Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Little Bride and the two Jail Birds

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.
http://www.slideshare.net/chickpublications/the-little-bride

-add-

For more of other Chick Tracts and information, here are the links:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chick_tract

http://www.jesus-is-savior.com/Books,%20Tracts%20&%20Preaching/Tracts/why_is_mary_crying.htm

http://brumm.com/gaylib/gayblade/index.html

Very interesting stuff.

12 comments:

Weiye said...

The thing is not everyone is willing to engage issues based on facts, logic and intellectual discourses. And it doesn't matter what level of education one has. I myself am guilty of it as well. Because I find it meaningless to engage these people.

The comic strip is really quite inflammatory IMHO. Spreads too much enmity against Islam without being self-reflexive and critical about Christianity itself; too meaningless to engage it.

I feel sorry for the couple but I also feel that they deserve it for questioning others without first questioning themselves.

Charles said...

I am sorry how can one engage with religion with Facts?
Religions require a leap of Faith.
All religions are irrational for that reason.

Little Bride is careful enough to only state facts (irrational religious facts, but they are as much facts as Adam and Eve in the Garden of Even) -or maybe not, doesn't really matter anyway.

Each Religion (with a capital R, as an entity) wishes the other ones dead, for it is a matter of survival that people convert (the big secret is out for multi-xxx Singapore).
The Religion can be more or less vocal about it, but you must not forget each Religion hath the Absolute Truth, the others are just plain wrong and disillusioned.

I think Singapore Justice was wrong (and some one went over board in the sentencing); from this extract, it doesn't seem to me that Little Bride is asking people to hate Muslims, it is asking people not to adhere to Islam.

This Little Bride cartoon is outlandish though, extremely funny.

Look who's talking: I have faith that there is no god.

Chloe Ask said...

Mahathir once said that the Malays in his country is pampered from the cradle to the grave. There's some truth in the local scene too. Just observe how cars are double parked on yellow lines near mosques without a bother by the traffic police. Yet every Sunday, cars overflowing churches are booked mercilessly. It's a similar situation at Buddhist and Indian temples. Someone should take pictures and send to STOMP. Singapore is supposed to be mult-religious as in equal treatment for every religion. Has 9/11 changed the religious landscape?

socguy said...

I find the cartoons pretty funny too (as a free thinker myself)...but Muslims esp the really pious ones will probably #@!!#, since their head honcho (who happens to be just as inerrant as his Christian counterpart) is getting slammed. Btw, Christian organizations in the past at least, were generally told by the authorities to leave the Muslims alone when looking for converts, so either that policy has changed, or they have become smarter and send out free agents covertly.

Weiye said...

Exactly Charles. When one starts to question religious facts, one may then realize that it's a matter of personal faith and beliefs. And then, perhaps and only perhaps, we can all respect others for their faiths and beliefs however different they might be.

Chloe, cars parked along double yellow lines on Sundays outside my church as well and they are very much left alone. There seems to be some mutual agreement between the church and the TP. I guess it depends on the location and road. And whether or not the churches/ temples/ mosques attempt to negotiate with the TP for understandings. =)

skeptic said...

The jail term is too harsh. They shouldn't even be tried for sedition.

Although (as an atheist) I strongly disagree with the views of Christians, I also strongly believe in free speech; including the freedom to say wrong things.

I think people shouldn't be sensitive over a cartoon.

Sam Ho said...

"the freedom to say wrong things"

i like that idea.

because the freedom to speak is accompanied by the obligation to hear others discuss/criticise what you have said.

it's very much like writing to the straits times forum and getting slammed for spreading the transgender agenda under the banner of feminism and you go "what the fuck is going on?"

solo bear said...

It is actually "freedom of MY speech", rather than freedom of speech in absolute terms. People would purportedly defend the right to express views, for so long as those views concur with theirs. The moment those views are in direct opposition to theirs, it is "hate, extremist" speech etc.

I would like to point out some secularists claim how criticising religion as in the article in The Little Bride and The Da Vinci Code is considered free speech - yet when it comes to criticising the ST and many blogs for pro-gay stance, these same people consider it hate and discrimination!

Here is an article in which I discussed how Freedom of Speech is actually very subjective.

aneesa said...

excuse me charles?little bride based on facts??u must be really really ignorant to say that.tsk tsk tsk.pls get ur facts right before u say something.

Weiye said...

Aneesa. they are 'factual' if one chooses to take the content of the book literally without questioning. The same goes for all other religions.

That explains why there are so many different 'facts' out there because people interprets differently.

I agree with solo bear's point regarding freedom of speech to include freedom of 'hate' speech. However, I feel that freedom of speech is only workable/ beneficial if parties are willing to be involved in dialogues. Yet, in cases like the little bride, and the homosexuality issues, dialogue hardly exists with both sides simply stating their points over and over, I dare say without giving due considerations to opposing views. Such freedom of speech becomes detrimental to the society as it divides and polarizes potentially into extremism.

"If you want to be allowed to express what you feel, you must allow others to express what they feel, even if it means it offends you. On the other hand, if you do not wish to be offended and do not wish others to express freely, then you too should exercise restraint when it comes to your turn."

Agreed. But I will like to ask if this is in absolute terms? Or it is domain specific? For example, I may be open to people saying things about me but I may not be as open to people saying the same things about my family. It becomes complicated then to compare apples with oranges.

Indeed (as solo bear mentioned), freedom of speech comes with responsibilities in the forms of accountability and reciprocity. These are necessary to ensure dialogue. So I feel that it is more appropriate to call it freedom of (two-way) dialogue rather than just freedom of (one-way) speech.

sandycharm said...

I think the cartoon is just ridiculous. Wonder if they'd like to be at the receiving ends of the same 'logic'.
We should bring it to General paper class and let people laugh at it.

David said...

An interesting discussion.

The Little Bride's message, while it may be considered inflammatory, one must look at the reason it is considered such.

The fact mentioned about the Muslim faith are quoted directly.

While the Christian's POV may not be refelctive, no where in Chirstian teachings are people instructed to attack or harm non-Christian's.

Through much of the world Islam has been attempting to have itself placed beyond criticism, while Hindu's, Christian's and other faiths are routinely persecuted in predominantly Muslim nations.

Facts can oftne disturb people, believing falsehoods leads to a distorted world view.

While Christianity is not perfect, that is a reflection of the members own humanity, and human natures own weakenesses.

There should be open and balanced discussion regarding the great faiths of this world, but to often the extremist take control of the debate and poison the public forums.

David