Voltaire in Singapore

July 31, 2009

Source: Maurice Quentin de La Tour

This essay was published in Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, Volume 8.3 (2009).

The 230th anniversary of the death of the great French Enlightenment writer François-Marie Arouet, better known to the world as Voltaire, was commemorated on 30 May 2008. It took almost another year for his central legacy of civil tolerance to be noted, albeit in passing, in the sphere of public discourse in Singapore. A few weeks ago on 26 May, then Nominated Member of Parliament Thio Li-ann – also a university law professor – gave a parliamentary speech that argued for the right of citizens to exercise their religious convictions in the socio-political realm. Describing a secularism that would not let what she called “militant atheism” mute religion, she claimed to cite Voltaire: “I disapprove of what you say, but I’d defend to the death your right to say it.”


Gwee Li Sui

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