Gays and Multiculturalism in Singapre

An interesting interpretation where sexuality is cultural i.e. the LGBT community as a whole baring its subcultures, is a culture that is excluded from Singapore’s vaunted multiculuralism.

Is Singapore truly multi-cultural? — Nazry Bahrawi
The Malay Mail
February 14, 2014

FEB 14 — The passing of cultural theorist Stuart Hall on Monday may not have garnered as much media attention as that of the actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, but it is an event that should prod Singaporeans to take stock.

Hall has been hailed as the “godfather of multiculturalism”, and Singapore has often prided itself on being a good example of multiculturalism at work. Would Hall have agreed?

If Singapore epitomises multiculturalism, it is one with limited inclusivity. Our multiculturalism is premised on respecting differences that conform to neat categories of race and religion.

Yet human “cultures” are much more complex. First, not everyone professes race or religion as his or her primary identity marker. Second, members of a certain racial or religious group will have varied wants and behaviours, making it hard for anyone to speak on behalf of a community.

Given these, Singapore’s multiculturalism should not be seen as a national strength. In fact, it is a trait unbecoming of a self-professed global city. If we wish to stay sustainable, then we need to rethink our monolithic multiculturalism.

To be clear, multiculturalism here does not refer to an airy-fairy concept to be debated by academics, or a government buzzword to shape policies. Rather, I am talking about multiculturalism as it is lived out as an everyday reality in Singapore.

Consider the recent row over the Health Promotion Board’s (HPB) online brochure on sexuality.

The brochure, which recognises multiple sexual orientations, has come under fire because some believe it “dangerously promotes homosexuality”. Indeed, Singapore’s lived multiculturalism denotes that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) folks cannot be considered a viable minority in the same manner as Malay-Muslims, a category that checks both the race and religion boxes.

This is not to say that our version of multiculturalism is the sole cause of the HPB row. There are other motivations behind it, probably the most cited being that the teachings of Christianity and Islam forbid it. But even here, Singapore’s lived multiculturalism falls short.

According to a recent Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) survey, more than three-quarters of Singaporeans are iffy about sexual relations between adults of the same sex and gay marriages.

With Muslims and Christians collectively making up less than a quarter of Singaporeans aged 15 and over, according to the 2010 census, the IPS survey suggests that opposition to same-sex relationships must have also come from believers of supposedly more inclusive religions such as Buddhism and Taoism.

This means that religious identity does not have an essentialised nature, as assumed by our lived multiculturalism. In the same way, it is ridiculous to assume all Malay-Muslims are against LGBTs, or agree that the hijab is a compulsory Muslim practice.

Addressing the importance of multiple identities, Hall writes that the “multicultural question” for any society must be how it envisages the future of “peoples from very different backgrounds, cultures, contexts, experiences and positions”. This question is especially valid for Singapore.

Perhaps the way forward is to live according to another ideal — cosmopolitanism. Unlike multiculturalism, there is no need to uphold neat categories or essentialised natures. According to Hall, cities are the best place in which cosmopolitanism can naturally occur because they “bring elements together and establish relations of interchange and exchange”. Singapore as a global trade and travel hub qualifies as such a city.

To be fair, cosmopolitanism has had its detractors. Some say only the rich, who have the means to travel the world, can afford to be cosmopolitan. To this, one can counter that cosmopolitanism should not be an ideal defined by the number of places one has visited. Rather, it is the spirit of being open to someone or something vastly different from oneself.

The Indonesian author Andrea Hirata’s semi-autobiographical novel The Rainbow Troops (2005) best demonstrates this. Recounting the childhood experiences of poor children from Belitung Island, the novel outlines countless instances in which these children were able to connect with foreign and local influences without even leaving town.

Singaporeans can be just as inclusive. The pervasiveness of the Internet and global media here can facilitate a cosmopolitan existence without our having to leave home. Now that is something to be celebrated. — Today

* Dr Nazry Bahrawi is a lecturer with the Singapore University of Technology and Design and research fellow at the Middle East Institute-National University of Singapore.

** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malay Mail Online.


Foreign QC No Go for 377A

Two gay partners wanted to challenge 377A saying that it is unconstitutional. They brought in a former UK AG as their foreign legal support in the form of a Queen’s Counsel. The couple’s lawyers must have advised that it was a deadend move even before it started as foreign senior counsels or a Queen’s Counsel, cannot represent in cases involving constitutional, criminal, administrative and family law. The rationale is that foreigners are not accustomed to local society norms and therefore cannot accurately legally act for their local clients. A debatable point.

However, the real reason behind this barring of Queen’s Counsel Lord Goldsmith is the age old dictum of not tolerating foreigners to interfere in local affairs. Gary Lim and Kenneth Chee wanted to repeal 377A and sought a foreign talent Queen’s Counsel to change a law that would upset the “live and let live” “ask not tell not” status quo and the Christian, Muslim and conservative communities. The judiciary is aware of the backlash and the importance of laws to reflect society values as much as legally possible.

In the end, it is back to square one. Kenneth Chee and Gary Lim expected that the Queen’s Counsel would be barred from representing, staging it as a stale political gimmick that the Court is against them and feared robust legal challenge. But surely everybody already knew that the Court and PAP government of the day, even the next government WP, would not appease the gay community that easily in the near future. The waltz between the gay activists plus their lawyers and the authorities is quite predictable. The gay couple from the Bear Project, a club for big-sized gays, would appeal as the next step and we can guess how the appeal court might twirl next.


Court dismisses bid to admit QC for 377A appeal
SINGAPORE — The High Court yesterday dismissed an application for a Queen’s Counsel to represent two men who are appealing against the dismissal of their challenge to Section 377A of the Penal Code.
By Amir Hussain

SINGAPORE — The High Court yesterday dismissed an application for a Queen’s Counsel to represent two men who are appealing against the dismissal of their challenge to Section 377A of the Penal Code.

Graphic designers Gary Lim Meng Suang, 44, and his partner, Mr Kenneth Chee Mun Leon, 37, had wanted QC Lord Goldsmith Peter Henry to represent them — together with Senior Counsel Deborah Evaline Barker — for their case, which will be heard by the Court of Appeal in three weeks’ time.

Their challenge to Section 377A — on the basis that the law criminalising sex between men breaches the Constitution — was thrown out by High Court Judge Quentin Loh in April, who ruled that its objective of criminalising a conduct that “was not acceptable in society” was “clear”.

In applying for Lord Goldsmith to represent them in their appeal, Mr Lim and Mr Chee had argued that the QC, who was a former Attorney-General of the United Kingdom and a member of the UK Parliament’s Joint Committee on human rights, had extensive experience in constitutional, public, and human rights cases.

The outcome of the appeal will have a bearing on an earlier challenge to Section 377A by Mr Tan Eng Hong, 49, which was also heard by Justice Loh. The court had reserved judgment in his case, but Mr Tan’s lawyer, Mr M Ravi, had said the ruling is expected next month.

Dismissing the couple’s application, Judge of Appeal V K Rajah ruled that the application did not meet the requirement for admitting foreign senior counsel on an ad hoc basis under the Legal Profession Act, where there must be a “special reason” to do so.

While there is no definitive parameter on the requirement, he said “there must be something specific to the nature of the facts or legal issues concerned beyond the expected features of ordinary constitutional cases”. In this case, there was nothing “out of the ordinary which would constitute a special reason” to justify Lord Goldsmith’s admission.

He also noted that foreign senior counsel can participate in the preparation of both written submissions and further submissions, as well as the oral case, by anticipating and preparing questions. “In the Singapore context, written advocacy has a more prominent part to play in the appellate process than in other common law jurisdictions … The written medium functions as the focal means by which counsel informs and persuades the court on the merits of their submissions”, while oral submissions build upon rather than supplant arguments made, he said.

When contacted, the couple’s lawyer, Mr Shashidran Nathan, said his clients will proceed with Ms Barker as counsel for their appeal.

Said Mr Shashidran: “Obviously, our clients are disappointed, but I am confident that we will be able to deal with all the issues that will be raised at the Court of Appeal.” AMIR HUSSAIN

NDR 2013: WP’s Old Wine and PAP’s New Bottle

As usual, the annual NDR is good news and goodies. Credit to the PAP in trying to listen. This year is no different. However, NCMP Gerald Giam, who looks set to be the next MP from East Coast GRC, explained why this year’s NDR was a good one. The PAP listened to the people and borrowed ideas from the leading opposition, the WP.

An example from NCMP Giam’s blog article, on Medishield, which is the most important promise in the NDR as it affects all unlike HDB, PSLE and other policies which affect segments of society only,

During the Committee of Supply debate in Parliament in March 2012, I said:

some of those who need MediShield coverage the most, like babies with congenital problems and the very old, are often denied coverage.    MediShield currently covers 92% of Singaporeans. Those who are not covered include some of the elderly, homemakers, and others who have voluntarily opted out of MediShield. Some are not able to obtain MediShield coverage due to pre-existing conditions.    I would like to ask what the Ministry is doing to achieve a higher level of coverage for all Singaporeans? What is the Ministry’s targeted level of coverage of MediShield?

And the answer came during last night’s speech:

Elaborating on the changes, (PM Lee) said that universal coverage means there will be no more opting out, with everyone covered including the elderly and those with pre-existing illnesses.

Many interpretations on what NCMP Giam meant. The PAP listened, the PAP stole WP ideas without attribution, the PAP and WP are more alike in policies and direction than most people think. The most important interpretation is that the WP, warts and all and we should not be blind to them, is doing its job in parliament by advocating and influencing the ruling party. So the 2-party system in Singapore can work, and it does not need to be confrontational like in other parliaments, Westminster system or not. The Singapore Way could be a consensual 2-party system where the incumbent and the opposition work towards centrist positions. A work in progress no doubt, and proves the worth of WP in parliament.

National Day, Celebration not Protest

Some people turned up for an alternative National Day celebration, which was more like a protest, at Hong Lim Park. It was organised by Gilbert Goh, the nobody turned somebody overnight a few months ago when he organised the anti-foreigner protest, attacking the PAP’s White Paper on population and a target 6.9 million populace.

National Day is for everybody to celebrate together regardless of their political differences. I thought it was in 2011 and after the milestone GE, a bright spark among the organisers of the NDP finally persuaded the political parties to ditch their party whites or blues and wear red and white when attending as MPs during the annual parade. That was a conciliatory move to show moving together as one Singapore despite natural diffierences in politics.

The run up to this National Day was spiced first with gay activist Alex Au saying that it was alright to burn the Singapore flag. He crossed the line with that provocation on the rights to free speech and it was one of Alex Au’s few fumbles in his usually good blogging. The instigation to burn the state flag was a deliberate conflation of Singapore as a state and the PAP as Singapore, and confused between disliking the ruling party as the same as disliking Singapore and its emblems. The flag is sacred and a sense of collective identity and belonging steeped in history that transcends politics and parties. Learned Alex Au should have known that. Flag desecration is nonetheless controversial, and Germany, Israel and Switzerland are among those who outlaw flag desecration like burning. I’m sure Singapore has similar laws and if it doesn’t, it should.

This National Day protest at Hong Lim Park, is similarly an affront to Singapore and Singaporeans. Gilbert Goh must have got it into his head that he is some unstoppable protest pied piper and wanted to draw people from celebrating to protesting. Protesting is all well and good because that is what Hong Lim Park is mostly for but to provocatively hold it on National Day itself, or even over the National Day weekend, is bad timing and thus bad taste.

Holding a protest on the same day as the national day rally since the rally is a PAP-run affair mostly; now that is fair game. Gilbert Goh actually gave fellow activists and opposition politicians like Ravi Philemon and Leong Sze Hian a bad name when they stood with him on this Hong Lim Park protest.


Anthony Kan

Traditionally for the last 47 years, Singapore celebrates its nation building with a large scale parade. Tomorrow, a very small group of people are calling Singaporeans to join them at Hong Lim Park to celebrate National Day.

Ironically, those people at Hong Lim Park don’t quite believes that the National Day should be celebrated. They are people who believed that the Singapore flag can be burnt. The National Anthem is sang each time the Singapore flag is raised. So are they going to sing the National Anthem and burn the Singapore flag tomorrow at Hong Lim Park? The National Anthem is almost inseparable of the Singapore flag.

I had a little exchange with one person who is going there. That person said that it is going to be great excitement in their camp. What started that little exchange was a comment by that person who said that cartoonist Leslie Chew could be president. I wished the person well and said that to be able to dream is a good thing. I was then extended an invitation.

There are lots of these innocent people who had good intention of doing good for Singapore. They were sold by people who promises a dream where no stray animals would be abused, no elderly people need to toil in their golden years, no challenges from foreign talents for their jobs. Perhaps past heavy handedness of people carrying out good meaning policies had upset these people.

I wished the person well again and said “enjoy and have fun (with your dream)”. I am too busy doing things for Singaporeans to indulge myself in your fun. The person then turned a little agitated and cynical and asked “Is that so? “And what are you busying over?” I told her I am busy looking out for jobs for the unemployed, coordinating animal welfare groups so that the strays may not be abused, helping the aged to earn a dignified living instead of having to ask for donations for everything. I had no reply till now.

You see….the difference between the Floating Stage at Esplanade and the on at Hong Lim Park is this : At the Esplanade floating Stage, people are celebrating real accomplishment, whereas at Hong Lim Park people are indulging in a dream. Two separate world, two different sets of people. The Realists and The Dreamers. It is good to have dreams, and to work towards realizing one’s dreams.

I was waiting for a reply so that I can explain why I cannot join their fun and the difference between being Realist at Esplanade and Dreamer at Hong Lim. You see, the real world is full of rules and guidelines, but dreams do not. In a dream, one can do anything that is beyond human and nothing will ever happen when one awakes.

So in their dream, anyone can become Prime Minister or President, and you can have as many PMs and Presidents as you wish. Their dream also consist of homosexual activities anywhere and everywhere, not sure if their PMs and Presidents are also part of that? Their dream is full of hatred and they like to SLAP the people they don;t like and never get slapped back.

Let me also make this clear. They are not Opposition politicians. The real Opposition politicians will be at the Esplanade Floating Stage celebrating real accomplishments and will not be at Hong Lim Park dreaming.

WP Keeping their Game Face

PM Lee over the weekend put it to WP that they have no integrity over the hawker centre cleaning matter, which in perspective, is getting more and more of a mountain out of a molehill. Vivian Balakrishan already cheekily slapped WP’s face on the right cheek with a glove to provoke WP into a duel that WP would lose. Despite its cheek still stinging, WP was smart enough to do damage control and let the matter rest like asking WP deadweight Pritam Singh to remain stoically silent despite being called out a liar in parliament, rather than their mismanagement of their hawker centre cleaning be exposed more in court.

PAP scored by showing the political middle ground among us that WP is not as great as we thought e.g. PAP has AIM, WP has FMSS. On the other hand, WP also scored as they were seen as being bullied by the PAP over a small matter of asking hawkers to foot the bill of cleaning the roof structures. A small municipal misstep done by WP that would have been seen as a big matter if committed by the PAP.

The PAP could have dusted their hands and walked off pompously knowing that while they were seen as bullies as usual by the WP supporters, the PAP would have rested comfortably because the damage done to WP’s reputation so soon after WP’s FMSS fiasco was palpable. PAP could take a big hit as they normally do, but WP could not, not so soon in a string of mismanagement within the WP leadership that started with Yaw’s scandal, FMSS and now this so-called integrity controversy.

The insistent shove by PM Lee that WP must give an explanation and clear the air is just overkill. For the PM to step in over a hawker centre cleaning bill and said that there was implicit dishonesty is just too much even if true. It’s like the Gomez saga in 2006. Everyone eventually knew that Gomez was mistaken, and made false stupid accusations that the PAP committed election sabotage. However, when the PAP kept clinging on to the Gomez-bashing that was fast becoming stale, the broken record that kept playing the same scratchy tune was just irritating and did more harm to the PAP than to WP after a while. It’s the same broken record now.

Our MPs’ consciences are clear

We refer to the statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office on 12 July 2013.

The various allegations against the integrity of Workers’ Party’s Members of Parliament contained in the statement have already been fully responded to and rejected by the Party, both in and out of Parliament.

Regarding the cleaning of hawker centres, we have put forth the facts as we have found them, based on our own earlier investigations. We defended our position in Parliament on 9 July 2013 with a clear conscience.

This matter has been in the public headlines since late May. We have made our position known both inside and outside Parliament and the relevant documents are already in the public domain, so the public can make its own judgment on the matter. We do not find it productive to continue debating and arguing with the ruling party over this issue.

The Prime Minister referred to the Workers’ Party’s slogan for General Election 2011: “Towards a First World Parliament”. The concept of a First World Parliament is not about the People’s Action Party or the Workers’ Party, but about what Singaporeans want for our country and what they believe is necessary to secure our country’s future.


13 Jul 2013

Politics Right then Economics Right? Right? Wrong?

Well it depends on what kind of politics. PM Lee was probably saying that his PAP politics was the right politics for Singapore, and the best for GDP growth. In small Singapore, maybe, in the past, to an extent. However, shouldn’t it be get the policies, not politics, right then the economics is right? This has always been the PAP’s raison d’etre and raised every election – only the PAP style of global looking strong government politics can attract foreign investment as investors want stability and predictability. If an opposition like SDP gets into power and implements minimum wages, decoupling of the trade unions and government, xenophobia and encouragement of union activism, this woud drive foreign MNCs away to Vietnam or Thailand.  Our loss is their gain in PAP’s appeal to our fear.

Yes, the strong government and firm politics worked well before until the 80s perhaps. But as manufacturing became less important for our econommy, investors in the knowledge and financial industries that Singapore is courting are more interested in intellectual property, corruption-free, transparent regulatons and predictability more than accomodating trade unions. If PM Lee was referring to growing dissatisfaction with his government, what has that got to do with scaring away investors and industries as long as the activism and complaints are lawful and peaceful?

Truth be told, the main competitor which is going to snatch at least East Coast GRC from the PAP is WP and so far it is so similar to PAP that investors won’t tell the difference and the economy would plod along just fine depending on global conditions. The current increasing popularity of  the WP is fine and welcomed. Maybe that is why the PAP is worried. There is PAP lite just around the corner that can replace it soon and PM Lee better scare investors and voters alike again that it is the best party for the job.

SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said for economic growth to sustain, what’s important is getting the politics right.

He said what is important is for Singaporeans to think about where the country is heading in the longer term.

Speaking at a dialogue session at the DBS Asian Insights Conference, Mr Lee said the world out there is full of many new opportunities but if the country’s politics is not right, things could go wrong for the country.

Mr Lee said: “What can go wrong for Singapore? If you look at it in the long term, you can lose the specialness of this place, a place that people look at it an say, “wow, the economy prospers, the housing scheme is something special, the city is something special, the education is world class, even healthcare, low spending, good outcomes, let’s go and see what’s happening.”

“In 20 years’ time, if people are not interested in Singapore and we are not up there in terms of the quality of our services, in terms of the quality of our living environment, the kind of country we are, something different from what three or four or five million people are entitled to be just living in Southeast Asia, we are in big trouble. We are today exceptional, and if you are not exceptional and ordinary, I think you are in big trouble and it can easily happen.”

And that’s where everything starts with politics.

Mr Lee said: “It starts with politics because if your politics is wrong, then your economics is bound to go wrong. And the reason why so many countries cannot get the economies right is because if the politics don’t work, the benefits don’t get spread to the right people or broadly enough, or there are vested interests which have to be taken care of, or there’s some divide in the society which cannot be bridged, and you spend your time fighting over that, rather than working together productively.

“And I think we’ve got to be able to get the fundamentals right, and so far we have been able to do so. And if we can continue to get the politics right, then I think the economics can work out.”

He said it’s like helping Singaporeans achieve their fullest potential through training and skills upgrading, so that they can be well employed and improve their incomes.

Mr Lee said: “I don’t think it will make us a society where everybody is absolutely equal and I don’t think we want to do that. In fact if I can get another 10 billionaires move to Singapore and set up their base here… I think Singapore will be better off because they will bring business, they will bring opportunities, they will open new doors, they will create new jobs, and I think that’s the attitude with which we must approach this problem.”

He said governing a country must also evolve with changing expectations by involving people to focus on issues that concern and reach a consensus on what the country’s aiming for.

And that’s what the “Our Singapore Conversation” process is all about.

Mr Lee said there are things Singapore can do well which will make a difference to its people, but that will not make for a society that is absolutely equal.

He said this in response to a question on balancing growth and equity in Singapore.

He also said investment in overall infrastructure ensures a good business environment where things work, and policies to give less successful Singaporeans a leg-up are important too.

Mr Lee said: “I don’t think if you give up growth you will have a lot of equity. I mean if the economy was stagnant, it doesn’t mean everybody’s going to be happy, and it may be equally unequal.

“Part of the answer has to be skills and education – that we invest in our people and give them the ability to improve their standards of living. I cannot make everybody a billionaire, but I can make sure everybody can earn a good living for himself. I think that’s possible. But it takes effort and you have to be competitive.”

– CNA/de

Lynn Lee Contempt of Court? No

Clearly guilty of contempt of court would be Shane Todd’s parents rather than Lynn Lee the filmmaker who made the video that 2 SMRT bus drivers were supposedly beaten during police interrogation. Shane Todd’s parents, in their denial and warped conspiracy theory that the US, China and Singapore governments were in collusion and covering up the murder of their son by PRC assassins, said outrightly that the court was corrupt. I don’t remember Lynn Lee doing or saying of anything of that sort.

Lynn Lee is merely guilty of advocating the SMRT strike cause. She knew the strike was illegal and once she heard about the plight of the drivers regardless if she believed it or not, realised that it was a good story and opportunity to give the drivers their point of view and accounts of police abuse in a video.  Which is all fine as it is merely pushing across a different perspective.

She worked with Jolovan Wham and others in lobbying for the SMRT strike drivers – HOME, TWC2, SDP altogether championed a lost cause as the strike was illegal and nobody wanted to support foreigners in the xenophobic climate in Singapore now. Idealistic in views, opportunistic in telling stories, but not contempt of court. The court warning to her is merely hot air, albeit she would be more careful of making similar videos in future. Who wouldn’t?

AGC sends warning to filmmaker for contempt of court

SINGAPORE: The Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) has sent a warning to filmmaker Lee Seng Lynn, for posting online videos which contained allegations made by ex-SMRT bus drivers.

In a statement released on Friday afternoon, the AGC said it has issued a letter of warning to Ms Lee through her lawyer, for having committed sub judice contempt of court.

In January 2013, she had made public videos of interviews with two ex-SMRT drivers from China, who were charged with instigating other SMRT bus drivers to join the November 2012 illegal strike.

In the video, the two drivers, He Junling, 32, and Liu Xiang Ying, 33, had alleged that they were physically abused and threatened by their interrogators when in police custody sometime after the strike.

AGC said at the time of publication, Ms Lee was aware that criminal proceedings against He and Liu, as well as two other ex-drivers from China, Gao Yue Qiang and Wang Xianjie, were pending.

The criminal proceedings against the former bus drivers ended in February.

AGC said it has completed its review of Ms Lee’s conduct and found that her conduct created “a real risk of prejudice to the criminal proceedings pending then”.

It added that such conduct “can obstruct the determination of the truth or erode respect for our judicial institutions”.

This, it said, would in turn harm the public interest in the proper administration of justice.

But AGC is of the view that a warning is sufficient in this case, rather than court action against her for contempt of court.

Separately, the AGC said it is aware of remarks made by the family of the late Mr Shane Todd in relation to the coroner’s inquiry, which is currently in progress.

The AGC urged the public and the media not to make or report any statements “which could be construed as trying to improperly influence the decision of the coroner, or cast aspersions on the independence of this proceeding.”