The concert of Swedish metal band Watain was cancelled out of interest for public order, and religious and social harmony, said Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam.
Mr Shanmugam was referring to the announcement by the Info-Communications Media Authority (IMDA) of Singapore which cancelled the event at the eleventh hour.
Initially, IMDA has allowed the concert under strict conditions which included that the band not play ‘offensive songs’ and the audience was limited to 200 people.
However, concerns were raised over the past few days regarding the band’s history of encouraging violence and making religiously offensive statements. A petition was started on Change.org on 6th March demanding that the band be banned and disallowed from performing in Singapore. It garned over 15,000 signatures by 7th March, the morning of the concert. It was allegedly sent to the Culture, Community and Youth Minister Grace Fu.
Mr Shanmugan said the band had a history of being offensive towards Christians and Jews, supportive of violence, have made various offensive statements, and that they’ve encouraged the burning of churches and terrorist acts committed in the name of the band.
Citing those reasons, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) conducted a further security assessment.
Mr Shanmugan said, “So, MHA did a further security assessment yesterday and decided that in the light of the responses that the band has evoked, and its taking into account, of course, the history which we know, it will be against public order interest and will affect our religious and social harmony if we allowed the concert to go ahead. So we advised IMDA, and IMDA has proceeded to cancel (the show).”
When asked about the petition, Mr Shanmugan denied that the petition had any bearing on the decision to cancel the concert.
“The petition per se did not influence the decision, as I said it was an assessment made by the ministry, security as well as public order assessment, but certainly the reactions,” he said.
He continued, “IMDA has been discussing with the senior clerics, we have been discussing with the people in the community, and our assessment took into account their viewpoints. We also discussed with our own MPs as well.”
Many were less than pleased with the flip-flopping and last minute nature of the cancellation. Some suggested that the petition did in fact influence IMDA’s decision, pointing out that the fact it was done so last minute suggests that the authorities were only aware of Watain’s history because of the petition.
There a point to be made here on why did IMDA approve the concert in the first place. Had they not done their due diligence to investigate the band before giving them the green light to perform in Singapore?
And if Mr Shanmugan insists that the petition did not have any bearing on the decision, then how did MHA come to be aware of the concert? And when did MHA advised IMDA to revoke the band’s permit to perform?
As for the organisers of the concert, Mr Shanmugam confirmed that no action will be taken against them as they haven’t done anything wrong.
When asked about the cost, Mr Shanmugam simply said that the matter would have to be ‘looked at’. It is likely that it will be the organisers who will have to bear the cost of this eleventh hour cancellation by IMDA. They have, after all, already invested in selling tickets and bringing the band into the country as well as all other related costs incurred when organising a concert.
In response to queries on whether banning Watain is the same as banning extremist religious previous, Mr Shanmugan said he didn’t want to draw a moral equivalence between music bands and preachers.
He reiterated MHA’s stance that preachers who take offensive positions that go against other religions in Singapore would not be allowed to preach in the country. But when it comes to music and art performances, he noted that it would be assessed on a case by case basis depending on the performer’s history and what they were planning to do in Singapore.