Open Letter To Amos Yee, His Parents And PM Lee Hsien Loong

Dear Amos,

Wow, I am impressed. What a beautiful video and what an amazing delivery. I don’t think I have ever seen an 8 minute video with such am impact.

Of course, the outpour of criticism your piece has caused, has been vast. The immature have made imbecile comments on your hairstyle while the too mature have been preoccupied with your use of profanities. Many of the more sophisticated commentators have been somewhat positive, but still typically in the form “he may have some points, but timing, format or something else was wrong”.

What it seems most of your detractors fail to realize is that your video was as perfect as it was intended. They say the journey is the destination, and in communication the content is only part of the message. Other, sometimes equally important, parts of a message are style, format and timing of delivery. You wanted Lee loyalists to know what you think of their deity and you wanted the whole world to know that there is another side to the late Lee Kuan Yew. You wanted people to know that, despite his real (but often exaggerated) achievements, Lee Kuan Yew was in fact a horrible person. And wow, have you managed to get the message across.

That Lee Kuan Yew was a horrible person should not, of course, surprise anyone. Many, if not most, leaders of countries and corporations are not nice people. You simply don’t get to the top by being Mr. Nice Guy. And although you might find exceptions to this rule, in the subclass of leaders that Lee Kuan Yew belonged to, the dictator, I doubt you will find any. The way Lee Sr. treated his political adversaries should be plenty of evidence for any doubters.

And if more evidence is needed, the following quote by LKY himself should remove any shadow of doubt: “Between being loved and being feared, I have always believed Machiavelli was right. If nobody is afraid of me, I’m meaningless.” What kind of person would rather be feared than loved and respected? Only a very horrible person indeed.

Not only was he a horrible person, but odds are he was not a particularly good father either. After all, what kind of father would want to put his son in a position he is so obviously unfit to have? Lee Hsien Loong lacks the three essential qualities needed to be a successful dictator: charisma, an unflinching self-confidence and ruthlessness. Lee Hsien Loong is uncharismatic, insecure and instills fear more like a cat than a tiger. Lee Jr.’s rule is bound to end in failure, and both father and son must have known that. Nevertheless, LKY put his son in this position.

The saddest part of Lee Kuan Yew’s life is that he did not have the wisdom to leave at the right time. He did not have sufficient trust in his own people to leave the stage and set Singaporeans free. Instead he insisted on ruling by fear, first directly, then indirectly, to the bitter end. Had he had the wisdom to relinquish power, in the mid-80s for instance, his legacy could have been that of a super Pinochet: an autocratic leader that created an economic miracle with minimal bloodletting. But LKY never learned that love trumps fear every day of the week. He never understood that his people have grown up and can indeed be trusted with democracy and a free media. How sad it is that he did not set his people free, but instead relied on fear and control, not realizing how detrimental these are to human happiness.

His reliance on fear, rather than love, respect and trust is also a personal tragedy for LKY. His legacy will now always be tainted by defamation suits, repressions of basic freedoms and allegations of nepotism. But maybe even worse: He could never know if the people who surrounded him loved and respected him, or were frightened of him. How anguishing it must have been, to lie there on the death bed and wonder: Did my people ever love me? Or were their feelings just thinly disguised fear? These sad questions he will now bring with him to eternity.

So, Amos, your point that LKY was a horrible person is one that ever more Singaporeans will realize. You wanted to make this point and you wanted as many people as possible to get the message. You also wanted to make the point so clear so that there would be no room for you, or others on your behalf, to backtrack and say that your message had been misunderstood or misinterpreted. In a society of fear, like Singapore is today thanks to LKY, the way people mince their words and doublespeak can be deafening. So many of the intellectuals and politicians are so careful with their words to avoid being sued or lose their jobs that you sometimes need a PhD to understand what they really mean. Your 8 minute video, including the expletives (no, I don’t believe they were thrown in there for fun or out of immaturity), was crystal clear and communicated to Singaporeans and foreigners alike what you think of the late Lee Kuan Yew.

The timing, to get maximum impact, was of course no accident either. More than a million views and unprecedented media coverage makes that abundantly clear.

So, while the immature focus on your hair, and while the more intellectually oriented commentators, encapsulated in their PAP-fear, keep saying “he had some points, but…”, my judgment is this: what a stroke of genius your 8 minute video is. Created to have maximum impact on the waning Lee regime, you have succeeded tremendously. I congratulate you unreservedly.

Dear parents of Amos,

You must be scared. You must be terrified. And your fear is perfectly understandable. Your son has taken on a powerful dictatorial regime, and has done so in a way that not only reaches a dozen of his friends, but in a way that has reached millions of people. You have seen what the regime does to its critics. You have seen the faiths of Chia Thye Poh, JBJ, Chee Soon Juan and lately also Roy Ngerng. You don’t want your son to go through the miseries that these people have had to endure. That you are terrified is easy for any parent to understand.

Yet, you must try to be strong and courageous. It is not the first time a young man has taken on a powerful regime. What your son had done is pointing out an unpleasant fact, a hard truth in the words of LKY. What Amos has done is very similar to the well-known fable: he has shouted out that the emperor is naked. And he has shouted so loud and clear that the whole world has heard. In the fable, of course, it is the emperor that is the fool, not the child yelling out the truth. And so it is with your son and the Lees: the Lees are the naked fools and what Amos has done is to help people see this. No repercussions against the child were recorded in the fable. How the dying Lee regime will react to your brave boy’s call-out is still work-in-progress. Let us be hopeful they learn from the fable.

If you are religious, you can also take comfort in another story of a young man who took on a powerful regime: Jesus. He took on the Roman Empire and powerful priests. We all know how this story ended: Jesus was crucified in an attempt to scare others and put a definitive end to his preaching. But when his detractors thought they had won, the story took an unexpected turn: Jesus rose from the dead, his followers multiplied, the Roman Empire collapsed and Jesus’ ideas live on even today, 2000 years later.

Your son will be spared the physical crucifixion, but the Lee family propaganda machine is working in overdrive to crucify him in the media. Maybe they think they are winning, but I think they are fighting a lost cause. Already now, the PAP regime’s harsh response to Amos’ video is shifting many Singaporean’s sympathy from the Lees to Amos. And even if Amos still may have a million or two detractors in Singapore, be not in doubt who the world sympathizes with. A Google news search indicates there are now more than 2000 news articles about your son worldwide. Maybe 200 of them are from Singapore and the rest are from the international media. And while the Lee family has used every trick in the book to try to portray Amos as a villain in the state controlled media, the international media’s sympathy lies with Amos. In autocratic regime v. 16 year old vlogger, the sympathy of the international media and public opinion will always be with the latter. So, even if Amos may have a couple of million detractors in Singapore, he has tens of millions supporters outside Singapore.

I realize foreign support may not be too comforting all the time Amos is in Singapore. However, try to remain strong in this difficult time. Amos has already achieved more than many of us will do in a lifetime. That is something to be proud of.

To Mr. Lee Jr,

As Amos’ parents, must you be scared. How terrifying it must be to see that a 16 year old boy’s 8 minute video ripping your father apart resonates so well with your populace. You have held no punches in order to stop this boy. The police and judiciary are on your side, you have crucified him in the media and he has been given a gagging order. But to what effect? The only result is that the whole world has heard his message too. I assume one of your advisors have informed you about the Streisand effect by now. Well, you have learned it the hard way.

To be true, you did not have any good options once Amos’ video went viral. Ignore it and a new precedent for freedom of expression would have been set. Attack the boy (the option you chose) and be condemned worldwide and see the video go global.

The truth is that, the moment the video went viral, you were check mate. It is simple, your time is up. Most of the authority you had went to the grave with your father, and the rest has now vanished with your response to Amos’ video. You can try to hold on to power for a few more years, or you can leave now and in a dignified way. But be not mistaken: The ship is sinking and you can be sure your comrades are already looking for the life boats, whether it is the SDP or Switzerland. They say that the most powerful force in the world is an idea whose time has come. You are smart enough to realize that the time has come, so get out know, and save your dignity and legacy.

I have claimed you don’t possess the qualities needed to be a successful dictator. But don’t despair; the personality traits that make you a bad dictator are the same that are likely to make you a good father. Dictators tend to be horrible people and bad fathers. Your lack of charisma, your more down to earth self-confidence and the fact you are more of a cat than a tiger, are all qualities that make you a good father.

One of the lessons I have learned in life is that it is better to focus on what you are good at, rather than trying to fix your flaws. My not-so-humble recommendation to you is this: Resign, live the rest of your life out of the public eye, and spend your time being a good father and grandfather. That, I truly believe, is how you can achieve happiness and it is also the best way to preserve your own and the Lee family’s legacy. 11 years at the helm is a long time under any circumstances; no one can fault you for stepping down now. If you at the same time manage to shepherd Singapore peacefully to democracy, you may one day even be hailed as Asia’s Gorbachev.

So, Amos, what the coming weeks and months will hold for you no one knows. What punishment the dying Lee regime will mete out to you is difficult to predict. They are now currently busy with your crucifixion in the media and have levelled three, clearly politically motivated, charges against you. The ensuing public backlash is already well underway, with ever more Singaporeans breaking free from the shackles of fear and speaking up for your, and their own, rights. Many people see that they could be you, or you could be their son.

The government must be getting cold feet and try to think of ways to get out of the mess. The problem is that for Lee Jr. there is no easy way out of the hole he is in. Drop the charges and freedom of expression will have gained a foothold in Singapore that his autocratic regime cannot survive. Press on with the charges and the domestic and international fall-out will continue, gradually eroding support for the PAP.

So, it may very well be that you have managed to check mate the Lee regime, Amos. The demise of LKY and your 8 minute video may turn out to mark the tipping point that took Singapore on a path to freedom and democracy.

No matter how things turn out, you deserve credit, not critique, for what you have done. Watching your video and reading your blog, I could not stop to think how remarkably similar you are to the founder of Facebook, Marc Zuckerberg. In the free world, people like you go on and make great companies and make the world a better place in the process. Soon, I believe, the situation will be the same in Singapore.

A friend of mine, a Singaporean citizen who is also impressed with what you have done, wants to help you along the way by giving you a grant of S$10,000. Consider it as credit for what you have already achieved or a small compensation for the hardship you are currently going through. There is a condition attached with the money, however. The money must be used for one, or a combination, of the following:

  • Paying for your legal defense (but not any fines, damages, etc.)

  • Studying abroad

  • Starting a company

A boy named Sue will contact you in the near future with instructions on how you can call the money.

Yours sincerely,

F. Reedom

F Reedom is a pseudonym. A pseudonym is used as the author’s family is afraid of repercussions from the PAP government if full name is used. The author hopes to one day be able to express his views in Singapore without fear.

The author is a foreigner who has worked in financial consultancy and wealth management. He has a post graduate degree in finance and economics from a world leading university.


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