Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Teasing the ism from race and religion

And there's the case of Donaldson Tan, re-posting a picture on Facebook, which is obviously offensive to Muslims.

But does this act of re-posting constitute sedition?

The picture is already publicly accessible, and not created by Donaldson. And even in re-posting it, I personally feel that no assumption can be made that he has the intent to incite.

Furthermore, he has described the picture as "flame bait", which indicates his understanding of the action and its context. So, in my opinion, that's a parody.

In its entirety, to incite the anger and potential disharmony is a condemnable act. But if a comparison has to be made, put alongside Jason Neo's photo and caption, I feel Donaldson's re-post is less severe, or even relevant.

There will be segments of the community who will dismiss Donaldson's act and person as childish, frivolous and hence not worthy of any attention, as there are (already) segments who are offended and incensed, wanting criminal action to be taken against him.

But thanks to Donaldson, people are, among the anger and condemnation, talking a little bit more about race, religion, governance and censorship. The measure however, is extreme for most (myself included). But to break the silence that is essentially an ethnic Chinese elite brand of Singaporean multiculturalism, such an act (with highly insensitive content) proves a little more effective to provoke (not promote) discussion.

It will be a travesty if the case closes on the "racist" internet postings and Singaporeans remain "chilled" and quiet, and not thinking about the differential protection and governance accorded to different segments of Singaporean society, or about the mechanism of parody. Furthermore, what is behind our anger and angry reactions?

(Any way, do the nonreligious get the same degree of legal and social protection as those of faith?)

It's a generic Islamophobic opinion widely known, rather than one that is targeted at local kindergarten children and accorded the description of terriorism. Condemnable acts in Singapore.

Personally, I condemn acts and speeches which puts at a disadvantage or incites hatred against a community in Singapore. I don't condemn based on the possible repercussion if such acts go unnoticed, nor do I do it based on fear of unrest and violence reactions.

The fear of violent disruptive reactions is a stereotype we project on the offended - making us a little bit more complicit in the very hate we are fighting. e.g. I condemn the statement which says girls are over-sensitive because I fear they'll over-react at that statement and there'll be disruption because I assume girls are more capable of doing that - well, that kind of logic we may uncritically have.

Although there is one statement "No to racism", there are many motivations behind it. Some of these motivations are based on inherent racism or racist stereotypes.

Any way, again, Jason Neo's comments on the kindergarten children as "young terrorist trainees? (with a question mark)" propagates the Islamophobic atomisation and misrepresentation of Islam as violent and hence Muslims are such. It is an original photograph taken by Jason and an opinion expressed by him publicly. Come on, children? What did they ever do to you?

As for Donaldson, there is nothing new here. The comments he has shared about governance, censorship and religion are not new either. They constitute a discourse that is international and has been discussed in great detail for at least a decade.

Given its timing and "flame bait" comment, I think Donaldson's repost is a parody.

Unfortunately, not many of us appreciate parody (many men can't laugh at or see the irony of their "macho-ness" any way), and given the many decades of silence we have on race and religion, we are not ready to face parody or commentary of the racial and religious sort.

It is not that parody trivialises or misrepresents race, ethnicity or religion (and we shouldn't be spending 100% of our attention condemning its trivialising properties), but it allows us to reflect on the trivialisation and misrepresentation, and the social mechanisms and attitudes which drive the trivialisation and misrepresentation.

For me, I think playful actions sometimes pave the way for mature dialogue, but as long as we have strict social and legal policing of such matters, dialogue is heavily impeded.

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By the way, the mainstream media has published photos of Donaldson and Christian Eliab Ratnam, but has the photo of Jason Neo been published?

1 comment:

Gary said...

I propose that these cases and those earlier (there were tried and convicted) should provide the reason for the current laws of sedition to be brought back from beyond the pale for a review with a view to reframe to allow for open, mature and rational discussion. The law's current 'cut and dried' status is getting more and more inadequate and its premise would probably become untenable in due course.

I am of the stand that NO law and legislation should enjoy an 'untouchable' status. To maintain such a mindset is regressive and unrealistic. Only recently, we read report about the possibility of Einstein's concept of light being the fastest 'thing' in the universe being called into question in the light of possible new evidence (subject to confirmation by definitive scientific method). The mind should never be closed for the alternative is a reversion to a feudalistic mindset or the dark ages!