I am saddened and disappointed by the recent events around Function 8 and Archbishop Nicholas Chia.
Alex Au has written at length about this issue and has stated categorically that “the chief point of my exposé of the events was to draw public attention to “the Government’s ‘arm-twisting’ of Archbishop Nicholas Chia. I urge my readers to be very clear about this: The issue is not Function 8 or even Nicholas Chia.”
I am disappointed because the sanctity of religion has been disfigured and manipulated through and through in the recent events. And I no longer know what the truth is.
From the statements of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), Archbishop Nicholas Chia, Function 8 and Maruah, the only thing that is clear to me is that Archbishop Nicholas Chia had initially said something in a letter which he retracted because of a “closed-door meeting” with the government, and because this “something” isn’t known to the wider audience at all, we are now made to be part of a charade of words by those involved to second-guess everything else that is unravelling.
Dr Gillian Koh of the Institute of Policy Studies had asked, “Do they really want the church involved in politics?” Alex Au had shared that “the issue is not … Nicholas Chia”. Similarly, MHA is concerned about “religious harmony” in Singapore. So obviously, what is at play here isn’t religion but politics. I am of course stating the obvious. The fact that not many other religious people have spoken up on this issue has shown how many of us know what is transpiring, and have thus chosen to keep silent on this.
But it’s disgusting. It’s disgusting that whilst portraying the image that we are protecting “religious harmony”, we have at the same time dragged religion into politics. Necessarily, power is invested in religious institutions by virtue of them being societal institutions. Religions might rightfully be neutral but the institutions which they are spread upon are political by the power that is invested in them, and by governments who understand this power and which would necessarily engage religious institutions to further their means. Religions are neutral, yes, but not the power structures that the institutions that they are built on. It is naive for us to think so, and for us not to recognise the arm-twisting that is going on now.
I cannot take sides in this issue because I do not know the facts about the situation. But I am deeply disappointed and disgusted by how religion is dragged into the debate by the very people who claim to want to protect it’s sanctity.
I would, however, like to point out some ethical issues with regards to the ongoing debate:
- Why are the “frank exchange of views specially on sensitive subjects” held behind “closed-door(s)”? Does the government suggest that only the government leaders have the intellectual capability to understand religious issues? Is it the right thing to do to not allow Singaporeans to be able to discuss religious issues intellectually, to allow us to achieve a better understanding and respect of one another? Or is there a vested interest in limiting religious intellectual discourse to a limited few because of the power that it confers to the limited few to be able to control the rest?
Function 8’s Statement:
- Just because a letter is not marked, “private and/or confidential”, does not give anyone the right to “conclude that (the content of the letter) was intended to be made public”. If we want to have freedom of speech, we need to learn to use it responsibly and ethically. If Function 8 wants to explain its stance, this does it no good. Legally, they are not binded, in that sense, from disclosing the content of the letter. Of course, they have maintained the confidence of the letter at this point. Yet to claim that because the letter wasn’t marked, “private and/or confidential”, suggest a lack of judgment. I do not believe this is the case, but this only go to show how important the freedom of speech needs to be maintained by responsible thoughts and actions.
At this point, it is obvious to anyone that there is a concerted effort to hide the facts from the public. We still do not know what the Archbishop Nicholas Chia had said.
Necessarily, as politics go, every party involved is hiding something, one way or another, because of their specific agenda. Politics is dirty and disgusting, but we still play it. So, the question then is, is it so important that Archbishop Nicholas Chia conceal the content of is letters because as MHA had feared, it might disrupt “religious harmony”? Or is MHA worried because as MARUAH had said, the letters would “reflect diverse views on key content areas in relation to preventive detention without trial” and embarrass the government?
There are many issues at stake here. Is our government trying to move on from its shameful past and thus hopes to bury its past, so as not to allow that to threaten the good work that they are trying to do? Or is the government still on an unscrupulous path and this only goes further to exemplify it? How should civil rights groups engage the government and Singaporeans in general and what is a more effective way to do so?
Obviously, our government has many things to hide. In a way, the government has dug itself into the mess it created, and like all political systems, necessarily they start shitting on themselves, as more and more shit pile up. It takes a lot of balls to decide that you want to start wiping yourself clean and hope that people won’t start throwing them back at you. Point in case, Myanmar, which by the way, is doing a good job.
In a way, our government has managed a fine balance of creating shit, yet appease us with some other shit, which we take as worthy keepsake, and rub ourselves further in it. But because of globalisation, we have learnt to open our eyes and are starting to sit up and question.
The key question with this whole issue is that the content of Archbishop Nicholas Chi’s two letters are still not known. The next question is, should it be known, and what are the implications of it being known? At this point of the debate, it seems more urgent that it’s known but if the government has its way, they would never see the light of day.
But what I am more concerned about isn’t this. I wanted to write this article because first, I am deeply saddened and disappointed that religion was dragged into the state of politics even if the parties involved have claimed that they have no intention to. Second, I am disgusted by the amount of politics that going on here. Sure, it’s idealistic for me to think in this way since life is all about politics, we say. But I am trying to live my life as authentically and honestly as I can, and it’s saddening for me to have to see this degenerate into a mud-slinging competition.
I have only this to say – if the government is sincere in moving forward to openly discuss and find solutions with Singaporeans for Singapore, then the government needs to find ways to be more honest and open in their approach. Was there anything they could have done even prior to now, to speak to the members of Function 8 and MARUAH directly, to address their concerns, instead of take a high-handed approach? And perhaps they have. I do not know the members of Function 8 and MARUAH but could they have found a way to mediate the outcomes to achieve a favourable solution? I am tempted to think that they have tried, as their statement has suggested: “Nevertheless, it is more important to move forward. We are keen to have dialogue with the Ministry of Home Affairs on our ongoing efforts at public education and advocacy on preventive detentions without trial. We will also be very happy to meet the Archbishop in relation to this matter.”
In any case, as we move forward to define a debate and create solutions for Singaporeans, it is important and absolutely necessary for there to be as much openness, sincerity, truth and honesty in the conversations we have with one another. Instead of closed-door meetings, does the government need to look into being more open in its discussions? Is it time the government start respecting and appreciating its people as intelligent individuals who can partake in the National Conversation together? It is paramount that the government truly starts being open in its communication because if Singaporeans can pick up any instance where the government seems to be hiding, whatever the government wants to do will only go right down the drain.
Trust needs to be rebuilt between the government and the people, and at this point, the government needs to do more than the public relations efforts it has put in. It has to move beyond and be sincere in its intention to build trust.
My government, I understand that you have your agenda. All governments do. All governments want to hide some things, whether its something in the past or in the present. But, you need to be sincerely open and truthful with us. If not outrightly, what can you do in your planning, to make more effort to engage the different parties behind the scenes, to achieve a coordinated approach upfront? This means the government has to work harder to consult and obtain buy-in. It means more manpower and resources put in. In a zero-sum game, the odds are stacked against both sides if we continue to use traditional means to convey information. We have to relook our mechanisms of communication and engagement, and even if they had served you, and arguably us, well in the past, in the current scheme of things and communication patterns, it needs to be relooked. On the principle level, the government can no longer treat Singaporeans as submissive unquestioning individuals which can be bought over by materialism. We want to be treated with respect and we want to be heard, truly heard. This was an evolution that had started a few years ago. The government had not moved fast enough to respond then but it cannot choose to shy away from this evolution now.
I have said this before too that as we have more freedom of speech, Singaporeans need to also learn to use it responsibly. And if we don’t know how to, teach us. Open your doors and let us speak. Guide us so that we can have a more fruitful discussion with you.
My government, please do the right thing, not because we demand it. But because it is the right thing to do, as we take Singapore, in the next step towards our future. Like Mr Lee Kuan Yew had said, we have “got more things right than wrong, on the whole”, so let’s not let this good be marred by the anger of Singaporeans feeling unappreciated. The government can do it, because it has shown that if it puts its heart to something, we can make things fly.
My only wish is, I really wish you can sincerely mean it, put your heart to it, join us, and let us join you to bring Singapore into the next era.