Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Sad Affairs of the State

TODAY Voices reader Francis Cheng Choon Fei wrote an impassioned plea to Singaporeans to eliminate Islamophobia. I reproduce the piece herewith in parts:

I agree with the Home Affairs and Law Minister that the fear of Islamophobia creeping into our community is real. Fortunately, Singapore is ready to rein in such unwarranted beliefs and behaviours (“Shanmugam cautions against Islamophobia again”; March 31).
For a letter that cautions against Islamophobia, the most important question is regrettably left unanswered. Exactly what constitutes Islamophobia? 

Is one expected to be tolerant of intolerant beliefs or otherwise risk being labelled a racist or Islamophobic? It is no secret that Islam preaches the use of capital punishment on apostates. It is further no secret that Islam considers the testimony of a woman to be worth markedly less than that of a man. I find these teachings to be self-evidently intolerant and grotesquely offensive. Is religion to be immune to criticism simply because society has somehow elected to place religion behind bullet-proof glass? I find such a position, if left unquestioned, to pose an infinitely larger threat to society. 

Most of us are tolerant and respect one another’s race, language and religion. If we are otherwise not careful, society may become polarised. Singaporeans cannot take for granted that our country is safe from Islamophobia.

The Orwellian sub-text of this paragraph is apparent. Any criticism of religion should be curtailed and censored for the greater good of society. This is a false dichotomy. Society is already polarised. In any case, not discussing these differences is certainly not the same as saying these differences do not exist. Case in point, when FCBC (a charismatic church led by the talent-less, stuttering Lawrence Khong) publicly calls for the criminal prosecution of (male) homosexuals or blatantly denounces well-accepted scientific theories, are we supposed to keep mum out of tolerance and respect? When theists are unequivocal that they intend to impose their religious views on secular society, are we supposed to acquiesce in silence to "avoid polarizing society"? To adopt this perverse view is to completely disregard the actual source of polarity, i.e., the intolerant fundamentalism that is poisoning the monotheistic religions.

As a Chinese-majority country, Singapore cannot afford to let Islamophobia go unnoticed and must nip it in the bud before it develops into an uncontrolled phenomenon.

This is arguably the worst paragraph in the entire letter. In one sentence, the author manages to conflate the religion with an entire ethnic group. There are Chinese who embrace Islam as a religion, just as there are Malays who are not Muslim. Drawing ethnic lines across religious affiliations unnecessarily obfuscates the issue at hand. More importantly, this (intentional?) confusion then allows misguided apologists like the author to invoke the bogeyman defence of "racism" whenever criticism of religion is applied.

If society fails to develop the necessary maturity to critique morally questionable religious beliefs, then it would truly be a sad state of affairs.

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