Silver lining in the church attacks

It seems these unfortunate incidents are forcing many Malaysians into a time of introspection. The reset button on race relations will have to be hit. Hopefully cool heads will prevail over impetuous acts of bigotry. This could the the silver lining in this whole sad saga.

I feel sad for our neighbour, Malaysia, for what happened over the past few days, with four churches coming under arson attack, presumably linked to the controversial “Allah” ruling by the High Court. According to reports, this is the first time in the history of the country that churches have come under attack of this sort. Even through the turbulent period of the 1960s, including the 1969 race riots, houses of worship were deemed sacrosanct. All that has been shattered now.

The Metro Tabernacle Church, a 1,500-member Assembly of God church in the Kuala Lumpur area, had its first floor 80 per cent destroyed by the fire. According to the KL police chief, the perpetrators broke all the glass window panels on the ground floor of the building before pouring petrol into the building and setting it alight. Three other churches in the Klang Valley — the Catholic Church of Assumption in Kuala Lumpur, Life Chapel Church in Petaling Jaya and Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Petaling Jaya — were also torched, although none seriously.

It goes without saying that these fanatical crimes deserve to be condemned in the strongest terms possible. I find it rather insensitive that demonstrations at some mosques against the High Court’s ruling still went ahead on Friday after the arson attacks happened, although according to Marina Mahathir, the turnout was lower than expected.

Despite the reprehensible actions of a few individuals, it is reassuring to see so many prominent Malaysians speaking out strongly against these attacks. PAS, the opposition Islamic party, has been particularly forceful in its condemnation. Their spiritual leader Nik Aziz Nik Mat said the culprits behind the attacks are committing a sin and will reap what they sow, while their president, Abdul Hadi Awang, called the firebombings “uncivilised” and against Islam. Prime Minister Najib Razak has announced a government allocation of RM500,000 to rebuild the Metro Tabernacle Church. Even UMNO Youth Chief Khairy Jamaluddin, who is better known for his firebrand comments defending Malay rights, said that this was a “despicable act” and that this is “not the Malaysia I know”.

It seems these unfortunate incidents are forcing many Malaysians into a time of introspection over how a dispute over semantics could have boiled over into attacks of this nature. The reset button on race relations will have to be hit. Hopefully cool heads will prevail over impetuous acts of bigotry. This could the the silver lining in this whole sad saga.

Insensitivity at our void decks

I was shocked to hear the story related by PM Lee in his National Day Rally speech in Mandarin about the Malay wedding and the Chinese wake. For those who didn’t tune in that early, here’s a rough translation:

A Chinese grandmother died. The family decided to hold wake at the void deck of the next block. But without waiting for approval from the town council to hold their wake there, they proceeded to set up their wake. Coincidentally, that void deck had already been booked by a Malay family for a wedding. The invitations had been sent out. Now they discovered their wedding location had been snatched by another party. The Malay family of course felt very unhappy. The town council staff attempted to resolve the matter by asking the Chinese family to relocate their wake to another void deck. But the Chinese family was unwilling to accommodate. They felt that even though the coffin had not arrived, the wake had already been set up and tearing it down will bring bad luck. So a problem arose. Obviously the party in the wrong was the Chinese family. But they were unwilling to move. Fortunately, with the intervention of the MP and town council staff, the Malay family very graciously agreed to move their wedding to another block. As a gesture of gratitude, the town council waived the rental charges, and also helped them put up signs redirecting wedding guests to the new location. This happened last year.

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Singapore: Multiculturalism or the melting pot?

Last week, Straits Times reader Amy Loh wrote to the paper expressing her disquiet about how the government’s emphasis on the need to speak Mandarin could be perceived as a clear signal to encourage residents of mainland China origin to choose to continue speaking only Chinese. She cited examples of how almost all new shop signs in Geylang are in Chinese only, fast turning this into a Chinese enclave.

In response, the Straits Times in an editorial slammed Ms Loh as being “xenophobic”, pointing to economically vibrant cities like London and Sydney as evidence that “recruiting foreigners” has brought great benefits to those cities. The paper went on to explain that the Geylang shop signs were in only Chinese for “purely commercial reasons”, as if that were an excuse for their cultural insensitivity.

This exchange raises another more important issue that Singapore, with its growing diversity and immigrant population, needs to start dealing with: The issue of multiculturalism versus a melting pot social make-up of our country.

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That MCYS “Funeral” ad

I just watched the latest “get married and have children” ad sponsored by the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) and the National Family Council on YouTube. (Yes only now — I hardly watch TV.)

It’s quite good actually. Particularly the part where the widow relates how her late husband’s “gross” habits actually let her know that he was still alive when he was battling his illness.

I presume the goal of the ad was to encourage singles to get hitched, even if their potential mate has some “small imperfections”. Well, that’s good in principle, but should not be taken too far. If they are just physical or physiological imperfections, fine. But I would strongly caution people against marrying someone who possesses character imperfections that you cannot live with and hope to change. He or she probably won’t change, and you’ll be setting yourself up for a tough road ahead.

The other thing I noticed was that in the film, the deceased husband was ethnic Chinese, while the wife, Mrs Tan, was Indian — and wearing a sari. I was very glad to see this. It reflects the reality of many relationships nowadays, as well as an ideal of a multiracial Singapore that has gone beyond tolerance to integration. It’s good too that it has gone beyond the stereotypical Indian man-Chinese woman or white man-Chinese woman interracial relationship.

Come to think of it, if getting more young Singaporeans hitched is the objective, then marrying outside one’s own race will definitely expand the selection of partners one can consider. Therefore having a society that accepts and celebrates interracial marriages could indirectly increase the marriage and procreation rate.

Ultimately, I believe that there is very little the government can and should do to encourage people to get married. I’m not even sure if taxpayer dollars should be spent on campaigns like these. (I emphasise “not sure” — I didn’t say I’m against it.) For my suggestions on what the government can do that might be more effective, read Don’t be a stupid cupid.

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