But this afternoon, a serenditipious search brought me to the Singapore National Education (SNE) website that detailed the Maria Hertogh Riots (11 Dec 1950). That's when I drew parallels between the two events.
The way I see it, the Maria Hertogh case was essentially a child-custody case, albeit alleviated on a political/ religious pedestal. Back in 1950s, the environment was ripe for dissention to be created.
Fast-forward to the AcidFlask-A*STAR incident: The news first broke in the SG Blogosphere (not mainstream media) with a posting from AcidFlask that only alluded to some legal action being taken by no less than a government agency against him.
Like any community (online or physical), a perceived "attack" on one of its member is easily seen as an attack on the community as a whole. Same thing for the Maria Hertogh case, and same thing for AcidFlask-A*STAR.
In the 1950 riot, I could only guess that rumours and anger spread among the people by word-of-mouth. The masses did not have access to information to keep themselves informed. In the absence of information, emotions were easily stirred.
Same thing for the AcidFlask-A*STAR incident. The SG Blogosphere only had scanty information (from a blogger in their community), and none from A*STAR directly. It didn't help A*STAR that it's position was presented indirectly by the mainstream media, which was largely perceived (by SG bloggers) as the mainstream media not "getting it". More smoke to the fire.
In my opinion, the 1950 riot and the AcidFlask-A*STAR incidents have three commonalities:
- In essence, they concerned matters between private parties;
- There was imperfect/ indirect access to information;
- The results was a lose-lose situation for both sides.
You might have played this "game" before: A bunch of people standing in a straight row, one behind the other. The message is passed down the line one person at a time. End of the line, the message always gets distorted.
Frankly, I think A*STAR was the bigger loser (see this). If A*STAR had posted it's own position on its website, perhaps things might have turned out differently. The world media would have had direct access to what it has to say, rather than rely on indirect sources. AcidFlask had a direct voice to the SG Blogosphere. A*STAR didn't, and it was the mainstream media that carried the story. No surprises why there was a further "Them Vs. Us" divide.
What's my point to all this? And what has it got to do with libraries & librarianship? I refer to this statement from this webpage (last line of the page) reporting on a talk by an actual witness, Mr. George Seow (teacher, journalist, diplomat) to the 1050 riot (btw, read the whole article for the full context):
The message of his talk was clear - that we must preserve racial and religious harmony in a multiracial society. Food is a uniting factor among races.So I wondered if information could have been a uniting factor among the parties involved -- namely the SG Blogosphere, individual bloggers, mainstream media, and foreign media. And libraries could be neutral platforms for rational public discourse and discussion.
Of course, having information and discussions might not guarantee "harmony". But we intuitively know that without either of them, misunderstandings and disunity would be a given.
Note: Here's a useful reference for a chronology of the AcidFlask-A*STAR episode (by Huichieh Loy), but by no means the only version.
[Tag: singapore, role of libraries]