Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Picture perfect harmony

Dec 15, 2010

(From left) Rabbi Mordechai Abergel, Venerable Fa Rong and Syed Isa sharing a light moment at an event to honour the mufti with the Inter-Religious Organisation award. -- ST FILE PHOTO

I AM an American living in Indonesia and over the past 30 years, have made dozens of trips to Singapore.

The Prime News photograph yesterday (above) of Rabbi Mordechai Abergel, Buddhist monk the Venerable Fa Rong and Mufti Syed Isa Mohamed Semait nearly moved me to tears ('Tributes flow as mufti gets award').

I wish my native country as a whole could demonstrate the religious tolerance that Singapore has been able to cultivate.

Certainly there are good, tolerant people everywhere, and the United States has many who think like I do.

But in Singapore, it is the norm, and immediately observable everywhere you go. On a daily basis, I see Christian, Muslim and Hindu office workers sharing a meal at a kopitiam (coffee shop), exchanging smiles or pleasantries on the street or otherwise kindly extending help to one another.

In all my trips here, I have not once witnessed religion-fuelled hostility or prejudice.

My travels have taken me to all corners of the world, yet I have never found a country that comes even close to the religious and spiritual maturity that Singaporeans demonstrate towards one another.

Many letters complain about life in Singapore, but from an outsider's perspective, what a beautifully pluralistic and enviable society Singapore has.

In many ways, and especially in their tolerance for one another, Singaporeans are a beacon to the world.

Jack Blaylock

[Cynical Singaporeans will immediately jump on this and say how much of this may be posed photo-ops and how the facade may not reflect the truth. Certainly I feel a little discomfited to hear the writer say that we have spiritual maturity.

Well, maybe that might not be the correct phrase, but I think I understand what he means. Maybe we are not 100% honest, or sincere. Maybe we do harbour little niggling resentment or disdain for other faiths, but at least we have enough respect to show tolerance, and enough understanding to show mutual respect, and enough courtesy to keep our less flattering opinions to ourselves.

A little courtesy goes a long way. Respecting boundaries and agreeing to live and let live is the way to go forward.

So yes, compared to many other countries, Singapore has it a lot better and has a lesson for many other countries.]

Update: 12 Mar 2011.
A video in support of the letter writer. A muslim tries to pray while Christians taunt and mock him. So different from Egypt where Christians protected the Muslims when they prayed from pro-Mubarak forces trying to break up the protesters in Tahrir Square.

Update: Mar 22, 2011

Florida pastor burns Quran
GAINESVILLE (FLORIDA): A controversial American evangelical preacher on Sunday oversaw the burning of a copy of the Quran in a small Florida church after finding the Muslim holy book 'guilty' of crimes.
The burning was carried out by pastor Wayne Sapp under the supervision of pastor Terry Jones, who last September drew sweeping condemnation over his plan to ignite a pile of Qurans on the anniversary of the Sept 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Sunday's event was presented as a trial in which the Quran was found 'guilty' and 'executed'. The jury deliberated for about eight minutes.
The holy book, which had been soaking for an hour in kerosene, was put in a metal tray in the centre of the church, and Mr Sapp started the fire with a barbecue lighter. The book burned for around 10 minutes while some onlookers posed for photos.
Mr Jones had drawn trenchant condemnation from many people, including top US leaders, over his plan to burn the Qurans last September.
He did not carry out his plan then and vowed he never would, saying he had made his point.
But this time, he said he had been 'trying to give the Muslim world an opportunity to defend their book', but did not receive any answer. He said he felt that he could not have a real trial without a real punishment.
While there were public protests against Mr Jones' Sept 11 activities, this event was largely ignored. The event was open to the public, but fewer than 30 people attended.
Ms Jadwiga Schatz, who came to show support for Mr Jones, expressed concern that Islam was growing in Europe. 'These people, for me, are like monsters,' she said. 'I hate these people.'


sibylla said...

This is one of those ST Forum letters that I always suspect is sponsored by some government unit. Foreigner from country that many Singaporeans want to migrate to, writing gushing naive paean to some mostly imaginary local virtue.

I am willing to bet the guy is white. I am sure he would not have the same gushing things to say if he were black.

Many Chinese Singaporeans in particular hold unabashed racist attitudes towards anyone who is non-Chinese and non-white. And they don't see anything wrong with this. At least in America, it is widely held that racial prejudice is wrong.

El Lobo Loco said...

Yes, that would also appeal to insidious conspiracy theorist in me, the idea of some govt impropaganda agency getting some foreigner to write in.

Except... why pay some foreigner (who might go on the Oprah show and expose the conspiracy!) when they can just write it themselves. After all the lame-stream media (ST) is totally under the control of the govt and will not question the identity of the fake American!

My point is that once you (seriously) go down the conspiracy pathway, you can discount everything and you will have to go x-files and "trust no one".

To understand Blaylock's letter and perspective, you need to understand what he sees in the USA.

I've turned into a USA-phile and track happenings on The Daily Show, The Week, Huffington Post, etc.

Seriously, while in the US it is widely held that racial prejudice is wrong, they also believe in the freedom of expression.

And you would think that with great freedom, comes great responsibility.

Instead there is Fox News, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, that pastor that wants to burn Korans, demonstrations/protest against the building of mosques/Community centres, and how a hearing into the radicalisation of American Muslims.

I'm not sure that it's better, and I'm not sure that it's worse than Singapore, but I think it is more controlled here.

So I'm still not sure what "spiritual maturity" he refers to, unless he means our understanding that our right to freely express ourselves ends when our expression might cause insult or harm to another group... or when the other group understands dialect.