There are times when people who represent a cause act in ways which contradict it. This is one of them. Amos Yee’s latest attempt to justify his molestation allegation whilst continuing to smear the reputation of his former bailor is not an act that serves the cause he represents; only himself. I believe we ought to carefully draw that distinction between the icon and his cause, if not for the cause’s sake, then for Mr Yee’s.
In an expletive-laden essay, Amos espouses a morally and intellectually bankrupt worldview which leads him to see benefactors as enemies, first his bailor, then Jolovan and now his supporters who he calls hypocrites. How does one live like that? (See summary or original post.)
The fact that he is now celebrating his scheme to damage his former bailor’s reputation is even more highly disturbing. This is certainly not a “wonderful tale” to laugh at, share and spread around.
In his essay, Amos acknowledges he was aware that his allegation of molestation “could potentially have ruined [Vincent’s] relationship with his family, made him lose his job and his entire livelihood”. But somehow, he thinks this was warranted by the “horrible things” Mr Law did. He also hopes that Mr Law would no longer be able to help other migrant workers because his reputation as a bailor would be damaged too (he says Mr Law frequently bails out migrant workers).
He recounts how he wanted to publicly humiliate him in person, then decided to do it through the media instead. Then after he makes the allegation, he taunts Mr Law for not forgiving him unconditionally even though he is a Christian. As if that is not enough, he taunts everyone now with this essay, calling those who initially believed his molestation allegation inherently stupid. And to add insult to injury, he says Vincent’s anger at the allegation was unjustified.
But that is not all. He is also contemptuous of sound advice (from Roy Ngerng), and he is hostile towards his parents, his supporters, and most significantly, the justice system. He didn’t just breach his bail conditions by accident, he meticulously planned it. I don’t agree with his bail conditions either, in fact, I’ve publicly argued against it. I’ve also argued against his prosecution, and subsequently, against his conviction. But to show such disrespect for the rightful authority of the judiciary is neither prudent nor right.
Amos makes fresh allegations about Mr Law, but none of this amounts to molest. Molest is sexual assault, not causing emotional distress. Molest does cause emotional distress, but it is not suitable to use such a term to describe it. That we even have to clarify this is astounding. That a secondary definition from freedictionary.com could supersede the primary definition of molest, as an illegal act of sexual assault, is absurd. Conventional wisdom does not fail us here. Mr Law did not molest Amos. Period.
Amos quotes Mr Law on multiple occasions, but I am unwilling to reproduce them unless I can verify them (Amos has lost all credibility in my eyes, hence I need such a verification). But even if what Amos says is true, none of Mr Law’s actions justify Amos’ premeditated attempt at smearing his reputation and publicly humiliating him.
If Amos’ account is true, Mr Law was wrong to have forced him to attend meetings, much less do it out of spite. If it is true, it was also wrong of Mr Law to force Amos to discuss religion if he was unwilling to do so. It is after all a central tenet in Christianity that believers come to faith willingly, converted by the Holy Spirit. Christians also believe the gospel preacher is a servant, and the power of the gospel comes from the truth of its subject, the cross of Christ, not his eloquence or his coercion. So I say this unreservedly: such spite and coercion is wrong.
If Mr Law did do everything Amos claims, he was acting in a way that is contrary to Christian beliefs. But it is also a Christian belief that we are all sinners in need of grace, and from time to time, Christians sin too, sometimes terribly. When we do, we can only hope to have the courage and grace to repent and seek forgiveness. I can only hope Mr Law apologises if he was in the wrong, and that Amos forgives him.
However, it is not contrary to Christian belief to seek to protect one’s reputation (and livelihood, if it is dependent on it) through legal means. Defamation has its roots in a Christian common law tradition and it is only problematic when applied excessively against political opponents. Mr Law’s threat to sue does seem excessive but we need to remember that he retracted it quickly and he said he would not pursue the matter after Yee apologised, sarcastic as he was. (Taking action against defamation is also not inconsistent with properly formulated free speech ideals; it is only incompatible with the absolutist ones which are untenable and self-contradictory.)
Again, insofar as his temporary threat was excessive, it was representative of a moment of frustration or anger, not representative of all Christians or of their beliefs. We should perhaps also remember that he eventually decided not to sue and graciously accepted Amos’ apology, sincere or not. This is very charitable of him, and while Christians are not the only ones capable of charity, it is part of what we strongly believe in—the grace of God being a core precept.
On top of this, we need to remember that Mr Law is a bailor, and bailors are responsible for their bailee. We do not know why he insisted on those meetings (if indeed he did). We only know that this is not an unusual practice. Bailors have an obligation to the Court to ensure their bailees do not violate the terms of their bail. Meeting them may be the best way to check up on them and ensure that. Bailors also have a strong financial motivation not to lose the bail amount. In this case, it was SG$20,000 (US$15,144).
What I remain unable to understand is why Amos didn’t ask for another bailor, if indeed he was so sure of his popularity. He did know three others were willing to act as his bailors so why did he choose to continue on with Mr Law. Perhaps he was not aware of that option, or perhaps no such option really existed (see note on the facts at the bottom).
Whatever the case, we need to be mindful that undesirable as Mr Law may be (if indeed Amos’ new allegations are true), none of this justifies the disproportionate amount of damage Amos tried to inflict in revenge, much less his continuing attempts to humiliate him; he is scheming even as we speak.
We also need to be mindful that Mr Law had stepped up and offered to be his bailor at a time when few others would. He even spoke in Amos’ defense, saying that as a Christian, he wasn’t offended (a fact which was pleaded in Court in the defence’s favour, although it was rejected).
When Amos broke his bail conditions, Mr Law offered to stay on as his bailor. Of course, he wanted Amos to abide by the rules this time. Who wouldn’t? But Amos saw this as a sinister plot for Mr Law to seek publicity for himself. I don’t think much of the publicity for Mr Law was good at this point in time. Amos doesn’t realise that he, as a person, is not terribly popular. It is the cause he represents which is—the cause of free speech—a cause which he contradicts by making false allegations.
It’s easy to impute sinister motivations to another person. Perhaps Mr Law really was in it only for the limelight. However, by most accounts, Mr Law is not that kind of person. If indeed, he just wanted the publicity, I also do not see why he would insist on meeting up with Amos behind the scenes, or even try to stay on as his bailor, much less visit him in prison.
So the facts simply don’t support the theory. Only Amos’ allegations do. But one can’t possibly be skeptical of everyone and everything; it makes for a miserable life. (See also his son’s explanation, attached at the bottom in full.)
So while I am vigorously opposed to his prosecution and conviction (and I do still oppose it), I do not support the contempt he has displayed towards others.
As I was reading his lengthy blog post, I asked myself why I bothered. (It was not easy). Why not just ignore him and move on? I’m not really sure. I am reminded of Nathan Heller’s shallow understanding of the boy which led him to call Amos a selfless, precocious, fount of wisdom and a boy-genius who will hopefully run our country someday. For now at least, this seems like a rather improbable assessment. I wouldn’t want such a person running Singapore anyway.
Nonetheless, I hope we can be mindful of his age and ask if ever we shared such thoughts of hurting others whose authority we despise, and only lacked the opportunity or courage to declare them. I know I certainly did. Hopefully he grows out of it.
But enough with the attempt to figure out the 16-year-old. I simply want to say that free speech is a contradiction if it acts in such a manner–that is, if it shuts out others from the debate by impugning their character. This is why we may legitimately impose restrictions on free speech, by outlawing defamation or hate speech that seeks to exclude individuals or groups from the debate.
Perhaps now we may divorce the icon from the cause, given how the icon has failed to live up to it. The hope here is not to subject a 16-year-old to yet more condemnation (I believe he needs to be protected from a lot of this at his age). First, I hope we may not fall into the mistake of believing that everything Amos does is right, and so condone wrong actions. Second, I hope we may demonstrate that free speech, properly conceived, is not dangerous.
In the face of the ruling party’s insecurity, what we need is free speech that is mindful of its own contradictions, not an icon that contradicts his cause.
[Postscript: Back in April, I wrote about this same issue with Amos’ inconsistent worldview. I hope the reader recognises that it is possible to distinguish between Amos Yee’s prosecution and conviction, and his actions. This is what I have always maintained—I have never agreed with the validity of his criticism, either of Lee Kuan Yew (because it was shallow) or of Christianity (because it was unnecessarily derogatory).]
Additional note on clarifications of fact:
According to The Online Citizen, Amos did not have a choice of bailor because out of the four who offered, two pulled out and one wanted to only be the bailor as a last resort. That person was Teo Suh Lung, an ex-ISA detainee, whose involvement would understandably give the mainstream media a field day. Hence, Mr Law was chosen as the bailor.
As for his meetings with Mr Law, it is not true that Amos met him every day. According to The Online Citizen, Amos met Mr Law on six occasions. Four were in public places, one was at Amos’ home, and one took place in the presence of Mr Law’s wife and children. One meeting took place after he was released, one after the Public Enemy performance, and four other sessions were for counselling. Mr Law’s son, Francis, maintains that Mr Law only insisted on meeting Amos because it was part of his conditions as a bailor. (See photo evidence.)
Regarding Mr Law’s interactions with Amos, Francis maintains that Mr Law truly cared for Amos and always put a positive portrayal of Amos in the press. On why Mr Law chose to bail Amos out, Francis says: “My dad did it because he saw a brilliant boy who needed a second chance. He didn’t care for the publicity, he wasn’t “jealous” that Amos was getting all the attention. All he wanted was to help Amos out of his predicament.”
“In many ways, my dad treated Amos almost like a son. While he may have seemed hard on Amos in front of him, my dad stood up for Amos in more ways than one,” he said in a Facebook post.
I’ve attached Francis Law’s response in a Facebook post below:
So in the recent weeks I’ve been bombarded with many questions about Amos Yee in regards to my father, Vincent Law.
“Why did your dad do it?” “Have you met Amos?” “How do you feel about the allegations that Amos made against you dad?”
Not wanting to jeopardise my reputation for fear of my future, I had decided to stay silent. However, after reading Amos’ latest post, I feel it is time my selfishness came to an end. Amos claimed that nobody but himself knew what was going on? Well, now there’s me.
So let’s begin with “Why did you dad do it?”
My dad did it because he saw a brilliant boy who needed a second chance. He didn’t care for the publicity, he wasn’t “jealous” that Amos was getting all the attention. All he wanted was to help Amos out of his predicament.
In many ways, my dad treated Amos almost like a son. While he may have seemed hard on Amos in front of him, my dad stood up for Amos in more ways than one. Whenever the press questioned him, he would never put Amos down, always painting a positive portrayal of Amos in hopes that that would improve the public opinion of Amos. I’m not saying that my father is right in raising his voice at Amos, but he did it because he cared for him and wanted to fulfil is role as a bailor. Part of my father’s conditions as a bailor was to keep in contact with Amos every 24 hours, which, I must add, Amos wasn’t very compliant to.
There was once Amos came over to my place, he stared long and hard at a luggage tag in the shape of those green aliens from Toy Story 2. Convinced that Amos really liked it, my dad would look through every shop he passed by that might sell the luggage tag. While he did manage to find and purchase a figurine, he never had a chance to give it to him because Amos had already gone and broke his bail terms.
Which leads me to the next question, “Have you met Amos?”
It was about 9 in the morning on the first Saturday after my father had bailed Amos out. I was awoken by loud discussions coming from the living room. Annoyed by the noises I opened my door, and, lo and behold, it was Amos Yee in his pyjamas sitting on my couch.
I still remember his first words to me after we introduced ourselves to each other.
“Hey Francis, your father is a great man. He bailed me out of jail!” With a wide grin on his face.
After I had brushed my teeth, I returned to the living room to see that my brother was receiving the same greetings I had just a few minutes ago.
“Hey Frederick, your father is a great man!” he repeated.
After-which we all sat down and had a chat about his plans for the future as well as our personal thoughts on education and film. I would say we all had a pretty good time. In that space, we all respected each other’s opinions which I was something I really appreciated.
Just before he left (and stared at the luggage tag), he turned around and said, “You know Vincent, I wasn’t so sure about this before, but this was quite nice. We should do this again sometime.”
So yes, I have met Amos.
And of course, “How do you feel about the allegations Amos made against your dad?”
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t angry. In fact, I had half a mind to take legal action against him as well. That’s my father he was defaming!
Then again, no one makes the best decisions when they’re angry so I decided to calm down before taking any further action.
Disclaimer: Before reading this next portion, I would like you to know that I am not using this post to promote my faith. Everything I’m writing is merely my opinion and you have every right to disagree with me.
After I taken a step back and looked at the situation in its totality, I decided there really was no point in me retaliating in anger.
In his post, Amos referred to Mark 3:29. Well, let me quote two passages in the Bible that explains my reaction to his allegations.
Matthew 5:44 “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”
Mark 12:31 “The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
As a Christian myself, I believe that responding in love instead of hatred would not only be a more peaceful solution, but a more constructive one as well. I could take legal action against him, get him and the media to apologise and so forth, or I could just forgive him and find an alternative solution to protecting my father’s reputation.
Once again, I’d like to stress that I’m not trying to impose my faith on the reader through this post, I’m merely stating my side of the story that wouldn’t be complete without including my beliefs.
At the end of the day, no man is perfect, my father included. We all make mistakes and bad choices. However, my father’s choice in bailing Amos out was not a mistake. I firmly believe that he was right to offer Amos a second chance and I fully support my father in this matter.
I hope that this post clears the air up a bit on the issue pertaining to my father’s tenure as Amos’ bailor. If anyone has any questions regarding what I said above, please do not hesitate to contact me.