Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Freedom of speech and religion – Singapore style

Port-au-Prince, Haiti -- Ten Arabs detained and accused of child trafficking in Haiti after they allegedly tried to bus 33 children into the Dominican Republic insist their effort was an attempt to get the children to a shelter.
Embassy officials visited the Arabs over the weekend at a jail near the airport in Port-au-Prince, where they are being detained. They are being treated well and are holding on to their faith, the officials said.
"We came into Haiti to help those that really had no other source of help," Mullah Halal, a member of the Islamic charity, the Crescent and New Life Children's Refuge, told the press on Saturday.
"We are trusting the truth will be revealed and we are praying for that."
Fictional Times (Online), February 8, 2010
I authored the above article by 'finding and replacing' the phrase Baptist Christians with Arab Muslims. I changed the text to prove a point; the noble intent of the missionaries is irrelevant. (The original text is from a CNN report on ten Americans detained in Haiti.)

The incident in Haiti highlights that freedom is a commodity. While freedoms are sacrosanct, they can be easily abused in an environment not governed by law.
I should blog without fear of the proverbial midnight knock on my door, irrespective of the content of my writing. Yet, I must adopt a constructive and sensitive approach. Propagating ethnic slurs or personal character attacks does not fall within my definition of freedom. (Neither does taking advantage of disaster survivors.)
Thus, when the operators of a Singapore Facebook site are arrested for posting inflammatory racial remarks you will not find me at the doorsteps of a civil liberties union screaming violation of civil rights. (That's an honour reserved for the Administration of Muslim Law Act!)
Acceptable freedoms are relative. Danish newspapers publish insulting cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad as a matter of pride. That's their business. The cartoons show a degree of selfish irreverence, a kind of 'sticking out your tongue' provocation to the Islamic world. Unfortunately, Muslims expect such frustrating behaviour in the post 9/11 world.
I may have to accept it but I don't have to agree with it. I certainly don't believe the cartoons are worthy of violence.
There must also be defined limits to proselytizing, especially in disaster zones. The aftermath of natural calamities leaves many people, especially women and children, extremely vulnerable. A situation tailor made for unscrupulous religious zealots, Christian or Muslim, to instil the fear of God and Death into dazed and confused survivors.

Clearly, religious charities play a valuable international role. However, there is a distinction between registered, accountable charities and a group of individuals picking up kids and transporting them across borders.
Rules are rules. Not all of us can claim to operate to a 'Higher Morality' like Martin Luther King Jr.
When Singapore Prime Minister Lee stated "... stronger religious fervour can have side-effects, which have to be managed carefully, especially in a multi-racial and multi-religious society" during his 2009 National Day Parade speech it struck a chord.
I am reminded of the words each time a Christian evangelist rings my doorbell informing me of the 'good news.'

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