. That is, to rephrase it as statements and conclusions that can be discussed. It is to the best of my ability that I do this. Ignore any bolding or lettering until after my summary/rephrasing.

The said letter is addressed to Mr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for Information, Communication and the Arts. 
Ms Pan shares her background of being a single mother to her daughter. 
She affirms the existence of “single parents, adopted parents, blended-family parents, homosexual men and women” and in so doing separating them (A) from “traditional men-woman [sic.] union”.

Her main set of statements is as follows (all modals are set to ‘will’ or ‘to be’ rather than ‘can‘):

1. Removing books that are not pro-family creates an artificial reality for children
2. Children in the artificial reality do not learn about the different types of families.
3. Children in non-traditional families will grow to doubt their value as individuals.
4. Children in the traditional family model do not recognise other models and ostracize children in such other family models (“regard [her] daughter as alien”).
5. This increases intolerance towards those who hold different opinions (“intolerance and bigotry”)
6. This intolerance leads to isolation and discrimination.
7. The destruction of books will ultimately lead to the destruction of people.

8. Ms Pan can obtain the books through other means for her child.
9. But she cannot alter society (i.e. the intolerance, isolation, discrimination)

Therefore, the Minister is “implore[d]” to:

10. Reconsider the censorship towards the books
11. Make Singapore an inclusive society that can “hold all of our different families”.


I have refrained from stating any implicit points made anywhere, though I feel there might be a number.

As an introduction to my first point, which is not alien to many (as I have observed in the comments for Ms Pan’s photo post), the first indication of implicitness is at (A). Many have pointed out that she has basically placed the whole weight of everything that follows (A) on that – that non-traditional family models are all one and the same – non-traditional as they are – while traditional models are what they are – traditional. Much terminology in the letter seems to indicate this distinction which most will agree is not the main point in the National Library Board (NLB) censorship saga. While the three books had the concept of same-sex marriage and same-sex family models, it seems Ms Pan tries to place single-parent families and other forms of ‘models’ in the same battle arena. 

Thus, at a very basic and objective level, her arguments in points 3, 4, 8 and 9 cannot hold water with respect to her identity as a single parent, until we assume that 1) all non-traditional models are equal (i.e. equal treatment and experiences) and that 2) the censorship issue affects all non-traditional models. Note that this is different from saying the arugments are invalid; they would lean more towards unsound or irrelevant. 

I now continue by examining points 7 and 8. The reason I have to do so concurrently is because I sense a subtle contradiction in what they are both saying. While 7 implicitly states that books are being destroyed (i.e. by the NLB through their censorship), 8 states that books can be obtained through at least one method – online purchase. But to be fair, I look at the historical significance of the quote Ms Pan originally uses – in German, “Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen.” Apparently Heinrich Heine was commenting on the burning of the Qu’ran during the Spanish Inquisition. The linked Wikipedia article also mentions how Heine’s own books were amongst those burned by Nazis on the Opernplatz in Germany.

All this can seem to be coherent if we do not realise there is an equating of the historical burning of books with the censorship of library books. Furthermore book-burning has strong connotative imagery with the historical backgrounds involved. The Spanish Inquisition was set up to ‘maintain Catholic orthodoxy… and to replace the Medieval Inquisition’, later even decreeing that Jews and Muslims ‘convert or leave’. Perhaps more widely known is the German Nazi party – their genocide of the Jews, together with the deaths of many who opposed them or were different. But this is multicultural, multireligious, democratic and non-oppressive Singapore we live in. Not an authoritative regime that sets out to silence all minority and opposition, unlike the offenders involved in book-burning. By looking at just Singapore’s policy rather than attitude (i.e. opinion and tolerance), we are seeing how lax our gates for communication is; furthermore, a very wide variety of people and ‘family models’ are all allowed to live in Singapore. I refrain from arguing about or defending policy further, as that is slightly separate (e.g. section 377A; ‘rights’ of homosexual couples and so on). On this ground, there is great injustice done to the whole issue of library censorship here. I will discuss this later.

However, with reference to Singapore’s stand on the traditional family model, I think Ms Pan is attempting to argue for the ‘reality’ that all children live in, based on points 1, 2, 5 and 6. In point 8, we see she admits there is a way to ‘educate’ her child about the different family models – in fact, there is more than just one way (i.e. than just buying books online). She also admits that she is able to perform her role as a parent to encourage her daughter to be ‘brave and optimistic if ever being ridiculed about our family situation’ (see original post). To expand on this, I postulate that it means she would have to educate her child about the differences that exist. Of course it is possible this doesn’t occur at all and the daughter simply learns by observation, but it is not a plausible explanation. Now, then, I detect a purposeful biasedness in Ms Pan’s view of other parents – right from the first statement (1). She claims that children will live in an ‘artificial reality’ as a direct result from a lack of books educating differences. Implied is that other parents will definitely abstain from teaching their children about the existence of other family models (hence the use of the word ‘reality’). Hence there is the statement (4), that apparently leads to (5) which leads to (6). Therefore, continuing from above, I would not question the validity of the three statements (i.e. their interdependence) but would their soundness

It is also important that at this point I make a distinction between acknowledgement, acceptance and agreement. As with the previous paragraph I recall our nation’s stance on the family model – that is the agreed model vital to policy-making. However the Government does not agree that homosexual acts and same-sex marriages can be condoned in Singapore. Yet we acknowledge the existence of homosexual couples and individuals in Singapore, and even accept that we live harmoniously together towards a common goal as a nation. As a counter-example, Nazis would have acknowledged homosexuals, but would have refused to accept or agree on their existence or living.

From this set of definitions, I try to integrate a number of the previous paragraphs by explaining the implication of the books being censored by the NLB. By censoring children’s books that do not conform to the traditional family model, NLB is trying to reinforce the idea that it does not agree that homosexual marriages and acts are legal – and they are not. The reason that it appears NLB does not acknowledge homosexuals (i.e. their existence) (note that acknowledgement is a major claim staked by Ms Pan) is exactly because children are incapable of differentiating agreeement from acceptance and acknowledgement. The inclusion of those books would have possibly sent the wrong message to children (especially) – yet many (such as Ms Pan) have taken it to mean that NLB is ‘burning books’ by taking away books with related concepts. 

As a relevant example, I will look at the implications of one of the censored books, ‘And Tango Makes Three’. It is a factual book written for children about two penguins, Roy and Silo, who ‘adopted’ a baby penguin as their own. On Ms Pan’s Facebook page a photo detailing all the facts in the book can be seen. But in the light of what NLB perceives to be implications of allowing such books, we can observe that, because of the inability to differentiate, children can take it to mean that homosexual marriage (as is with the penguin couple Roy and Silo) is permitted in Singapore, since the book also implicitly likens this couple to other couples of ‘boy penguins’ and ‘girl penguins’. Between exclusion and inclusion of the book, it would only be wise to exclude it for fear of misinformation. 

Bear with me as I put forth an extreme hypothetical scenario in which NLB decides to allow a factual book at the children’s section. This factual book is about a man who watches pornography. Certainly we acknowledge as a society that people doing such things in the privacy of their room do exist amongst us, and that we do not find that there are preventive measures – we accept that people live differently from us. But we know that being involved in the production, purchase, distribution and selling of such material is prohibited in Singapore. Even if the book does not involve these acts, will we allow this book in the library? 


 

I hope you did not find that last scenario offensive if you took it to be an analogy, because I for one certainly have no intention of ridiculing the parties involved, but that the main point here is the issue of censorship and its role and purpose in Singapore. Or, more relevantly, the lack of censorship. I found the scenario had the most common features with the issue of ‘non-traditional’ (i.e. same-sex) family models for the purpose of argument. Thus far I have tried not to be subjective or to insert my own opinions or views into the attempted dissection of Ms. Pan’s letter, knowing that doing so will take away credibility and structural integrity from my already poorly-organised dissection. But here I will be slightly less strict with myself.

As a final point about statement 9, it is interesting to note that intolerance is present in Singapore (intolerance =  unwillingness or refusal to tolerate or respect contrary opinions, beliefs or persons; tolerate = allow the existence/interference without interference), especially religious intolerance, however with respect to the bolded words, it is very important to note what is not being tolerated by opponents. I will respect the person as a creation of God, but I cannot tolerate homosexual acts as it is sin – that is my personal view. Perhaps I ought to have defined tolerance better because it is (I believe) another source for implicit illogicity and untruth in equating intolerance of opinion with intolerance of the person. Apologies for forgetting to properly define terms in the above dissection.

Do share your comments and criticisms if you have any with regard to my dissection, which I know is absolutely abhorrent, messy and not exactly concise.

 

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