Secretary-General of Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) Dr Chee Soon Juan said on Thursday (2 Sep) that the People’s Action Party’s (PAP) decision to permit Muslim nurses to adorn tudung while they are at work is an “enlightened decision” but has come 20 years later.
This is because Dr Chee made the same suggestion to the Government in 2002 when he spoke about it at the Speaker’s Corner. In 2002, the tudung issue gained traction as four Primary 1 Girls were prevented from entering their schools for wearing headscarves.
Subsequently, Dr Chee was slapped with a S$3,000 fine for speaking about the tudung issue.
“So, the PAP has finally relented and allowed nurses to don the tudung at work. The enlightened decision comes 20 years late but, as they say, better late than never,” he wrote in a Facebook post on Thursday.
“20 years because in 2002, I had spoken about the matter at the Speaker’s Corner urging the government to embrace the right for Muslim women to wear the headscarf as part of their uniform. I was prosecuted and fined $3,000.”
Earlier on Sunday (29 Aug), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced in his National Day Rally speech that Muslim nurses in Singapore’s public healthcare sector will be permitted to wear the tudung with their uniforms if they choose to.
However, PM Lee noted that the status quo must be preserved for other uniformed services such as the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and the police force, as they are impartial and secular arms of the State.
For students in schools, the need to ensure that all of them wear the same uniform is grounded in the importance of stressing their similarities and minimising their differences “so they can build bonds in their early years that will shape their attitudes”, he added.
In his Facebook post, Dr Chee said that PM Lee’s rationale on not allowing Muslim women to wear tudung years ago was that it will disrupt the image of unity in the public sector.
However, PM Lee failed to “understand is that values like unity and loyalty are cultivated from within each person and how citizens perceive the state is treating them, not what one wears in public”, he asserted.
“But when you have the powerful demanding million-dollar salaries while rejecting minimum wage, when the state can willy-nilly decide on who should be president based on skin colour, when immigration is based on nationality, equality and unity becomes just words that the government uses to manipulate the population for its own gain,” said Dr Chee.
“No, unity cannot be demanded from on-high, it cannot be decreed by self-centred politicians. It can only be fostered by leaders who walk the talk and inspire people to look beyond appearance.”
Dr Chee also included an excerpt of the speech he made in 2002, which he believes still holds true today.
Below is the speech:
“Why is it that I, a Chinese Christian, have chosen to speak up for four Muslim girls? I know that my Malay and Muslim friends are afraid to speak out on this issue because every time they do, they are branded as racists and they attract the unwanted attention from the Government. And so many of them choose to keep quiet. But the problem doesn’t go away…
“I appeal to the higher spirit of kindness and generosity in all of us and not pander to our base instincts of selfishness and ethnocentrism. Let us advocate tolerance, let us embrace diversity, let us celebrate humanity. Let us be colour blind when it comes to standing up for our rights. Let us reach across the racial divide when it comes to caring for each other and speaking up for one another.
“For only then can we truly call ourselves sons and daughters of this island.”