By Terence Lee / Deputy Editor
Muslims as hateful bigots? The Pope as the antichrist? Dungeon & Dragon games as a tool of Satan? Read about a litany of horrifying accusations and more on Chick Publication's tracts.
A LACK of knowledge should never be an excuse for breaking the law, even if you are sincere in your motives. Worse, it could even land you in jail.
That was what happened to Singaporean Christian couple Ong Kian Cheong and Dorothy Chan, who were sentenced to eight weeks in jail for distributing offensive tracts to Muslims.
(Graphic: A snippet out of the "Who is Allah" tract, which is banned in Singapore.)
They were sentenced under the Sedition Act, which is a statute that maintains harmony and peace within Singapore society by governing freedom of expression.
Sincerity was not an issue with them. This is the first time they have committed an offense, and it does not appear that they are deliberately trying to generate hostility or ill-will.
Furthermore, Judge Neighbour was quoted in the Straits Times as saying that their only intention was to spread the gospel, but being intelligent adults, they should have the common sense to discern what is acceptable and what is not.
The Judge does not believe they have not read the contents.
What do the tracts contain?
Upon taking a closer look at what the tracts communicate, it can be easy to see why the sentence was passed.
The website of the publisher, Chick Publications, is banned by the Media Development Authority (MDA) on the major Internet Service Providers in Singapore, putting it in the same category with websites like Penthouse and Playboy.
It is what the government calls a “symbolic” ban, a societal banner that highlights its people’s moral standing.
The information presented in the tracts is inflammatory, misleading, and distorted. From the outrageous to the downright bizarre, the doctrine of the Chick Fundamentalist Church can almost be described as cultish.
For example, in "Who is Allah?" -- which was one of the tracts the couple distributed, it is alleged that Allah is actually an ancient moon god.
The details are told in stylised comic-book style illustrations, and starts off with a father talking to his son about Islam outside a mosque.
A Middle-Eastern Muslim worshipper, overhearing the word "moon god", becomes outraged. He runs up to them, calls the father an "infidel", and says: "The holy Qur'an says I could KILL (emphasis is original) you for saying that!" (Graphic)
In the ensuing conversation, the Muslim man boasts that Islam is the second largest religion in America, and even adds: "You people should FEAR US!"
He goes on to describe a Muslim plot to bring about the end of Christianity in America, and how he expects a Muslim flag to fly over the White House soon.
Right off the bat, the tract sets out to stereotype all Muslims as fundamentalists with a sinister agenda. Add on a traditional Middle-Eastern garb to the pushy Muslim man, and you have a classic case of orientalism, which is a Western political doctrine that stereotypes Middle-Easterners as aggressive and barbaric (For more on Orientalism, click here).
And as a final coup de grâce, the story ends off with the Muslim man becoming totally convinced by the Christian's arguments, and he ends up giving up his Muslim faith in embrace of Jesus – all in the space of one conversation!
Perhaps there is cold comfort in knowing that Muslims are not the only target of Chick publications. Evolutionists, homosexuals, Dungeon & Dragon players, rock music fans, and Roman Catholics are all fair game.
Chick versus the world
In "The Gay Blade", homosexuals are demonised as sex-crazed fiends. In another tract called “Moving on Up”, a boy who believes in evolution is depicted as being held under sway by the devil, who is seen walking around him and whispering in his ears. The boy, at the end of the story, ends up in hell.
(Graphic: Believe in evolution, and risk going to hell.)
It is arguable the Roman Catholics are more of a target of the Chick tracts than Muslims. The tracts, for instance, accuse the pope of being the antichrist – the feared Servant of Satan in Christian literature.
The tracts even go as far to say that the Roman Catholics actually fabricated the Islamic religion and the Koran in a bid to dominate the minds of many, and to turn these people against Israel.
In another mind-blowing accusation, the tract “Story teller” depicts how the Jesuits, a male order of the Roman Catholic Church, ordered a Muslim to shoot Pope John Paul II to guilt-induce the Muslim world and unite them to the Catholic faith!
Apparently, this tall tale originated from one Alberto Rivera, an anti-Catholic religious activist. None of his claims has been substantiated.
It is easy to see why the Singapore government has chosen to ban the sale of these tracts on local shores. The ideas and beliefs presented within are enough to make even strict Bible Literalists cringe.
Furthermore, the visual attractiveness of the tracts, the over-simplification of facts, and the frequent appearance of children in these comic strips mean only one thing: impressionable kids -- or simple-minded adults -- are one of the main targets of these tracts.
Such fundamentalist Christian propaganda should not be tolerated because they are destructive to society and the human intellect. I find it regrettable that Mr Ong and his wife were taken in wholesale by the messages in these booklets, despite Judge Neighbour having once characterised them as intelligent adults.
A lesson in sensitivity and common sense
While it would seem that this saga has come to the close, the recent media spotlight has made some Christians uncomfortable. Some believers might feel that the media is placing them under siege.
First, the Aware saga, and now this incident. And as an interesting subplot, MyPaper recently reported that some polytechnic students are unhappy that Christians have been going around proselytising in schools.
But the good thing is that there are no accusations of a Chick-style conspiracy against the church so far. Fortunately, churches like Westboro Baptist Church are non-existent in Singapore. Even if there are such churches, they must have remained quite well hidden.
And besides, few serious-minded Christians in Singapore would take these tracts seriously, that is, if they care to scrutinise them in the first place.
While it is somewhat commendable that these Christians are pro-active in living out their beliefs and engaging the public square, all three groups – the Aware ex-exco, the couple, and the student evangelists -- display a fundamental flaw with their approach: the lack of utter common sense.
It is amusing how some Christians are still going pair-by-pair to hard sell their religion when there are already enough tissue-sellers, peddlers, and insurance agents on the streets. Street evangelism no longer works, and they should get over it.
In fact, such insensitive approaches of intruding into another’s private space do not only destroy the multi-religious harmony in Singapore, they destroy the reputation of their own religion. Instead of winning converts, their actions have the opposite effect -- they frighten people away from Christianity.