The choice is ours to make

September 14, 2006
Singapore Democrats

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Charles Tan
14 Sept 06

One of the great French thinkers, Jean-Paul Sartre, once said that Man is condemned to be free.

He means people have choices, and with it, responsibility. Responsibility means burden and answerability. In short, Man has to answer to himself for every choice he makes. Sometimes, not doing something, is by itself a choice.

This Saturday, a group of activists has organised a march and rally commencing at Speaker’s Corner. While a permit has been applied, the police has rejected it for “law and order” reasons. They go on to claim that since the permit for this rally has been denied. That statement will arouse fear among the people.

It is, I believe, a difficult decision for most people.

If you are to ask Sartre, I believe he will be most likely advise you to make your own decision.

There will be those who might want to participate in this march, but only if it is legal. They will reason that they have responsibilities towards their families or outstanding loan mortgages.

Following this line of reasoning, we are tempted to justify that we have limited choices or, in fact, no choice at all. That is of course, not true.

You have a choice, even if it appears unattractive. We can choose to take that very first step in overcoming our fear and be part of an historic rally where Singaporeans prove that we can be civil and autonomous rational adults.

We can show that we have the capacity to gather peacefully. We can show our defiance of the authorities who are intent on denying our basic political rights to freedom of assembly and speech.

Is this freedom of such importance to warrant us getting into trouble?

My answer is a definite yes. It has to be. It is one of the basic human rights guaranteed under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of which Singapore is a signatory. That means this right cannot be taken away from us by the government.

This freedom is commonly practised by people living in modern societies to communicate with others as well as to voice their displeasure against unfair laws or policies.

In Singapore’s context, this freedom has been made illegal. Nevertheless, it does not mean that cannot have it. We just need to take it back.

By choosing to take part in this rally, we are telling the authorities that we acknowledge our freedom to peaceful assembly. We are telling them that we disagree with their unfair and unjust legislations.

If we back down, it means we are implicitly agreeing with their policies, that we are not responsible enough and that we cannot organise ourselves peacefully. In other words, we cannot make responsible choices.

Sartre’s philosophy also includes the concept of anguish; by which he means that people are in a state of tension when their freedom is denied.

In our case, it means the authorities have the ability to prosecute us. On the other hand, we, as individuals, have the ability to act. We have the power to act as dignified adults in using our bodies and minds, and demonstrating to Singaporeans and the world that we are as human as anyone else in the world.

The one thing you cannot say is that you do not have a choice. You do. Yes, a difficult choice maybe but its yours to make.

Sartre also says that our actions are examples for others to follow. In other words: “What happens if other people do the same thing as I did.” Imagine what will happen if Singaporeans followed our actions and decide to participate in Saturday’s peaceful rally.

That is, in essence, what you are standing up for if you choose to be part of the march this weekend. I repeat: The choice is yours. Use it wisely.

Charles Tan is the President of the Young Democrats.