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Friday, 27 November 2015

Final Thoughts On My Post on ISIS

This will be my final thoughts on the 'killing children of terrorists' matter and then I will let the matter rest.

It is ironic that when I decided that I would slow down posting about Singapore and Singaporean affairs that I would present an opportunity for the usual gang of TOC, TRE and individuals like Kirsten Han, Andrew Loh etc to attack me.

When I posted on Devadas's page, I had just read an article on CNN about ISIS grooming a whole generation of children as terrorists. I started with a provocative comment, hoping to tease out a philosophical discussion about the killing of children (and women) terrorists, a moral issue that we find hard to deal with. Some Republican presidential candidates for example  have asserted that the US has more of a chance to win the war against ISIS if they dropped their zero collateral damage policy. I also blogged about it here :

But before I could wait for the responses and start the debate, Kirsten Han screencapped my initial comment and shared it. Over the next few days, there was a concerted campaign to have me removed from the MLC. Kirsten posted about this, and her colleague Jolene Tan and her friends kept writing to the MLC Chairman to lodge complaints. So did Andrew Loh, the founder of TOC.

They all accused me of hate speech.

To cut a long story short, the MLC agreed with me that I did not engage in hate speech, but that as an MLC member I must practice higher standards of sensitivity than private citizens. I should not have started off with that comment and opened myself up for attack by people waiting for the opportunity to do me in.

I agree.

It is indeed ironic that I presented this opportunity on a non Singapore politics-related affair, when I have been taking this group on politically for the last 5 years.

But such is life.

I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to my fellow MLC members, the MDA and my supporters for not having been more careful as a public figure who has made many enemies online in these 5 years.

We all live and learn, and this has also been a learning episode for me.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Killing Children

Killing Children

That’s as stark as a title gets.

A few days ago, I wrote on a thread about liberalism and security that Devadas Krishnadas started on his page. He asked provocatively  “Where have all the liberals gone?”. A few liberals, including the Singapore Democratic Party-linked ` journalist’ Kirsten Han went to his page and started talking about amongst other things, the death penalty.

I waded in and said, “The terrorists are not common criminals, it's not about crime punishment and deterrence. They are a mortal enemy intent on killing and destroying. So you kill them before they kill you. And their children too in case they grow up to take revenge. It's as simple as that. Please don't complicate matters.”

People familiar with the discussions I start on Facebook, especially when I see a more intellectual demographic (which Devadas’s readers are), would know that often I would lead with a seemingly provocative and outrageous statement, that on cooler analysis, actually represents a deeper argument that is founded on logic, if sometimes uncomfortable logic.

This is one time. 

I went on to explain what I meant, but not before Kirsten Han reacted by screenshotting my comment and pasted it on her facebook.

This has I am told, led to outrage in some quarters – funnily enough, although it has been shared, it did not appear on my newsfeed and a grand total of 3 of my personal friends, out of the thousands I have on my personal account, asked me what it was about.

Shows how social media functions in echo chambers.

However, for those interested, here is a re-hash and an elaboration of the things I then PROCEEDED to say after Kirsten Han screenshot the comment.

Firstly, on the issue of killing children per se, one may react to it with revulsion but it is a complex moral question. A moral absolutist may say one may not kill children ever, just as moral absolutists believe that even the State should not take lives through capital punishment since killing is wrong, but this is not a moral stance that would hold water with everyone.

Take self-defense. If a child is holding a rifle and is about to shoot at you, do you have the right to kill him?

Most would.

A more morally complex issue is enemies using children as shields – this is a real issue faced by the Israelis in their conflict with the Palestinians, and an issue now with ISIS.

And this brings us to the current problem of ISIS grooming their children (as well as the children living in their ‘state’), as combatants. 

CNN has covered this extensively.

See this article especially, which calls them ‘cubs of the Caliphate’ -

From the standpoint of self-defense, I think few would argue that one does nothing when confronted with children (and women) trained and intent to kill.

This already moves the majority away from the morally absolute belief that one should never kill children.

However, the problem is even more complex than that, and asks even more uncomfortable moral questions.

An analyst in the article above notes “The war won't end as quickly if ISIS can readily replace its fallen soldiers with brainwashed children “. "It will be a matter of generations," he said of how using child soldiers will affect the Middle East. "It will take maybe 20 years, 30 years. It's a long, long process and it's very dangerous."

This is important. An entire generation of children under ISIS including their own, have been ‘brainwashed’ to see anyone not subscribing to their ideology as enemies, and should be killed.  They fight like adults and replace the adults when they are KIA.  This leads to a 20 to 30 year problem, especially since “It takes a significant amount of time and money to rehabilitate child soldiers, experts say”.

Moral absolutism and rights are not the only moral paradigms available to us. 

Moral absolutism, as I have argued, is untenable for most people, who would claim a moral right of self -defense when faced with an armed child intent on killing.

There is however another familiar moral theory many of our laws are based on: Utilitarianism. It says that the morally right outcome is the one that maximizes the welfare of everyone. 

A thought experiment that students of philosophy are often asked to think about is this:  imagine you are stuck in a cave with 50 other people. The only entrance is blocked because a fat man who tried to climb out is stuck in it. You are quickly running out of air. The only way to escape is to blow up the fat man to clear the entrance. Kill one person to save 50 including yourself. Would you do it?

Many of modern society’s laws are already utilitarian. This is no surprise as it is one of the oldest moral creeds.

Therefore, given a problem of a whole generation of children that are already trained to kill, and given that rehabilitation is difficult, and given that this will lead to 20 to 30 years more of strife and suffering for many, many more human beings, what is the utilitarian thing to do?

Kill some to save many?

Would you do it?

That’s my point. 

So rather than accusing me of all sorts of wicked and evil things, perhaps it is better for us all to think properly about this complex and real issue.

Your conclusion may well be uncomfortable even to you.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

An Act of War

President Hollande has finally called the Paris attacks what they really are - an act of war.

It is inane to characterise these and similar attacks as mere acts of terror or the acts of religious extremists. ISIS has grown into a state that both operates within a physical, geographical domain in the Middle East, but also through the aid of the internet, a warped Caliphate whose tentacles reach around the world.

We should not dismiss ISIS as a mere terrorist organisation.

Whilst it may be comforting to paint this war in purely Manichean terms - ISIS is evil and thus its enemy must be good - like in all wars, things are rarely morally black and white. 

The US, Europe and their allies have been in denial that their foreign policy in the Middle East have spun out of control. Aiding and abetting the destabilisation of the Middle East during the ‘Arab Spring’, the invasion of Iraq, and the toppling of the Middle Eastern strongmen they called dictators have not ushered in an era of peaceful, liberated democracy that Western naive ideologues believe it would. 

Instead, what has filled the void has been something far worse.

It is also terribly naive for the Western powers to believe that airstrikes and drone attacks are all they need to do to destroy ISIS. 

Today, this has been driven home in the most terrible of ways that whilst air strikes may reduce casualties amongst Western soldiers, war can also be brought into the heart of their own cities.

What do you expect in war? You bomb their cities, their people, and they are not going to find a way to exact vengeance on you?

That is the nature of war - it is cruel, vindictive and innocents suffer for the power games that their rulers play.

If the Western Allies have finally woken up to the fact that they are not merely fighting a terrorist organisation but fighting a war, then they have two options. 

One, surrender and stop their half baked and failed interventions in the Middle East. 

Two, stop pussying around, quieten the soft, liberal segments that plague all Western democracies and end what they helped start by committing resources and unfortunately, the lives of their soldiers to destroying their enemy. 

An enemy that has shown today that they will do whatever is in their means to fight back.

Unfortunately, the rest of the world has also been dragged into this war and Singapore is no exception.

There are a few things that we must do, things that Western societies, hogtied by naive liberal ideas have shied away from doing.

Firstly, freedom of speech must not be extended to hate speech.

During the Charlie Hebdo attacks I saw that some Singaporeans, whose brains have been befuddled by the same disease that Western liberals suffer from, expressed solidarity with the comic book authors who spread hate speech.

In Singapore, we must stand fast and unwavering in banning extremist speech that exploit religious, racial and foreigner-local fault lines. 

Those that do not listen must be punished harshly, and jailed with no compunction.

Secondly, we must not in the misbeliefs of human rights activists shy away from detaining without trial those that want to commit violence against us, and those that want to join our enemies. 

Real freedom is founded on the security for the majority, and if the freedom of our enemies and those that want to do us harm must be taken away, and the keys thrown away forever, so be it.

In the coming days, we will hear people asking for understanding, and serving us platitudes about values, freedom and culture. 

In war, there is only one value. Either you survive, or your enemy survives. 

And in order to survive, in order to protect the lives of Singaporeans, our Government must be ruthlessly strong, and mercilessly tough.

And we the citizens of Singapore, must stand shoulder to shoulder and support our Government in this.