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Readers' letter on the Aware saga.

Letter to TOC: Aware – readers’ views

The AWARE saga certainly deserves some commentary since it is a turning point in Singapore’s civil society.

As much as I feel that there is (finally) some slow emergence of civil society in our (un)democratic country through this, the fiasco is, arguably, unwarranted. In fact, the raucity of it is incited very much by the media. Was it necessary to stoke all these fervour for what besets the situation - an institutional shift in power?

The issue was about power struggle, much of it, if not all. It was about the unrelenting grips of the old guard on its position and the new guard's lack of tactfulness and unorthodox ways of dealing with the media, their disregard for diplomacy perpetuated the initially 'domestic' issue into a national one. It’s a case of washing your dirty laundry in public.

Don't be mistaken, I am not against women rights. Neither am I oblivious to the justifications each side put forth. The EXCO wanted to change the direction of AWARE, therefore taking up leadership responsibility - that's what they say. The veterans felt unjustified in their forced relinquishment of power, arguing that their direction was inclusive, had never strayed and just merely changing with times. What baffles me is that, ostensibly, the EXCO took weeks to explain their reason for their actions and the old guard made it a point to highlight to the media on what began as an internal strife. The argument that the new guard made later, attacking the veterans for having sidetrack from AWARE's rightful direction, was ostentatiously and blatantly weak.

Definitely, through the media we gained insights to this issue. And this exemplifies what a democratic country should be; where there's civilian power. We do, and should have a say in these policies and be a watchdog for NGOs, and the media in turn, assumes the position of an overseer of civil society. What was glossed over was that this is an internal bickering, a case of mishandling of politics and differences of ideas within an organization. The media's reporting, despite its pros, had done collateral damage. Its apparent bias reporting is one, newsworthy nonetheless. The spicing up of an internal struggle is second.

Well, I shouldn't be so critical of the media, given that it was through it that some democracy has emerged in an undemocratic country. But this taste of 'new democracy' should not be overly emphasized. What really makes a society democratic is when civil society has the power to decide matters of the state - which we have little of. This AWARE saga has soberly reminded us that democracy is important and as Singaporeans, we should be empowered with our rights. The democracy that has emerged today is merely the tip of an iceberg.

In the aftermath of this upheaval, I am glad that the new guard has stated its stand on an 'all-inclusive' approach to women affairs. With the media spotlight now on AWARE, we can expect greater things, if anything at all.

Tng Ying Hui

[email protected]  

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A point to begin with, on the unwarranted slur on the character of plenty of young Singaporeans that Thio Su Mien made at her now infamous press conference. She was extremely concerned that somehow, that the moral fibre of young Singaporeans would be weakened if they come to believe that being gay, or supporting gay marriage ( civil partnership etc) is acceptable. 

This is a terrible slur on everyone ( myself included) whose moral position starts off from the principle that we should reduce human suffering as far as possible, and that human freedom to act should be extended to the extent that it does not cause harm or suffering to others. To those who hold this view, homosexual relationships between consenting adults are considered to be less of a moral crisis than say, the continued existence of domestic violence or the many people who live in poverty in Singapore. Obviously, Thio Su Mien's moral position is inspired by the writ of a holy text ( which considers homosexuality an abomination and a sin), and she's perfectly entitled to her own views on this matter. 

But of course it was not enough to slur everyone who does not adopt the same moral position as she does on homosexuality as being somewhat of lesser moral character. It was necessary to silence them. 

It may be justifiable sometimes to take drastic action to silence strongly held moral views of your opponents. For example, we might say that on balance, it would be justified to stop virulent racists from speaking out at public rallies, when it is known that they advocate violence against a targeted minority. However, no matter of life or death was at issue here. Neither was there a real threat to the common social fabric that binds Singaporeans as a nation and as a community. If nothing else, this episode has demonstrated one devout religious group's ability to divide the very diverse peoples that make up Singapore. 

Therein lies the heart of the AWARE saga, and why so many Singaporeans ( young and old) have come forward to oppose the new Exco. It is because the new Exco represents the silencing of opposing viewpoints. That is the practical effect of taking over the best resourced women's Non-Government Organisation in Singapore. And these people know it. 

Finally should the vote of no confidence be successful, no one should pay heed to claims that the views of "social conservatives" have been somehow "silenced". As far as I'm aware ( pun not intended), they will continue to be free to openly promote their socially conservative agenda. And they always have been. They will continue to peddle the line that secular organisations have been thoroughly infiltrated by the homosexual agenda; failing in part of course to recognise that it has been the very vocal opposition of social conservatives in Singapore that at least in part, has meant that homosexuals are unable to register their own societies with the Registrar of Societies to formally and openly represent their interests.

Koh Jie Kai

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