Sunday, February 21, 2010

Rony Tan and The State - 5 - "An openly pluralist, secularist, human-rights based challenge"

Really agree with this Oh My Goat - that someone really needed to push him hard to retract the statement, and it's unfortunate that it was the ISD rather than others in civic society, as would happen in a "free world". Ideally there would have been - in addition to blog posts, which there are - protests, pickets, strongly worded letters from a variety of faith and interfaith and secularist organisations published in the papers, disputing editorials in rival newspapers discussing the very nuances like those in your email etc., collectively leading to a social consensus so strong that people would hesitate to be obnoxious in the way he has, while continuing to make strong criticisms of hateful attitudes and practices whether they take a religious or non-religious form.

The reason why we have none of that is the ISA/PAP state control generally, and that ironically also creates the need for the ISD/PAP to step in, but their involvement inhibits the development of the environment that wouldn't need them... It's woeful really.

I agree with Poultrygeist that mandating prosecution wouldn't be great... I just think the healthy endpoint isn't one that's reached via the ISD.

What I think is going on here is a colonial strategy in a domestic context - divide and rule. The government is interested in a clear sectarian division between communities defined along racial/religious lines partly for ideological reasons (i.e. LKY's weird racialism)...

...but partly also because this means they can achieve this "surface harmony" you refer to, without the destabilising effect of difficult questions that arise from minorities-within-minorities (like someone criticising their own religious "community"), or groups like women, LGBTQ people, the poor etc. who have shared interests between "communities". Successful challenges to "communities" by these individuals and groups would also legitimate other challenges to interests that the government has in avoiding welfarist obligations. It is in their interests to palm welfare off onto religious "charity", and have participation in ritual ("spirituality" without social content) replace political engagement. Possibly this is also why welfare, where it exists, is often supported by the state along "community" lines (and in Singapore also by continually trying to enforce a vision of morality whereby the "family" has all the obligations to support those in need), to avoid the issues of state obligations to individuals qua individuals, which would pose a much more direct challenge to their economic and political control. Give each religious/racial "community" leader their fiefdom and they'll keep their own house in order, allowing the government elite to continue with their profits.

Of course their problem is that they're feeding (with financial support and legitimacy) the very same factions that will inevitably give rise to challenges to their own power, so they have to rap them on the knuckles with the ISD every now and then. But they won't be able to do this forever - and there is the danger the PAP itself will be assimilated into fundamentalism or increasingly pressured to give way to it on substantive matters, which amounts to the same thing - and if we want to avoid theocracy (creeping or sudden) an openly pluralist, secularist, human-rights based challenge needs to be cultivated pronto.

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