ST June 18, 2006
Divided views over police checks on blogger
Netizens question need to apply the law in resolving 'offensive pictures' case; religious leaders want strong message sent about respect for other faiths
By Zakir Hussain
NETIZENS have condemned the man who complained to the police about a 21-year-old blogger who had posted pictures of Jesus Christ online that he deemed offensive.
They would rather Singaporeans resolve the matter by other means, such as letting other Internet users condemn the content online.
Many shared the view of blogger 'Mr Wang', a Singapore lawyer in his 30s.
'I am not saying that it's fine to go around offending people's race or religion,' he said. 'But when such incidents happen, it is not necessarily the case that the best response lies in the law or its instruments.'
Taaa-daa, there I am. (Aiyoh, so childish.)
Since I'd already said quite a lot about Char's case earlier, I'm going to comment just a little more today. First, the rest of the article:
I'm just going to pose a couple of questions for you to consider.
But others outside the Net disagreed, and sanctioned the use of the law as a strong reminder to Singaporeans that online comment had its limits.
Religious leaders and social observers interviewed believe the law has a role to play in teaching people about the need to balance the right to free expression with the need to respect another's faith.
'The right to free speech stops when it begins to hurt the religious sensitivities of others,' said Father John-Paul Tan, parish priest of the Church of St Mary of the Angels in Bukit Batok.
'That's when sometimes the law needs to come in to educate people.'
These opposing reactions to the ongoing investigation of the blogger, who calls himself Char online, stem from four images he had published earlier this year which were thought to be disrespectful of Jesus Christ.
They attracted complaints from one netizen, and in March, police started investigating his alleged flouting of the Sedition Act.
Law professor Thio Li-Ann from the National University of Singapore said that in investigating the matter, the Government was being even-handed and recognising respect for religious faiths as a key principle here.
She added: 'Given that 80 per cent of Singaporeans subscribe to some kind of religious faith, it is not conducive to denigrate any faith.'
Supporting the use of law, Anglican Bishop John Chew noted that disrespect of any religion or religious figure could result in ill will.
Said the vice-president of the National Council of Churches of Singapore: 'We cannot say that just because the West has allowed these pictures to be freely available, we should accept them.'
Agreeing, chairman of the Centre for Contemporary Islamic Studies Ridzuan Wu called for society to take a consistent position when any religious figure is mocked.
'Muslims feel it is offensive to deride the Prophet, and it is offensive to do so to Jesus Christ and other religious figures,' he said ...
How many of the above persons - Father John-Paul Tan, Thio Li-Ann, Ridzuan Wu etc - do you think actually saw the cartoons, before they commented?
If they had not even seen the cartoons in question, how much weight should you give to their views?
Next, let's look at this Business Times article about an Indian spiritual teacher who recently visited Singapore:
Business Times - 17 Jun 2006
Master of the art of living
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the founder and head of the Art of Living Foundation, explains to VIKRAM KHANNA why he believes there is nothing inconsistent between business and spirituality.
ON THE evening of April 15, the cavernous sixth-floor auditorium at Suntec City was packed to capacity. The crowd numbered a couple of thousand at least - grey-haired grandparents, teenagers, young married couples with babes in arms, people of multiple ethnic groups, nationalities and religions. They had come for the same reason: to spend an evening in the company of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.
Some consider him their spiritual guru. Others see him as a teacher of high wisdom. Still others came out of sheer curiosity. Revered by millions around the world - including some heads of government - photographed with luminaries like the Dalai Lama, US President George Bush and Indian President APJ Abdul Kalam, written about and interviewed extensively, this diminutive 50-year-old is a phenomenon. He has commanded crowds of, literally, millions of people (as during his foundation's 25th anniversary in Bangalore in February, for which three million turned up). He has addressed parliaments and even the UN General Assembly and appeared on countless talk shows.
Many people know him best for the easy-to-follow system of breathing exercises called 'sudarshan kriya' (loosely translated as 'proper vision practice') that he has developed and packaged. At least a million people around the world are believed to practise them, and many swear to have benefited dramatically. Medical studies have demonstrated that the exercises do indeed reduce physical and mental stress.
Less well known is the fact that Sri Sri is the founder and head of what is said to be the biggest non-governmental organisation (NGO) in the world, the Art of Living Foundation. Started in 1982 and staffed almost entirely by volunteers, it has spread to 144 countries. It offers stress relief programmes and is involved in thousands of charitable public service projects in areas as diverse as reforming and rehabilitating prison inmates, training villagers in management skills, promoting organic farming, providing trauma relief to victims of natural disasters, helping people with Aids and even resolving national conflicts.
Brief note - Sri Sri, however, has also been described as a cult leader. See for example this article: Catholics Concerned over Cult Leader Appearing at Canada's Foremost Catholic Shrine. Back to the BT article:
But back to the event at Suntec. Sri Sri, as he is commonly referred to, is seated on an ornate chair on a stage adorned with images of Buddha, Jesus Christ and a Hindu deity - no doubt to underline that his message cuts across all religions and cultures. The evening begins with a lion dance, followed by a performance on the quzheng, a Chinese harp. An Indian flute trio comes next, and then a Malay orchestra and chorus.
After the music and applause die down, Sri Sri smiles, stands up and walks slowly towards the audience. 'When sound is in harmony, it is music, otherwise it is noise,' he says. 'It is the same with the body, mind and spirit ....'
For the purposes of this post, I wanted to draw your attention to this:
".... stage adorned with images of Buddha, Jesus Christ and a Hindu deity - no doubt to underline that his message cuts across all religions and cultures.
I'm going to ask you to consider this scenario. Imagine that Mr Wang is a Catholic. Mr Wang reads this BT article. Mr Wang is horrified and deeply offended that at a public event in Singapore, images of Jesus have been juxtaposed with images of religious figures from other religions.
"These are all false idols!" cries Mr Wang. "How can they place Jesus together with these false idols!" (After all, in Christianity there is only one true God, and the rest are false idols - don't accuse me of being seditious now, I'm just telling you what the Bible says).
Being a good Catholic, Mr Wang immediately picks up the phone and calls the police to say, "I demand that you impound Sri Sri's passport and investigate him for deeply offensive offences under the Sedition Act!". And the dutiful police proceed to do so.
Think about it. Is this a possible scenario? Of course. What could happen next? I leave it to your imagination. Play out the permutations. Make them dramatic - since we're all just imagining.
Imagine bewildered Sri Sri followers; angry Hindus (how come their deity is "false"?); offended Catholics; offended Buddhists ("what's so wrong about putting up a picture of the Buddha?"); and Falungong followers going, "See? See? The Singapore authorities are crazy! Even breathing exercises are not allowed!"
Then ask yourself - did things really work out better for Singapore ... because Mr Wang made that phone call to the police? And whatever your answer may be - isn't that the kind of society that we now seem to be drifting towards?
I'll let Sri Sri have the last word: