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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Religious Tolerance in Singapore

"This is the devilish thing about foreign affairs: they are foreign and will not always conform to our whim." - James Reston


I was pointed towards threats made against someone over "a personal issue in a private discussion forum that was leaked out":

"I tot he already been nab??? How cn he still freely outside.. Ni help frm ISD... (help help help) btw.. He cn escape us, bt he cn't escape Allah punishment...."
"Stand Firmly for Allah. If you find him, seize him and teach him a lesson. Do not just sit down and accept what that scum has to say bout the religion of Allah, but instead teach him a lesson here he will never ever forget."

Since I don't know Malay, the target of the mob translated the remarks for me: "basically they want to exact justice on me by way of vigilantism, burn my house down, kill me, beat me up."

More choice bits from the Facebook group Muslims Unite Against Asy'ari J. Asni (for obvious reasons I will not reproduce those from the Malay version, Pendedahan Eksklusif-Siapa Sebenarnya Sitt Al Wuzara):

"i spotted him at Bazaar Geylang with a girl... Me n friends turned back n tried to chase him but then we didn't managed to get him. tsk!"

"we all know that the punishment prescribed by Allah and his Messenger s.a.w. is death"
"Apostasy Act and Hudud law is unfortunately does not valid in Singapore. Anyway it's not easy to conduct Hudud law even in Malaysia too, look at the case of Lina Joy, Murtad Mama or Nor Aishah Bokhari. Even stronghold Islamic state like Kelantan can't do anything to interfere... it's not easy to conduct Hudud law in our region. Unless we are living in Afghanistan where Taliban rules."

"Indians will forever be like that.. Their mouth and the rubbish bin has no diff.. Thats why rubbish always came out from their bloody mouth.. Stinks!" (thread)
(the irony is killing me)

"i dont wish him well. May he die the most horrible and painful death."

Now, whatever your feelings about the allergy to any serious discussion of race and religion in Singapore, if you're reading this blog you probably agree that making such threats is unacceptable (and hopefully you also agree that this is almost certainly worse than his original alleged transgression).

This is especially alarming in light of the Alex Chang affair, which saw only somewhat less violent threats being made (some of them incoherent [e.g. calling him "racist" even when the putative issue was about religion instead of race], in response to a simple question*), and where one person commented "people stop the religious debate. it will lead to no where but disaster. lets put a stop to this."

Again, religious tolerance in Singapore amounts to religious ignorance, and this is just perpetuated by the moral panic imposed from above and replicated by most - which is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In other words, if you keep telling people that race and religion are sensitive issues in Singapore, they become even more sensitive issues.

Perhaps this is a reminder that the sort of religious extremists who want to blow things up are not the only sort we should be concerned about.

Addendum: RT @ridztheone: Reading those comments from the "Ban Alex Chang from all McDs in Singapore" page on Facebook, I'm ashamed to be a Muslim.


* - Interestingly, MUIS's Halal requirements say that "Figures of deities, if any, in the applicants’ premises should be hidden from the public’s view".

Thus, a publicly visible figure of a deity is seen as a expression of religious sentiment sufficient to invalidate an establishment's Halal certification. One could then draw a parallel between a publicly visible figure of a deity and playing the call to prayer (a bell or announcement is a secular and perfectly practical way to announce that eating can commence) and conclude that they are both expressions of religious sentiment that call into question the secular nature of a place.

Indeed, McDonald's Singapore's response asserts that the outlet in question should not have done what it did (for whatever reason).

One counter-claim put forward to me was that all Halal-certified places already ipso facto endorse Islam, so it is nonsensical to claim that they should not engage in expression of religious sentiment. The parallel drawn was that a place serving vegetarian food is endorsing the vegetarian lifestyle, so a place serving Halal food must be endorsing Islam.

In that case, what does it say about a Muslim who sells pork and alcohol (as you find in countries with culinary traditions involving pork and alcohol, and where Muslims are a small minority)? Could this Muslim be called an apostate by endorsing pork and alcohol, which are inimical to Islam?

We can see, then, that your choice of menu is merely a matter of economics (though perhaps not for a vegetarian place, given the size of that market).

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