#FreeAmosYee - Atheist Imprisoned in Singapore
Who is Amos Yee?
Amos is a young man from Singapore who makes youtube videos. In Singapore there are apparently limits placed on the speech of citizens which causes certain insults against certain religions and religious figures illegal. Also illegal are apparently certain depictions/insults against authority figures in Singapore.
Amos already served jail time at an earlier date for his insults and criticisms against religion and Islam. Now, due to videos he released after he was let out of prison, he is in danger of jail time again.
Free Speech - Why Should YOU Care?
Amos may seem like a smart mouth punk kid but that is irrelevant. If you are like me you believe that freedom of speech includes mocking, insulting and criticizing religion and you also believe that Free Speech is a universal human right. Yet in modern times freedom of speech is under attack due to the rise of the idea of "hate speech" continually broadening to make all manner of speech tantamount to a "hate crime".
Curtailing freedoms in this way may seem a far way off from the United States but for this kid it is an everyday reality he lives with. Simply for standing up against the authority and insane social norms of his society Amos receives death threats from all the "peaceful" Muslims of Singapore. You can check the comments section of his videos, while support for him is beginning to show up previously he was being verbally attacked and threatened with death merely for speaking his mind.
His videos may be extremely hyperbolic and even insulting but I believe he has every right to make them and that inadvertently this badmouth teen kid may help change Singapore's laws to allow more freedom - but only if enough attention can be brought to his case. If you care about free speech and the ability to criticize and even mock authority and religious institutions and ideas I implore you to do what you can and share the story of Amos Yee.
Even if You Disagree with his Methods
Even if you disagree with what he has to say or the way he has to say it Amos Yee faces the threat of imprisonment on top of all the death threats he has received as a result of insulting the "peaceful" religion of Islam. While we often take freedom of speech for granted here in the United States there are places in the world where criticizing religion can and will get your imprisoned or murdered.
Bangladesh has seen multiple atheist bloggers hacked to death with machetes by enraged extremists over the last few years simply for speaking their minds.
However empty this teens rebellion might seem to some I believe it is important that the young generation stand up and leave religion behind - and indeed polls increasingly show that this is happening. The non-religious are the fastest growing category in the world and the internet has no doubt played a massive part in weakening the stranglehold that superstition and organized religion have long had on human thought.
If you believe in free speech please share this story!
Hate Speech vs The Freedom to Offend
I firmly believe in the freedom to offend as part of free speech. I don't think that religious ideas should be given a get-out-of-criticism-free card just because people hold their beliefs strongly or feel attached to them. It is a dangerous thing when ideas become so intermingled with our identities that we would compromise important principles like Free Speech to protect the feelings of others.
What do I mean?
Well for most people "Hate Speech" would constitute speech that encourages violence or discrimination against a group or groups of people. For example if Amos Yee were saying that Muslims and Christians should be rounded up into camps and shot we might make a case for hate speech even here in the USA. And yet even in Western democracies ideas like this get batted around without consequence all the time, whether it's a southern pastor saying he would round up all the gays if he could or a prominent feminist saying we should put all men into internment camps.
We still have preachers in America implying that gays should be stoned and yet we generally don't track them down and prosecute them. WHY IS THAT?
Well because of free speech of course. Because we understand that while what they're saying is outrageous, offensive, even perhaps hateful, they don't have the power or influence to sway the authorities into following their insanely inhumane plans - and certainly can't carry them out themselves! We understand hyperbole, thought experiments and implausible fantasizing and we look the other way because we value their freedom of speech over the feelings of those who might be offended.
In Singapore things are apparently quite different. Amos Yee does not have the freedom to offend - but I believe he should and he apparently believes he should as well. He is standing up to authority, goading the State into action, shining a spotlight on the absurdity of imprisoning a teenager for insulting religious ideas and people. They view HIM as the threat.
That is the danger of creeping Hate Speech, of allowing the definition of Hate Speech to encompass anything that might offend or criticize or hurt the feelings of institutions and individuals alike. We've seen this idea not just in foreign countries but even here in America there are attempts to silence critics merely by labeling what they have to say as "hate speech".
This is a downright DANGEROUS trend if it is allowed to continue to take root in Western democracies as it creates protected sub-classes of people and ideas that are off limits to criticism, mockery and insult. It is absolutely imperative to free speech that we have the right to criticize religion, superstition and indeed ALL ideas, openly and yes even using mockery and profanity if we so choose.
It may seem crass or crude. It may lack the logical polish and eloquent delivery of a posh English atheist with an education but what Amos Yee is doing IS important. And yet these bronze age superstitions enjoy special protection from the government lest someone feel insulted or offended for being told honestly and without filter that they believe absurd nonsense with no basis in reality.
It doesn't matter if you're an atheist or not, if you believe in Free Speech you must stand up for it. I for one believe that free speech should have no borders and that it is a universal human right, one that has been curtailed in Singapore to such a pathetic degree that Amos Yee now faces prison - or potentially worse.
Conclusion - Shame on Singapore
Perhaps if enough of a ruckus is made Singapore can be shamed into changing its laws to reflect more acceptable liberal principles of individual freedom. It would be nice to get the kid out of prison and preferably out of the country where these draconian laws threaten him with prison and the Muslim/Christian population threaten him with potentially violent consequences for his criticism of religion.
But maybe the whole thing will fail, I hope not. At the very least I hope this will spark a conversation about freedom of speech and how the inter-connectivity of the world is causing tyranny to be harder to maintain as young people rebel against authority using information gained online and social media to coordinate their actions.
At the end of the day Amos Yee knew what he was doing would get him into trouble, he had been in prison before and he knew damn well they'd catch up with him eventually. Amos purposefully goaded the authorities into action by being provocative and blatant. But that doesn't make what Singapore has done here any less reprehensible or the laws any less batshit crazy.
Amos Yee basically told the Singapore authorities, be they religious or otherwise, to go fuck themselves, because he was going to speak his mind and say what he wanted to say about religion. Was it unwise? Sure. Offensive? Definitely. But it was also, in my opinion, brave and heroic. He knew the consequences and he did what he believed was right by standing up for his freedom of speech.
If any of us were living in a system like that would we speak out like Amos? Or would we just shuffle on our way with our heads down pretending nothing was wrong with the system?
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