Sunday, March 05, 2017

Involving the State - First or Last Resort?

Recently, quite a bit of a stir was caused by the uploading and circulation via Facebook of a video recording which showed an imam allegedly making religiously inflammatory remarks while giving a sermon at a local mosque. Responding to this incident, Minister for Law and Home Affairs K. Shanmugam said in Parliament that a police report had been lodged and investigations were ongoing. Separately, the Minister also commented via his Facebook page that the individual who have uploaded the video in question should have reported to the police, instead of circulating the video via social media. The circulation of the video could lead to a groundswell of emotions and increased tensions. This view was echoed by Dr. Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister-in-charge for Muslim Affairs and Minister for Communications and Information, who said that for "such sensitive matters, it would be better to go to the authorities in the first instance".

Although I agree that it would have been wiser for the video in question to not have been circulated online, I am sceptical with regards to whether the first and best remedy was to involve the authorities. While involving the authorities would be an effective way to resolve the matter, I think it would have been wiser and better in the long run if involving the authorities was the last resort, rather than the first resort, in such matters. I am keenly aware of the concern that if such matters are not quickly referred to the authorities, they could quickly spiral out of control and potentially cause significant harm. However, if state involvement persist as the first and only method we can think of employing to resolve such matters, I worry whether this could impede our growth as a nation and stunt the maturing of our civil society. Just imagine, if a child always turn to his or her parents to solve his or her problems, how would the child ever learn to solve problems by him/herself?

Perhaps it would have been better if the "whistleblower" in this case had spoke to the imam to express his disagreement/disapproval and attempted to resolve the matter face-to-face on an individual basis. If that did not work, he then could have refer the matter to the mosque authorities and so on. In sum, there were perhaps many other ways the matter could be amicably resolved before resorting to involving the authorities.

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