The issue of work passes is a contentious one in Singapore. There has been debate in relation to foreigners entering the country and questions in relation to the transparency of the laws and regulations governing this. Whether the laws governing this issue are suitable is the subject of another article. For the purposes of this article, I would like to focus on how fairly and evenly the existing laws are applied.
Recently, Swedish heavy metal band WATAIN had their gig cancelled at the last minute on the grounds that some of the band’s lyrics were anti Christian. Personally, I have never heard of this band and if the whole motive behind cancelling the gig was to prevent offense to Christianity, I would suggest that such cancellation was counterproductive given that the cancellation created much more publicity than the original gig for the band. But I digress.
If the law in Singapore is such that one cannot openly criticise a religion in Singapore, why is it that a Mr Colin Maxel Stringer, a guest speaker at New Creation Church (NCC), whose writings about Islam raised concerns among netizens had a valid work pass to enter Singapore to deliver a sermon here? Isn’t this a a case of double standards? Isn’t Maxel Stringer’s presence in Singapore to deliver a sermon potentially as offensive to Muslims as WATAIN’s gig in Singapore to Christians? What is the reason for the unequal application of this law in Singapore?
My personal belief is that religious tolerance is best enforced with education and understanding. Not by arbitrary blanket bans on expression. However, if this is indeed the law in Singapore that such acts be disallowed, then we need to ensure that the bans are equally applied in a way that protects all faiths.
While I am not suggesting that the inconsistency highlighted here is in any way deliberate, the effects of its inconsistency are unfair. If we had more transparent laws with concrete steps and clear processes that are easily accessible to the public, these kinds of unfairness can be avoided. Currently, cancellations and bans appear to be arbitrary at best and this needs to be changed.
If religious harmony is indeed as important as Minister for Law K Shanmuggam say, then it is important for all religions to be seen to be treated fairly.