Married couple Ong Kian Cheong, 50, and Dorothy Chan Hien Leng, 46, are reported to have been sentenced to 8 weeks jail. Their crime was the possession and distribution of material deemed to be Islamophobic and anti-Catholic.
I actually felt sympathetic to the couple upon reading the news. Do these guys have children? (upon careful reading, which means I'm often careless, they have a daughter) Maybe a fine would have been better? How will this affect their professional lives? Such a decision will definitely create shockwaves and possible backlash (overt and covert) in the religious community. It has drawn the line to the extent one can manifest/practise his/her religious beliefs/convictions in the public domain. Nevertheless, in my honest opinion, a jail sentence, on top of the public naming/shaming the press has often engaged since the dawn of time, is rather harsh.
But having searched for and read (part of) the Little Bride, my jaw dropped at the blatant white Christian supremacist digs at Islam.
I think there is nothing wrong with having a faith, and there is nothing wrong with having religious affiliations. Being in a multi-religious country, it is inevitable that religious material and information transcend their respective socio-religious boundaries.
Perhaps it is also inevitable in the context of religions that attempt active recruitment/conversion. To this day, I have not been approached by Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist friends and folks to "get to know" their religion better. Heck, even Catholic friends have kept rather mum about their faith to me.
It is only when I ask, "Tell me about Islam/Hinduism/Buddhism/Catholicism", or when I raise a stereotype or something I believe to be misinformation to these persons, that after a brief moment of uneasiness (maybe they are conscientious of not wanting to offend me or my prevailing beliefs, which is rather thoughtful come to think of it), they tell me what they think and what their faith is about.
I have asked questions like, "Why can't the prophet Muhammad be seen, drawn or exposed?", "Why more Mary than Jesus?", "Which Hindu deity is in your house? What does he/she do?", "What on earth is Buddhism? What do you do or think?" and these friends have often furnished me with information, that got me thinking "Wow, that is interesting. I didn't know that."
It is the protestant branch of Christianity that appears to me a lot more pro-active in engaging the wider public. Of course, most of them know their boundaries and their campaign appears to be oriented towards that of ethnicity and skin colour, i.e. leave the Malays out of this.
This is probably why, given my English-speaking background and pan-Asian looks (I never say handsome, okay?), I get into situations where people want me to "know Jesus better". In other cases, for no reason and under no instigation, people will ask me, "Sam, are you Christian?" and I will reply, "No." The next question, most of the time, would be, "So what's your religion?", to which I will usually say, "No religion." and smile. And 50% of the time, I will get the response, "I always thought you were Christian." or "You look like a Christian." And the other 50%, I get "You should be Christian."
One reason for why the protestant branch of Christianity is more active than other faiths in recruitment is the combination of the call and obligation to spread the gospel. At least that is what I believe. You cannot have a religion if you do not have people.
Christianity in Singapore goes one-up. They have education programmes, kindergartens, church camps, pamphlets, publicity materials, and lots of American films and rhetoric (on free-to-air SBC/TCS/Mediacorp channels) to sow the seeds for the ordinary Singaporean's sensitisation to the concept of (the Christian) 'God'.
Another aspect of Christianity, and what I gather from people who actively attempt to engage me on the faith, is about salvation. Say, if you have 'information' and 'facts' that can 'save' another person, will you do that? This is why I believe there are pro-active folks out there who feel there is nothing wrong with doing such a thing. So how 'wrong' is this?
Our government has more often than not, invoked our bloody history and used it to justify what they are doing. People are not sheep or cultural dopes. They think if we watched porn, we will be morally corrupt (sounds synonymous with certain faiths too), so this justifies the symbolic banning of pornographic websites by MDA. They think if we watch portrayals of social deviance, we will become deviant, so ban the whole damn thing too. They think if we see breasts, we all will become perverts and look at our female Minister's boobies instead of hearing her speak. Interestingly, there is so much violence on television, but nobody is doing anything about it.
I think there exists an outrage against pro-active proselytising because other religions are not pursuing that strategy as vigorously as certain protestant branches of Christianity.
Interestingly, my dad, who privately identifies as Christian, and who used to go to a Methodist church, taught me a lot of things about religion. He told me about the Christian God, for starters. He was somehow more interested in the stories of the Old Testament (which is basically a lot of things that pre-dated Jesus). Personally, I find the Old Testament a lot more exciting, and I can easily envisage Charlton Heston portraying every character (women included and I will still buy it). He did not talk much about Jesus though, at least not that I can recall.
From bits of random information he gathered, he would also on occasion talk about other religions, like Islam. Not in a condescending way, but he basically stated the practice of Muslims and interesting stories of the prophet Muhammad. He also gave the Islamic equivalent of various biblical names, which was rather fascinating trivia to a young me.
He used to say that "All religions are not wrong" and occasionally suggested that there are a lot of crazy buggers out there.
He told me he lost interest in going to church because there was infighting in his church. He thought that everyone was worshipping the same god and that the infighting and split was political and ridiculous. Despite all that, he still is a believer in his own right and way, and he never really forced his family to go to church or to convert. The bible was there on the shelf and we read it voluntarily when we felt like it. Well, that's the end of the flashback. Cut to next scene.
In an information savvy society, most of us believe that we are personally capable of finding information for ourselves. However, information-seeking can be manipulated. You have to actively put information out there, in a manner that information seekers will somehow stumble upon it first among other pieces of information. That I believe is the ongoing work of people who want to proselytise.
Much of the late 20th Century and for the foreseeable future now, 'religious warfare' is in fact 'information warfare'. Things must be calibrated and engineered in a way that it makes the converted look as if they had done it on their own accord, that the decision they made was an 'informed' one. It is not as innocent as it seems if we saw it this way, but this is up for debate any way.
The Singaporean government's ban on the Little Bride is merely reactive, as are many government decisions. The only preventive measures the PAP government will take are those which will have economic implications and perceived (and exaggerated) racial/religious tension.
It is constipating and nauseating that we are continually battered with multi-this and multi-that rhetoric, when I believe most of us harbour little or none ill-will towards other races and religions. All the more ridiculous when the political domain is engineered in a way to accommodate fair representation and participation when pluralism in Singapore, calibrated for economic stability and the political longevity of the PAP, have more often than not resulted in more marginalised folks.
Now, we have people (like myself), using that multi-this/multi-that rhetoric against domination discourses that segregate our society. Cheeky, but legit.
The point of contention here is, if a person (religious or non-religious) reads The Little Bride, will he/she become anti-Islam? Will he/she want to spread these ideas about Islam? Considering we are an 'information society', can we not tackle information with information?
Why has the government banned access to the website of The Little Bride? We would not have been able to see it for ourselves and discuss it openly with others? By doing what the government has done, we are deprived of a case study to improve ourselves as an intelligent and civil country (not that we are one yet, just look at the SAF and you probably can't spell 'intelligence' - by the way there is no S A F in I N T E L L I G E N C E and vice versa).
For public information and debate, I will post a link that is accessible to everyone. Even in posting this here, I would like to state that I do not endorse the material and content of this file. Disclaimer disclaimer fear fear shit my pants I am Singaporean. (See bottom)
For us to become a peaceful and harmonious society, we cannot run away from materials like these, nor should they be hidden from us. We must be ready to confront, engage and openly discuss these things in the public domain, continuously and respectfully.
We should not, for the mere sake of political correctness and over-estimations of sensitivity/sensitiveness, censor ourselves and prevent ourselves from talking about these things. In the process, we end up not inviting opinion and informed opinion, because there is nothing to opine about since it has been removed from public eyes.
At the same time, being tolerant and accepting, or in striving to be tolerant and accepting, we should not be over-sensitive. Rather, we should be sensitised and aware. The spirit of tolerance and acceptance rests not on us being over-sensitive and crying foul and complaining at every little thing that we might deem to be destructive and what-not; I believe the values are best spread when we become aware and open to discussion and dialogue.
We are under an authoritarian rule that censors, not because they want to, but because we choose to be over-sensitive, over being sensitised. And this particular interpretation of tolerance and acceptance will continue to a majority, simply because most us are unwilling to question and critique our positions, and also accept that others are of a different mind and mould and happy/proud to be so.
Below: Source from http://antiisgood.files.wordpress.com/2008/05/islamofobia.gif, and it is Google-able.
Below: A link to a slideshow featuring the same cartoon.
For more of other Chick Tracts and information, here are the links:
Very interesting stuff.