Mr Kelvin Teo of Kent Ridge Common asks the question: Should we show tolerance to groups that advocate intolerance? My answer is that the truth should be allowed to speak for itself.
Quick Snippets from the Editor
09 Sept 2009
This is my response to the Kent Ridge Common article “The divide between religious extremism and free speech” (07 Sept) by Mr Kelvin Teo.
Mr Teo’s article tried to address the question whether groups that seek to injure the right of others to free speech should themselves be accorded that liberty. Special reference was made in the beginning of the article to the AWARE saga earlier this year which saw a group of Christians take over a secular organization in order to impose its own values on it and subvert the organization to its own agenda.
In the first paragraph of the article, it was stated that during the AWARE EOGM on May 2, “the crowd effectively drowned out the voices of Dr Thio Su Mien and her mentees“. I disagree with this assessment, which seems to imply that supporters of the AWARE Old Guard had tried to deny Dr Thio’s group the right to free speech through raucous behaviour.
ST letter by Ms Pamela Oei
07 May 2009
I READ Ms Sumiko Tan’s article on Tuesday, ‘More losers than winners’, with dismay. There were some 3,000 people present last Saturday at the extraordinary general meeting (EGM) of the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware). Emotions were charged, people came to correct what they thought was a grave injustice to the core principles of Aware, they came to stand up for what they believed in, they came to speak up.
If Ms Tan expected 3,000 people in these emotionally strenuous conditions to sit like sheep and make polite conversation, then obviously she had not thought through the gravity or extent of the event.
I was one of the volunteers for the old guard and my duties included keeping peace in the hall. As volunteers, we were prepped for these conditions and we braced ourselves for extreme ugliness. There was none. There was no violence and considering what we had to put up with, I think the crowd was very well-behaved.
In fact, everything was relatively quiet until Ms Josie Lau’s team started to switch off the microphones on the floor at the start of the meeting to silence the crowd. When one is trying to speak up in a hall as cavernous as the one in Suntec City with no microphone, one is left with little choice but to shout to be heard. Even the new guard’s legal counsel, Mr Gregory Vijayendran, advised that the microphones be left on as this was normal procedure at an EGM.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a letter to the ST forum page written by a parent, Mrs Ng Hong Eng, who attended the AWARE EOGM on 2 May. The letter was not published.
In this letter, Mrs Ng criticizes the rowdy behaviour at AWARE’s EOGM, and asserts that “AWARE does not represent all women in Singapore”. She also says the unruly behaviour could tarnish AWARE’s reputation.
Following Mrs Ng’s letter, I will also post NMP Siew Kum Hong’s take on the AWARE saga and his opinion on the alleged rowdy behaviour.
Rejected ST letter by Mrs Ng Hong Eng
04 May 2009
I am one of the 3000 women attended the AWARE EOGM on 2nd May 2009.
The whole situation was so one-sided no wonder the former Exco had to engage the police to maintain order. This is really unheard of. My friends and I agreed that, even the police was unable to totally control the situation. If the police really forced their way, there would likely be a riot and we would see blood with that kind of anger displayed.
I saw how the old guards rallied the crowd to cheer and to boo, how they stirred the members to shout at the same time “We are AWARE!”, “Resign. Resign..”, “Shame. Shame..” and many more.
By the Singapore Democrats
04 May 2009
Whatever is said about the recent saga of the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware), it cannot be denied that the episode concluded in an open and democratic, if not entirely amicable, manner.
It was an intriguing event in a country where citizens have been conditioned to shun politics. The fight between the “old” and “new” guards broke new ground as the teams vied for control of the organisation, energising members of society in the process.
This, in essence, is what politics is all about.
The participants congregated at the Extraordinary General Meeting at the Suntec City last Saturday to contend with a motion of no-confidence against the new executive committee led by Ms Josie Lau.
Written by Ng E-Jay
04 May 2009
Janadas Devan’s Straits Times article “Process, pluralism, protection” published on 04 May was generally a well-written one, but I disagree with the points he raised in the last section of the article labeled “OB markers matter“.
In this section of the article, Mr Devan argues that the AWARE saga shows why “illiberal laws” such as the Religious Harmony Act, Group Representation Constituencies, and HDB racial quotas, are needed. His reasoning is that these laws are needed to maintain racial and religious harmony. Citing examples such as the death threats directed at Ms Josie Lau, and the inflammatory remarks made by Mr Derek Hong from the Church of Our Saviour, who was seen as calling for a religious body to interfere with the affairs of a secular organization, Mr Devan says this proves “we still have some work left to do” as far as social harmony goes.
While I agree with Mr Devan’s point that the faithful of any religion should not try to impose their views on others, nor should they organise themselves in groups to pursue secular agendas, he appears to be torturing the issue.
Firstly, bringing Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs) into the discussion is disingenuous. Contrary to PAP propaganda, GRCs are not instituted to promote racial harmony by providing for adequate representation of minority races in Parliament. They are instituted to make it more difficult for Opposition parties to win seats in Parliament. Mr Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam won his Anson seat in 1981 without the need for GRCs, in an era when support for the ruling PAP was far higher. If JBJ could do it, so can other good Malay and Indian candidates, contrary to what the PAP would have us believe.
Written by Ng E-Jay
03 May 2009
If there is anyone who still wonders whether we as a people have the courage to stand up for righteousness, justice and tolerance, who still doubts whether Singaporeans are able to rise up to the challenge when the occasion calls, Saturday night banished those doubts forever.
Those doubts were banished by the men and women who took time off from their families and their busy schedules to attend the most pivotal conference in the history of civil society in our nation, by the housewives, mothers, grandmothers, businesswomen, women from all walks of life, who waited hours in a packed seminar room to cast their vote for openness and tolerance, by the thousands of volunteers and activists who toiled tirelessly in the past month to craft the greatest campaign ever to help AWARE reclaim its purpose and its values.
Those doubts were banished by the married couples and the single parents, by the lesbians and the straight women and the bisexual women, who came out of their closets and stood up to be counted, who told the world that we are no longer a nation of sheep, that we will no longer look on helplessly when tyranny descends upon us, that when bigotry and intolerance threatens our lives and our rights and our dignity, we will NOT stand idly by.
Ms Dana Lam, Saturday night was a defining moment for you and your team. The victory is rightfully yours. Your team and the Old Guard fought with honour and won with grace. I could not have imagined a sweeter victory nor a more splendid outcome.
Fresh from the Oven:
At 8.50pm, AWARE’s old Exco proposed a motion to remove Ms Josie Lau’s Exco. This was passed with two objections.
Ms Josie Lau tried to take it in her stride. The Online Citizen website later reported her as saying: “We note the outcome of no confidence. The Exco has decided to graciously step down and the team hopes that AWARE will return to its original roots in the Constitution.”
These new developments came after members at the EGM passed a vote of no confidence on Ms Josie Lau’s exco by a margin of 1,414 to 761. The voting results were reported by the mainstream press and TOC slightly after 8pm.
After Ms Josie Lau’s committee confirmed their resignations, a vote to install a new team was then taken.
Ms Dana Lam nominated by Constance Singam and seconded by Lena Lim. She was subsequently voted in as President. Zaibun Siraj was voted in as chairperson.
Chew I-Jin was nominated by Poonan and seconded by Braema Mathi for the post of “Vice President”. Chew I-Jin was subsequently voted in as Vice President.
Yap Ching Wi became the Honorary Secretary. Corrina Lim was voted in as Assistant Honorary Secretary. The new Honorary Treasurer is Tan Joo Hymn and Assistant Treasurer is Lim Seow Yuin.
Other Committee members include Joanna D’cruz, Hafizah Osman, Margaret Thomas, Martha Lee, Nancy Griffiths, and Nicole Tan.
According to TOC, the newest Exco of AWARE urged members to give a huge round of applause to the outgoing committee headed by Josie Lau.
The new Exco headed by Ms Dana Lam then stood onstage and said to a cheering audience: “Without you, the new Exco would not be onstage … … You are brilliant! I thank everybody on behalf of the new Exco and the past presidents … … I am grateful to everyone of you, to create history in Singapore, to see civil society restored. And more importantly to see that the right voice of women has a place in Singapore.”
New President Dana Lam said: “You know what’s the best thing today? Today we saw we have so many smart, witty, and gorgeous women in Singapore!” This win has been a win for the whole of civil society in Singapore. Singaporeans from near and far have come together to support the cause. Thank you.“
Straits Times, 02 May 2009
By Zakir Hussain
SENIOR Pastor Derek Hong of the Church of Our Saviour has said that he regrets using the pulpit to mobilise support for one camp in the ongoing dispute over leadership of the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware).
‘I regret that this matter has caused concern and unhappiness. My actions on the pulpit have aroused some tension in this saga. I now stand corrected,’ he said in a statement last night.
He also said he would be more sensitive to similar situations in future.
His statement comes a day after the National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS) issued a statement to say it does not condone churches getting involved in the matter, or pulpits being used for that purpose.
The statement was issued by NCCS president, Archbishop Dr John Chew, who heads the Anglican church here. Pastor Hong’s church is in his diocese.
Channel News Asia, 01 May 2009
SINGAPORE: Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng has welcomed the position taken by the National Council of Churches of Singapore, on the recent saga involving women’s group, AWARE.
On Thursday, the umbrella Christian group issued a statement saying, among other things, that it did not condone the use of the pulpit to get involved in the controversy.
Mr Wong, who is also Home Affairs Minister, said it was a “responsible” stand that will help prevent any misunderstanding that the churches are backing one side in the AWARE dispute, or that this is a dispute between Christians and other Singaporeans.
He added that tolerance and restraint by all racial and religious groups is the “only practical way” for them to pursue their faiths in peace.
AWARE is having an extraordinary general meeting at Suntec City Hall 402 on Saturday, 2 pm, following a “no confidence” call by the old committee, after a new committee took over recently.
Source: Gwee Li Sui’s Notes
This is a follow-up to my earlier note. After posting it, I received — and am still receiving — words of thanks and encouragement from many Christians and people with different beliefs and opinions. The Christians specifically said that it was what they needed to hear or would have liked to get across themselves.
But I have also received less appreciative messages. Some of these charged me with having sown discord and embarrassed Christianity in front of non-believers. The irony did not escape me, but then I began to wonder whether I did make one too many assumptions. These comments were probably knee-jerk reactions, meaning that some Christians may actually not have thought it possible that other Christians, a whole lot of us, could be this appalled with the episode.
For this reason, as a brother-in-Christ, I feel that I need to believe that the new ex-co’s sadness over its negative reception and its willingness to heal the social rifts it caused are genuine. There has already been too much distrust, and somewhere trust has to re-begin. My appeal for non-support is not about humiliating or condemning any group of individuals on either side. Those who have hoped that I came out in strong condemnation of one, emailing me links to sex education and “the gay agenda”, or in clear support of the other, initially mistitling my view as “supporting the Old Guard”, know that I won’t.