Risk of religious sensitivity getting blown out of proportion

Datuk Noor Farida 01By Ghui

Religion, multi-culturalism and race are oft-cited reasons for retaining the draconian Internal Securities Act in Singapore. It is also the frequent explanation given for criminal charges against troublesome individuals and various defamation suits levied against pesky opposition politicians.

Ho Juan Thai and Tang Liang Hong were invariably slapped with terms like “Chinese chauvinist”, “anti-Christian” or “anti-Muslim. Indeed, race and religion are such delicate issues that they are probably easy fodder for manipulation.

The latest offender to fan the flames of religious sensitivities is Amos Yee. It is interesting to note that, despite the very segment of society that Yee is said to have offended coming out to plead no offence, Yee is still charged and found guilty. Have we as a society allowed ourselves to be whipped into frenzy for nothing very much? Could it be that the attention that ensued led to worse offences, such as physical assault and verbal abuse, being committed?

It is precisely because I respect the sanctity of race and religion that I think it harms the cause when something trivial is allowed to fester into something else altogether.

It is at a time such as this that influential figures within the political arena should step up and take a stand.

I recently had a chance to attend a talk given by Datuk Noor Farida, which was organised by South East Asia Centre of LSE with the support of the Monsoons Book Club. The talk about fighting against religious extremism in Malaysia highlights how easy religion can be misused and the devastating consequences that this can have.

In Malaysia, there have been cases of body snatching, child conversions, arrests, detentions, harassment and the encroachment of civil liberties all in the name of religion. These incidences spoke very little about religion but very much about how something, which may have been trivial, can lead to consequences that are often unintended but irreversible.

The Borders case in Malaysia is an example of how the flames of religious fervour were fanned without restraint, creating years of severe stress for those unwittingly involved.

Datuk Noor Farida 02In Malaysia’s example, these cases have demonstrated how misguided religious zeal can lead to the private lives of individuals being hijacked by religious bodies and to a “silent rewriting of the Federal Constitution through the encroachment of Shariah law on crimes that should be under federal jurisdiction. Not only are these measures invasive, they also lead to the derogation of minority rights.

It is with these fears in mind that prompted the G25, made up of a group of prominent moderate Muslims, to speak up before it is too late. Despite opposition from detractors, members of the G25, such as Datuk Noor Farida have continued to press for meetings with key figures in government in a bid to foster dialogue. Most importantly, she has called on the “Prime Minister to exercise his leadership and political will”.

“It is high time moderate Malays and Muslims speak out. Extremist, immoderate and intolerant voices as represented by Perkasa and Isma do not speak in our name. Given the impact of such vitriolic rhetoric on race relations and political stability of this country, we feel it is incumbent on us to take a public position and urge for an informed and rational dialogue on the ways Islam is used as a source of public law and policy in Malaysia. More importantly, we call on the prime minister to exercise his leadership and political will to establish an inclusive consultative committee to find solutions to these intractable problems that have been allowed to fester for too long.”

While I am not suggesting that Singapore is in the midst of a potential religions riot, we do as a society need to take heed of how fragile issues such as religion can be blown out of proportion and potentially misused.

In the Amos Yee saga, who is speaking for the Christians and why? If the silent majority do not speak up for logic and reason, religion can become the trump card for something more sinister.