Lunch menu a 4-point letter

The head of the church was told to present himself. Although couched as an invitation to lunch, it wasn’t hard to see it for what it was — a summons to appear before Caesar for a dressing down.

Could he bring another priest along? he asked.

No. Come alone. 

* * * * *

In June this year, I wrote about a rally held at Hong Lim Park. Hundreds turn up at rally against arbitrary detention was about Function 8′s campaign to abolish the Internal Security Act, the law that allows detention without trial. I understand that the event was jointly organised with Maruah, a human rights group.

What I didn’t know then, but only came to hear of it recently, was that there was a back story to that event. It’s a very unsettling story about the way power is wielded in Singapore, though it also raises some difficult questions, which I will come to below.

Prior to the rally scheduled for 2 June 2012, a letter reached the organisers from the head of the Catholic Church in Singapore, Archbishop Nicholas Chia. It was an unsolicited letter and a complete surprise. In the warmly-worded letter, the archbishop expressed his support for the rally and, I am told, endorsed the call for the abolition of the law in question. The letter has since been withdrawn, as this story will detail. I myself have not seen the letter; my reports of it, and of subsequent events, are second-hand.

A few days later, government officers, believed to be from the Internal Security Department, paid a call to the archbishop. It was apparently suggested to him that the church might be being made use of by Function 8 — a rather strange way to see things when it was a totally unsolicited letter. How could Function 8 be trying to make use of the church when they didn’t even ask for such a letter?

Exactly why the archbishop, out of the blue, chose to pen the letter is not known, but the Catholic Church was implicated in the arrests of over 20 persons in 1987/1988. These persons were accused of being engaged in a ‘Marxist Conspiracy’ to overthrow the government, but were never given an open trial. The June 2 rally was also intended to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the arrests.

* * * * *

The persons who were arrested had for several years prior been working with low-wage workers helping them get a fairer deal and informing them of their rights. They were motivated by the Roman Catholic Church’s social teaching to care for the vulnerable and marginalised. For example, Vincent Cheng, who was detained for two years, wrote:

We in the seminary were directly affected with regard to our priestly training, our theological studies, and our ecclesiastical mission. The priest was now envisioned as a shepherd, devoted not only to care for the personal salvation of the individual soul, but also to promote the social salvation of this world. Justice and peace became areas of primary concern, based on the inalienable dignity of the human person.

– Vincent Cheng, in That we may dream again. Ed: Fong Hoe Fang

He deferred his ordination after completing his training in order to work in the “real world”.

What made the following years a turning point in my life was the fact that, for the first time, I was thrown into a sea of injustices. An ecumenical community building project called the Jurong Industrial Mission had been started in the new industrial township… [snip]

… The training was tough, demanding constant interaction with the residents who were mainly lower-income Singaporeans and young workers from Malaysia.

Never in my life had I seen so much hardship and pain, injustice and repression.

– ibid.

A week after the first wave of arrests on 21 May 1987, then-archbishop Gregory Yong and 23 priests held a solidarity mass to pray for the detainees and their families. 2,500 people attended, according to a published chronology of events. A pastoral letter supporting the detained Church workers was also read in all Catholic churches.

Then-prime minister Lee Kuan Yew summoned the archbishop to a meeting, and it was probably no coincidence that four priests soon after “resigned” from all their Church positions. Their preaching duties were also suspended.

The detainees felt that the leadership of the Church had capitulated and disowned them.

* * * * *

Nicholas Chia in 2012 might have been mindful of Gregory Yong’s fast retreat in 1987. Despite having been visited by the two officers, he sent a message to Function 8 to say that the organisers could announce to the crowd at the rally that they had received a letter of support from the Catholic Church. However, could they not read out the full contents of the letter please?

As far as I know, Function 8 had not asked the archbishop if they could read out the letter, so how did the archbishop even know it was a possibility?

My best guess is that it was discussed internally among the organisers, but the discussion was bugged. Perhaps their discussion of this idea was then relayed to the archbishop by the two officers at the meeting.

But Chia’s half-retreat was not good enough for the government. So, in a reprise of 1987, the archbishop was summoned to lunch with Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean. He was told to show up alone.

I don’t know what transpired at the lunch, but the result was soon apparent. A fresh letter from the archbishop was sent — this time by registered mail, no less — to Function 8, withdrawing the first letter and asking for it to be returned. It said that the first letter “does not express my sentiments” or something to that effect. What was particularly notable however was that this fresh letter was written in civil service style, with four numbered paragraphs and curt language.

I think we know enough to be able to paint in what really happened at the lunch.

Has anything changed since 1987? What “opening up” is this government boasting about?

* * * * *

However, readers should also pause and recall what happened during the Aware saga. That was when a group of fundamentalist Christian women launched an audacious raid to seize control of Aware, a women’s rights organisation, aiming to reverse the increasingly gay-friendly tone of the organisation. The raiders were egged on by the pastor of their smallish church, which was part of the Anglican communion.

The government then arm-twisted the head of the Anglican church in order to get him to rein him his local pastor. The position the government took was that religious leaders and groups should not be getting involved in causes with a political element.

Liberal-minded Singaporeans were aghast at the way religiously-motivated women seized control of a secular organisation for their homophobic objectives. They were surely glad that the government stepped in to stop the church from getting further involved. But in the light of that, where does one stand on the Nicholas Chia incident? To be consistent, shouldn’t one be equally glad that he was summoned to lunch?

Some might suggest that the two incidents are not entirely comparable. In the case of the ‘Marxist Conspiracy’ arrests and the 2 June 2012 rally commemorating them, the Catholic Church was already involved — albeit way back — accused by the government of being the indirect promoter of the kind of social work the arrested persons were doing. Even today, the church has a responsibility to atone for the wretched way it abandoned its own priests and lay workers 25 years ago, some might say, and the now-withdrawn letter of support it initially issued was a reasonable response to this history.

What do you think?

67 Responses to “Lunch menu a 4-point letter”


  1. 1 ricardo 18 September 2012 at 19:52

    http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/singaporelocalnews/print/1210424/1/.html

    DPM Teo has pubicly stated, “”Third, there should be a system of succession that can take the country forward beyond one or two generations.”

    It is obvious that he has taken on the mantle of our Lord LKY that he may rein in Venomous and other religions.

    The Ministries of Love & Truth will do their best in this worthy cause and ensure History is corrected to reflect their .. I mean the Truth.

    Against such forces, no Princes & Principalities can prevail.

  2. 2 swh 18 September 2012 at 20:15

    I admit upfront I do not know a lot about the abovementioned issues, but I think that the contexts differ slightly. It was abit hard to look at the three events you highlighted separately with the format of your article.

    The first issue involving helping out underprivileged workers did not have a religious overtone to it. Meaning that the actions undertaken by Vincent Chong et al. were undertaken with the motivation of compassion, something which is religious-neutral and perfectly understandable, and thus one might argue that their detention was wrong, and perhaps extreme.

    You mentioned that “But in the light of that, where does one stand on the Nicholas Chia incident? To be consistent, shouldn’t one be equally glad that he was summoned to lunch?”.with regard to the second issue.

    I would like to point out that it is highly fallacious to draw this comparison here. It is debatable whether the letter withdrawal pertaining to the ISA support was justified or not – personally I believe that religious institutions should not express support or protest of govt policies, that religion and the secular state must be separated. I am also willing to acknowledge, however, of the alternative viewpoint that the backhand politics in the closed door lunch may be hard for someone to swallow.

    However, I would like to disagree your reason of historical baggage and your insistence on consistency in treating the issues as one. Firstly, just because the catholic church were involved in all three incidents do not make these incidents linked, and therefore should not demand the same judgment. I believe a nuanced approach has to be taken here – we recognise that the deprivation of understanding of working rights back in the 80s is WRONG; we debate over whether religious institutions should be allowed to express support for the ISA – whether that constitutes religious impediment into political affairs, or whether it is the govt being overly controlling. Yes, I am fine debating over that.

    However, we also recognise the importance of keeping religious institutions separate from the secular notion of the state. I believe most, if not all, Singaporeans would agree. And I would like to point out that your conflation of all three events may misguide readers. The act of religious representatives attempting to seize control of aware is a direct affront towards a political affair – that of the country’s stand on sexuality. And yes, people have been complaining about how some of the decisions made are unfair at times, where the LGBT stance should be in sg is still a hot topic for debate ad infinitum.

    But that is the point, you see. We debate about such issues and entrust the govt to represent us. The fundamental principle of separating the secular state from ANY religion (not just christianity) is something that Singaporeans hold dear and since it’s a fundamental principle, we cannot let it in any way be infringed upon. Religious involvement in politics has several effects for countries like the US, and religious control OVER politics, in other instances, has created social settings which Singaporeans won’t want to believe in. So, on this point, I am dead set on my opinion.

    Please do not conflate the issues, there is a difference in the nature of controversy in all three instances and nuance, instead of consistency, should be advocated.

    • 3 Su Hui 18 September 2012 at 23:47

      A separation of religion and state does not mean that religious organisations should refrain from getting involved in politics. It simply means that the state should not be imposing any religious views on its population. I believe that there is nothing wrong with religious institutions having some say in political matters too, as they are stakeholders as well.

      • 4 Appleyes 22 September 2012 at 00:22

        No, because religious organisations have believers and the believers would be prone to treat any pronoucements as instructive. If they want to have a say in political matters as an organisation, then form a political party or Interest group. But not act as a political voice as a religious organisation.

    • 5 Constructive Lee 19 September 2012 at 01:18

      Dear SWH

      Yes, the separation of religious institutions and the state is wise. We CANNOT however be absolutists concerning this separation. MUIS, an islamic religious organization is part of our state apparatus. In the area of education there is a structural relationship between the MOE and schools with a strong religous (church and Islamic) background.

      It is impossible to separate religion from society. A person’s religions convictions deepens his obligations as a citizen and sometimes propels him to correct injustices in society. This is a healthy development in any society. The average person knows how to channel his religous motivations in a manner which will not undermine the secular nature of society.

      Elected officials are happy when religious institutions and their leaders involve themselves in political matters only when the nature of the involvement is supportive of the ideology and the practice of these elected officials.

      The problem arises when elected officials feel threatened by declarations from religious institutions. Politicians only get nervous about church state relationships when their interests are perceived as being threatened by statements from churches and activities related to church based organisations.

      Bottom line: The separation of church and state is only valid when elected officials feel threatened.

    • 6 ricardo 19 September 2012 at 06:14

      SWH, as a somewhat Heretical Christian, I’d like to point out that Christ asks his followers to feed & succour the poor, visit the prisons and speak out against injustice .. not just pray for their souls. In 1987, our Lord LKY objected to even praying for those he imprisoned & tortured unjustly.

      Archbishop Chia expressed support for an event bringing attention to great injustice in 1987 carried out by evil & opportunistic people (still) in power. An attempt to ensure this misuse of power for personal & political ends can never happen again.

      This is well within the remit of what Christ taught .. and indeed of most of the major religions including those considered venomous by our Lord LKY.

      We do indeed entrust the Govt. to represent us. One thing that we expect is that they would never be so evil as to use their powers to imprison & torture innocents for personal & political aims.

      1987 proved the naivety of this expectation so we must make sure they never have the tools to do this again.

      The Christian Church has been guilty of many great sins; usually when it allied itself with Secular Princes.

      But it has also been a major player for good as Christ asks of us. You may remember a certain Martin Luther King and more recently, Desmond Tutu.

      All people, of all religions, or no religion at all, governments too, need to be on the lookout for injustice … and speak out and fight against it.

      SWH, you might like to find out more about these issues. Your ignorance is a testament to the efficiency of the Min. of Truth in ‘correcting’ History.

      Try Teo Soh Lung’s Facebook. She was one of the lawyers tortured & imprisoned in the second round.

      The 3 issues share a common thread. It is the Min. of Love’s handling of religious involvement.

      In one case, there is a clear cut attempt by some church members to foster homophobia. The govt. is clearly right to condemn this as it is right to condemn xenophobic statements on Facebook. I like to think that most Singaporeans would also condemn both types of behaviour.

      In the other 2 cases, the Min. of Love (presently under DPM Teo) is used at the highest level to ‘persuade’ the church to keep quiet about crimes committed by past & present members of the Govt. There is a difference between the Min. of Love’s offer of extended holidays to ‘create’ Truth and the Min. of Truth apparatchiks like CNA, ‘correcting’ the Truth after the event. But both actions are reprehensible,

      Of course, you may feel that it is OK for the rich & powerful to use detention & torture for personal & political ends. And that it is good to keep giving them multi-million Dignity as long as some of this Dignity comes your way. And that no-one, Church & other religious leaders included, should speak out against injustice and rock the boat.

  3. 7 yuen 18 September 2012 at 20:44

    I feel the crucial question is: do the actions of the three church officials (the two catholic bishops and the anglican pastor) represent the positions of their organizations? if not, then they had no choice but to shift; how that shift was brought about and what part external forces played to help cause the shift is interesting too, but separate

  4. 8 chrishansenhome 18 September 2012 at 22:12

    The Romans don’t care much for strained relations with Caesar. I agree that your reading of the situation is probably correct. However, I am certain that a report went to Rome about the whole affair. Next time the Prime Minister or the President visits Rome and wants to have an audience with the Pope, I wouldn’t bet on it being granted.

    One wonders what the government held over His Grace’s head in order to get him to agree to withdraw the letter. Even the Singapore Government would find it difficult to prohibit the Roman Catholic Church from effectively operating, no? We are wearily familiar here in the UK of politicians accepting kudos from religious leaders when they do something that suits religion,but having the same politicians tear into religious leaders when the leaders condemn some injustice committed by the government. The refrain is, “The bishops shouldn’t get involved in politics.” But here, 26 of the Anglican Bishops are members ex officio of the House of Lords. So they are politicians whether the Government likes it or not.

    Perhaps the Archbishop needs to discover where he misplaced his spine.

    • 9 yuen 19 September 2012 at 09:29

      I have not seen press reports about teo-chia meeting, but remember the report about lee-yong meeting well

      archbishop yong went to see PM lee (whether invited there or on his own initiative I do not know) to express the church’s concern about the arrests; when the talk finished, PM lee told him the reporters were waiting outside to hear his views, and he agreed to be interviewed though reluctantly – archbishop yong later told his church associates that he felt “cornered” and did not see how the press interview could be avoided – and among various things, he said the arrests did not indicate the government was against his church, which was understood by the reporters to be a kind of exoneration; his use of “cornered” later, on the other hand, was understood to be a kind of complaint, which he then had to deny;

      as far as I can read into it, yong’s hand with the press was weakened by these two episodes

    • 10 roni63 19 September 2012 at 11:00

      I am afraid the Archbishop doesn’t have one. It is unfortunate really.

  5. 11 Lim Chye 18 September 2012 at 22:19

    Hmmm…wonder what Chee Hean and the Archbishop had for lunch?

    Catherine Lim should stop telling everyone that Spore is in a post LKY era.

  6. 12 David teo 18 September 2012 at 22:32

    The Truth will set us free. David Teo

  7. 15 whyigiveup 18 September 2012 at 22:47

    Alex, I think the AWARE takeover and the Nicholas Chia incident are different if we look at it through the lens of human rights advocacy. The AWARE saga had a church leader egging on the side for “less rights” – in this case, GLBT rights. The Nicholas Chia incident had the church leader supporting the cause for “more rights”, as in the right to a proper trial to prove detention-worthiness. I don’t know if this is classified as a human right, but I’d assume that abolishing the ISA is predicated on some inalienable right of a detainee to a fair and unbiased trial – one whose decision is unfettered by unscrupulous political intrigue.

    Looking at it through the consistent lens of “rights” and “freedom”, one should not have a problem deciding where to stand on the Govt stepping in in Nicholas Chia’s case. I for one, am not glad that he was summoned for lunch. I am certainly glad though that in the AWARE saga the Anglican head was licked for lunch.

    I know the Govt’s official reason for its actions in the AWARE saga was that religions should not get involved in causes with a political element. But I think the real motives are simply for political expediency. In the AWARE saga, they lunched because failing to do so would make people think it was okay for religions to issue strident clarion calls against minorities or segments of society. Leaving the saga to “resolve itself” was leaving too much to chance. What if other religions stepped into the fray, creating a toxic religious conflict – the very scenario the PAP keeps bringing up to support its own agendas? Better to just nip it in the bud with one religious leader, and the rest will be auto-pacified by the neutral stance.

    In Nicholas Chia’s case, the self-serving nature of the Govt.’s luncheon is more obvious. They of course do not want the ISA abolished, and would rather keep it sheathed as a convenient, though not-quite-so symbolic law, to be brandished at their own whim and fancy for their own nefarious purposes.

    • 16 yawningbread 18 September 2012 at 22:54

      You wrote: “I don’t know if this is classified as a human right, but I’d assume that abolishing the ISA is predicated on some inalienable right of a detainee to a fair and unbiased trial – one whose decision is unfettered by unscrupulous political intrigue.

      I don’t think there should be any doubt at all that detention without a fair trial constitutes a violation of human rights. See Universal Declaration of Human Rights – which all members of the UN have to accede to if they want to be a member of the UN:

      Article 8: Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.

      Article 9: No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

      Article 10: Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.

      • 17 AJW 19 September 2012 at 01:59

        Where does it say that every member of the UN has to accede to the UDHR?

      • 18 yawningbread 19 September 2012 at 09:41

        The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is not a treaty, but a declaration. It does not require accession. However, as stated here (http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/AboutUs/IK_What_we_do_En.pdf) the UDHR “has over time been widely accepted as a set fundamental norms of human rights that all Governments should respect.”

        Moreover, the UN passed a Human Rights Council resolution in 2007 that requires member states to submit themselves to Universal Periodic Review (UPR). This mechanism reviews a country’s human rights record every four years on several bases, including but not limited to (a) the Charter of the United Nations; (b) the UDHR, (c) various human rights treaties and conventions that the state has signed, and (d) various pledges and commitments made by states at previous UPR sessions.

        From my personal experience writing up an assessment of Singapore’s human rights record for the UPR process, the format of such reports requires us to cite which articles of the UDHR and treaties that Singapore has signed are being violated. Thus it is clear that Singapore, like all other UN members, is being held accountable to the provisions of the UDHR.

      • 19 whyigiveup 19 September 2012 at 09:48

        Thanks for the clarification on the universal declaration. It definitely calls into question why Singapore has not been expelled from the UN. Do Singaporeans even know, let alone care about these fundamental rights? Do our schools teach about these rights in the syllabus? In my opinion, the answer is no.

        You have asked in your article, how much has changed since 1987′s arrests. I think you were referring to how much the Govt has changed right? I think it is just as important to ask how much have Singaporeans’ attitudes changed since 1987. I read Teo Soh Lung’s “Beyond the Blue Gate” and recall how she felt bitter about Singaporeans’ lack of interest in her plight and how the judicial system in this case had failed. She felt she could not count on Singaporeans to care about these rights abuses because they had their own livelihoods to worry about. In 1987, most Singaporeans were aware at some level, that her case was unjust and a violation of human rights, but they chose to dismiss it as a simple, “She stuck her neck out too far, made too much noise, so it’s her problem – not mine”, issue.

        In 2012, we should really question how Singaporeans would react if another similar ISA arrest were made. It is easy to say we now have the internet, social media, some human rights advocacy groups, Hong Lim Park, Speaker’s Corner, but be honest and ask yourself how much have the people themselves changed? Would they be willing to stand up and say, enough is enough? Or do they still place such a high premium on their own livelihoods, enough to ignore such non-bread and butter issues?

  8. 20 The Cherry Tree 19 September 2012 at 00:04

    The incident involving Christian fundamentalists attempting to set back a secular organization such as AWARE certainly cannot be compared to the one involving Teo Chee Hean’s “lunch” with Nicholas Chia regarding his unsolicited letter of encouragement to Function 8 for their anti-ISA rally. The former saw a group of religious fanatics trying to get in the way of human rights, while the latter has an archbishop of the Catholic church supporting the preservation of human rights. Of course, just as the government will not tolerate racial or religious disharmony in Singapore, it also will not tolerate anyone who may, at least to its inherent paranoia, threaten its iron grip on the people of Singapore.

  9. 23 Ken 19 September 2012 at 00:04

    Well, I don’t suppose most people approve of religious organisations or representatives “interfering” in politics (however, did the Archbishop’s letter of support really constitute religious “interference” in politics – and who gets to decide what’s interference and what isn’t?). But isn’t the way our government responded to these incidents even more objectionable? So tacky really – an intimidation session dressed up as a lunch appointment. Surely there are more elegant ways of dealing with wayward holy men. Issue a press statement condemning the act? Impose a fine? Refuse the renewal of their permit to function as a religious organisation, and force them underground?

  10. 24 Tan Tai Wei 19 September 2012 at 00:08

    Freedom of religious worship is incompatible with preventing a religion such as Christianity (which teaches a “living God” who is involved, and reveals His will to His votaries in the context of their involvement, in human affairs) from making a public stand on national issues. In such religions, true worship must include active social concerns. So the Archbishop was trying to act true to his worship and responsibilities to his flock. The government’s fear, however, is probably that views taken on religious backing have had sometimes the tendency to result in irrational and socially disruptive behaviour. But why the umbrella ban? Why not treat it case by case, considering, say, the nature of the issue, and the nature of the person/s wanting to make a public stand on some issue? Is it imaginable that having the Archbishop’s letter read and published would result in any religious warfare? Would the discriminating case by case affect “equality before the law”? Why should it, as long as it is equally applied across all religions?

  11. 25 Nelson Young 19 September 2012 at 00:20

    As a catholic, I still await the day where we dare to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.

    To help our fellow man is surely to render to God what he wants. If Caesar disagrees with this, then the Church should be ready to follow the founder’s example instead of capitulating.

    What a lack of leadership by the church so far.

  12. 26 roni63 19 September 2012 at 01:10

    I am a Catholic myself and I am ashamed that my Catholic church here in Singapore has twice shown itself to be a coward. This was a chance for the church to redeem itself, if not for anything or anyone but for those who worked or volunteered for the church and was punished with detention without trial, and the church then turned its face away from these victims. They were victims of the government and the Catholic church then and they continue to be victims of the government and the Catholic church now.

  13. 29 sgwitness 19 September 2012 at 01:10

    Assuming that the lunch incident did happen and that there were indeed such exchanges between the Archbishop and Function 8, then it simply means that the government continues to be wary of the power of religion and would feel very uncomfortable anytime religion is seen to actively advocate a position on any political issue that is in opposition to the government position.

    The government is being smart to take such a position to safeguard its own interest because if a religious leader is allowed to set the precedent of supporting a political stance that is anti-government, other religious leaders may be tempted to follow suit. And then overnight, religion will become capable of threatening the political power elite. Which government will want that?

    • 30 Billy Chow 20 September 2012 at 00:48

      Yeah so what happens if the government of the day goes rogue and the interests of the people are at stake? It is the right of groups, be they religious or civic, to do something to clip the power of govts gone who’ve gone awry

  14. 31 octopi 19 September 2012 at 01:20

    Let us have a thought experiment. Suppose that what was conveyed in the bishop’s lunch with Teo Chee Hean was “if you openly support the Function 8 event, there will be consequences to your catholic workers”. And suppose we had operation spectrum in Singapore all over again. Will there be consequences?

    Will the people in Singapore find a chill washing over them, and retreat back into their shells and keep their heads down and forget about free speech, or will they fight back even harder, with the consequence of a few more GRCs lost in 2016?

    Stalin asked the very interesting questions, “how many divisions does the pope have?” So this is the thing – the relationship between the people and the government is the constant pushing of boundaries. We have to keep on figuring out where the lines are drawn. What is the government prepared to do to rein in the people’s power, and what are the people prepared to do to rein in the government’s?

    • 32 octopi 19 September 2012 at 01:23

      TL;DR: If Operation Spectrum were to take place today, how would the Singaporean people react?

      • 33 Su Hui 19 September 2012 at 10:54

        The Internal Security Act is still in force and people are still being detained without trial.

      • 34 octopi 19 September 2012 at 17:33

        Yes, but the difference between people like Mas Selamat being detained without trial for trying to blow up Changi Airport, and ISA being abused a la Operation Spectrum is the difference between night and day. The existence of ISA per se, and the Operation Spectrum style abuse are related but different issues.

      • 35 Su Hui 20 September 2012 at 09:43

        Why should the current use of the ISA be viewed differently from its past use? The law has not changed – and the government still does not have to prove its allegations in open court. There is no reason why we should believe the allegation that Mas Selamat was a dangerous terrorist any more than we believe that the people arrested under Operation Spectrum were Marxist Conspirators.

      • 36 octopi 21 September 2012 at 17:03

        Where we differ is: you do not think that there is a legitimate use for detention without trial. A good metaphor for detention without trial is the capture of an enemy combatant in a war. We don’t give them a trial because we don’t want to tell the terrorists (since terrorists, don’t forget, are also members of the public) everything we know about them. We don’t want to disclose the methods we are using to track them.

        If it were true that ISA was merely about taking peoples’ rights away, it would be a straightforward case to abolish ISA. But it is not so simple. The British used the ISA to defeat the commies in Malaysia (don’t believe LKY when he said that he was the one who defeated the communists. He was only there to mop up the remnants the British left behind). It is not about the way it was used in the past vs the way it’s used now. It’s about whether you’re using it for the right purposes.

        Do you remember the bomb blasts in Bali? Bali was plan B. Singapore was plan A.

        There are other ways of dealing with terrorists. Like outright murder, drone attacks. Would you prefer that instead? Or there might be other ways of dealing with terrorists, for example it might be possible to monitor and deter terrorists using new surveillance weapons, which make it unnecessary to physically capture terrorists. Maybe we might be interested in cyber warfare instead. Well there are a lot of things to consider before abolishing ISA. Not just whether or not a few people think that it’s unfair. At the end of the day you have to weigh the costs and the drawbacks.

      • 37 yawningbread 22 September 2012 at 00:21

        You speak about terrorists, but how do you know someone is a terrorist unless there’s a trial?

      • 38 octopi 22 September 2012 at 08:24

        Technically, a person is not a terrorist until he does the deed. Therefore Mas Selamat is not a terrorist, just a potential terrorist.

        You can’t know for sure if he’s a terrorist. You just have to trust the govt. And in the minds of many, it’s a choice between the govt abusing their trust, and getting blown up in some random mishap. Which one is a bigger threat? I’m on the fence on this one. “Can you trust the government” is one of the salient questions. The other salient questioin is: at the end of the day you have to decide if detention without trial makes for more effective policing of potential terrorists. And maybe we shouldn’t argue about it so much: just do it, see what happens and act accordingly.

        In any case, terrorism in the physical world is becoming passe. Cybersecurity is the real thing now.

  15. 39 AJW 19 September 2012 at 01:58

    There isn’t a lot of fact that is being presented here besides the initial arrest of the Catholic workers in Operation Coldstore. Not that I don’t think it likely I don’t like “he said she said” crap that politicians have been playing on this island to distract from the issue.

    The main issue is should representatives of the church/other Religious institutions (whether or not the church body agrees) should get involved in anything political. And I think the answer is quite simply NO. Religion and the State have to be separate otherwise you will end up with religious zealots that try to impose their thinking on the rest of the population without thinking of the sensitivities involved.

    If a openly religious person wants to run for public office, I think that is fine, but for a religious leader, and appointee of the central doctrine, it shouldn’t be allowed. We can only see the power of religious persuasion in other countries and it sometimes doesn’t end well.

  16. 40 Chanel 19 September 2012 at 09:26

    There is no free lunch in Singapore, especially when the lunch invite is from the men in white!

  17. 41 MS 19 September 2012 at 09:39

    Didn’t the ISA detainees in 1987 also help out in WP organised events for the poor and disenfranchised? Wasn’t that one of the reasons for the arbitrary detentions?

  18. 42 mirax 19 September 2012 at 14:25

    Actually I would not like religious bodies to weigh in on political and social issues .
    1. they have no special expertise (other than the totally camp dresses and hats and beards) and often enjoy an unentirely undeserved false respect and privilege. Religion should be questioned as much as Government. Priests and politicians should be accountable far more than they are presently. Both have an unholy interest in wielding power over the masses.

    2. they have an agenda that is by nature divisive. Religion tends to promote an us-them dichotomy that obscures the issues in question. For example, the death penalty can be opposed for entirely secular ethical and moral reasons not because one believes in the “divine sanctity” of life. The Catholic church also relentlessly pushes a regressive and harmful position on sexual orientation, abortion and contraception. The other religions have similarly conservative viewpoints that limit individual choice and freedom.
    In the UK, muslim and hindu organisations have set up religious schools in the name of religious equality – the argument being, well the christians have them and so can we. Let in one bunch of god-bothering bigots, you cant close the gates against the others.

    So, being an Aware member who was involved in the fight back against the dominionist christians, I do not appreciate the government stepping in. yes, Aware may possiby have lost the battle at the EGM, but Singapore as a secular nation may have learnt a valuable lesson about the nature of religion being used to advance an ugly and divisive agenda. We might have learnt valuable skills on how to fight back effectively – in the press , in the court of public opinion and even maybe in a court of law. That’s how a democracy is built – citizens need to press for their own rights and not rely on politicians and priests to do so on their behalf.

    • 43 octopi 19 September 2012 at 17:35

      The problem with that argument is that every citizen is part of the government’s constituency, that obviously that includes people in religious organisations.

      • 44 mirax 19 September 2012 at 23:40

        What religious bodies are people ? The same way corporations are people in the US?

      • 45 mirax 19 September 2012 at 23:51

        An individual is always free to act on his religious convictons and to address public issues in the light of his beliefs. But to allow organisations of believers to enter the discourse will weight the discourse against minority voices, eg non-believers who may not be organised in similar fashion or have similar financial or political influence.

        Religious organisations also are influenced by outside or foreign influences. Muslims by events in the ME, Hindus by communal tensions in India, Evangelicals by rabidly anti-gay and anti-science stances imported from the US, the list is endless. The culture war will be endless.

      • 46 octopi 20 September 2012 at 02:38

        The issue here is that a person may speak out in his own capacity as a citizen, and echo the views of his religious organisation. So it’s still a citizen making his views heard, not the religious organisation. But what he is saying is the same as what his religious organisation says.

        Alternatively, you could vote into office a member of parliament who’s a fundie, and chances are he’ll get in if he belongs to a certain party. Then the fundie will have inordinate influence over lawmaking. So even if you ban religious organisations from entering the discourse, they may still have influence. And it’s even worse because it’s hidden influence. I mean Thio Li Ann was in parliament for 1 term, wasn’t she?

        So getting them involved in the discussion, where they can stand in front of the whole world and say whatever they mean, I don’t think that’s the worst scenario.

    • 47 whyigiveup 19 September 2012 at 18:02

      I would prefer religious bodies to stay out of political and social issues as well. This is because for many Abrahamic faiths in particular, the followers identify themselves first and foremost by their religion. Not by their nationality. If one prioritises religion over the society/nation he/she is born into, eventually there will be conflict of interests. For polytheist – near atheist faiths like Buddhism and Hinduism, this is less of a problem. They are more flexible.

      However, we must acknowledge that entities like the Church and to some extent the Muslim and Buddhist organisations have been front-runners on social issues like caring for the poor and down-trodden, the neglected segments of society. I deplore the way some religions have this “I help you, so you listen to my preaching” tactic. That’s not helping the weak – it’s exploiting them. But equally, there are many other sects that just help, and don’t expect anything in return.

      As many of them have been doing this for years, they have intimate knowledge of some neglected segments of society, so it will be a mistake to assume that religious groups have no special expertise in social issues. They might have a religious motivation behind their actions, but as long as they serve a common cause (NOT an ugly and divisive agenda) and know they must respect the secular nature of the cause, they should be allowed to chip in. Alienating all religions from a good social cause only cements the impression that such NGOs and social causes are exclusivist domains for atheists, elitists and well-educated. And to further add, if we alienate them, aren’t we guilty of the very same us-them dichotomy you pointed out?

      Sadly though, I know exactly where you are coming from with regards to religious people who “often enjoy an entirely undeserved false respect and privilege.” Talking to them openly is like talking to a brick wall. The problem stems from a host of issues – family, upbringing, amount of religious brainwashing, values taught by the pastor/imam/priest/guru/ whatever authority. We will encounter only more and more such people as time passes, and only because religious bodies are relatively autonomous with regards to teaching. As long as the religious councils remain immune to questioning – there will always be some that promote an ugly and divisive agenda. So you are right, these people need to be put under the spotlight more. The question is, who has the balls to do so? The Govt? I don’t think so.

      • 48 Kelvin Tan Tuan Wei 20 September 2012 at 19:38

        Your views reminds me of the saying, “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”

        I believe the PAP is fine with anyone helping the poor and the needy. What they are not fine with is when these helpers start to go beyond that and start to teach the poor about their rights or/and help political parties change the environment in order to give them a better solution to their poverty.

        Vincent Cheng, Teo Soh Lung et al did the latter and paid the price for it during Operation Spectrum.

        I have yet to read Soh Lung’s book but I noted with interest that you have stated she was bitter that the adult Singaporeans then did not care for her plight and just acted blur. Well I was only a young teenager then but if there is anything to learn, many of us who gave up liberty for the sake of security in 1988 are finding out now that we no longer have security nor liberty.

  19. 49 chrishansenhome 19 September 2012 at 16:05

    Actually I would not like religious bodies to weigh in on political and social issues.

    This subject comes up continuously when religion intersects with politics. Consider the poor. “The poor you will always have with you” is not only a statement of fact, it’s also an indictment of rulers and ruling cliques, who serve to keep resources concentrated in the hands of a few, rather than spread out to ensure that everyone is adequately housed and fed.

    Religious people are not somehow above the political facts of their times. Religious people work and vote just as non-religious people do. The fact is that when religious people use their voice and vote to help those who are downtrodden in society, they are embodying the values spoken of in the Beatitudes (see Matthew chapter 5), and other religions often actuate similar sentiments. Humanism, too, is motivated by charitable and humanitarian sentiments.

    When religious people challenge authorities to reduce inequality and poverty, they are often denounced by politicians are meddling in matters about which they know nothing. However, when religious people express other opinions that gibe with those held by politicians, the politicians accept their support. This is often seen when the less savoury parts of religion (such as racist, sexist, homophobic, and warmongering sections) are in accord with the wishes and sentiments of politicians.

    Just because a person is religious does not mean that they automatically lose their voice on political and social issues. The trick is for them to use their voices in ways that are congruent with their theology and philosophy, and work towards justice and equity for all.

    • 50 mirax 20 September 2012 at 00:06

      Just because a person is religious does not mean that they automatically lose their voice on political and social issues.

      You just shifted the goalpost there. The argument is against religious organisations having an automatic hearing in the public sphere.

      Also even within a religious community, there may be a multitude of opinions but since religious hierachies tend to be overwhelmingly conservative, even the liberal, heterodox or even heretical religious person is marginalised by there being only a single spokesman for that religion.

      • 51 octopi 20 September 2012 at 02:46

        You don’t really have a workable solution to this. How is it going to work? Religious organisations should be involved in government when they’re good, and not when they’re bad? How’s that going to work in practice?

        Or: ban members of religious organisations from entering parliament. How? You’re going to ban the majority of people in Singapore from running for office because they’re not atheist / freethinkers?

        How are you going to ban religious leaders from speaking in public? They need to apply for a license before every Sunday school session?

        What does it actually mean in practice when you say “religious bodies to weigh in on political and social issues” ? Which religion does not deal with political and social issues?

  20. 52 K Das 19 September 2012 at 22:21

    The very purpose of setting up religious organisations in the beginning was to evangelize as well as mend brazen social inequities. In fact the Church was a government unto itself in medieval times often sharing the spoils with royalty and (landed) gentry. Sometimes any two of them will collude to defang the third.

    You can take politics out of them but you can’t take them out of politics. They are innately inseparable. The Church and the Royalty have been systematically tamed over the years and have now lost much of the clout they once had. But the landed gentry have morphed into business houses and multi-national corporations having a strangle hold on the economy of every country under the sun.

    For all the grandstanding and chest thumping, governments can only take on the corporate world at their own risk because the latter can break governments and make governments as and when they are forced to (when policies changed or initiated are inimical to their vital interests) and USA is a classic example.

  21. 53 lai 19 September 2012 at 22:35

    the author writes: … as far as I know, Function 8 had not asked the archbishop if they could read out the letter, so how did the archbishop even know it was a possibility? My best guess is that it was discussed internally among the organisers, but the discussion was bugged.’

    Function 8 should find out who among its organisers bugged the discussion.

  22. 55 mirax 20 September 2012 at 01:51

    Well, the dear little archbishop has responded with a press release and it is now Function 8 and you, Alex, who are the the “irresponsible” ones intent on disrupting the social harmony of Singapore. Watch out for incoming missiles. They are going to hit you hard for this.

  23. 56 Ennio 20 September 2012 at 11:00

    A smidgin of balls by the shepard might be helpful.

  24. 57 Jafri Basron 20 September 2012 at 11:41

    Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.”

    Deuteronomy 31:8
    New Living Translation (©2007)

  25. 58 curious cat 20 September 2012 at 11:51

    is everything was hush-hush, who told Alex about it?

  26. 59 oute 20 September 2012 at 12:12

    Did he sent a copy of the letter to the who is in charge.

  27. 60 dolphin81 20 September 2012 at 12:24

    Since the time of Roman Emperor Constantine in 312CE, the Catholic Church or its missionaries has been trying to side with political winners in order to maintain & enhance its position.

    The historical political winners include the Western Roman Emperors, Holy Roman Emperors, Napoleon Bonaparte, Ming/Qing Emperors & Adolf Hitler.

    Therefore, the SG Archbishops are just following the steps of their predecessors.

    Furthermore in the current SG context, ISA abolition will scare the Archbishop. He may be thinking “What if the JI people see abolition as an encouragement to bomb the churches?”

  28. 61 petulantchild 20 September 2012 at 13:08

    To those who think religion should be kept strictly out of politics and public opinions, do you then think that the late Pope John Paul II was wrong to get involved in politics by fighting against communism in Poland? That the Catholics priests who stood up against the injustices commited by the dictatorial Pinochet regime in Chile during the 1970′s were wrong to get involved? When the government finds its control is challenged by a religious group, even though the group is speaking up against injustices and violations of human rights, the group is branded as interfering in politics because the government feels threatened.
    The essence of Christ’s teaching is to speak up and help the downtrodden, the meek, the poor, and those who are subjected to injustices. If Christ appears in Singapore today, what do you think will happen to him?
    How I wish Archbishop Nicholas had said no to ISD to retract his letter and faced off the government bravely, taking a stand against human rights violations. Even if it means detention, it’s what Christ would have done.

    • 62 The Cherry Tree 20 September 2012 at 15:37

      I couldn’t agree more. Acting on one’s religious beliefs to stand up for the poor & oppressed is different from forcing one’s religious beliefs on others.

    • 63 Ennio 20 September 2012 at 22:53

      Like it or not, the catholic church has contributed greatly to the welfare of Singaporeans regardless of race, language or religion. It is not a threat, and the work done was not for political purposes. The real threat is nothing more than insecurity and paranoia of the government which recognises its own impotency in managing social issues. As a catholic, I am sorely disappointed at the response taken by the archbishop, and frankly embarassed.

    • 64 octopi 20 September 2012 at 23:51

      Religious organisations should be treated exactly like other NGOs, because that is what they are. The only difference is what relates to the religious harmony acts.

      Sometimes they participate in politics, and other times they don’t.

      They do both good and bad things, and if they want to do good things, we shouldn’t stop them.

    • 65 octopi 21 September 2012 at 00:25

      The other thing is: we want to hear the views of religions organisations aired publicly. They are treated specially, they enjoy special protections under the religious harmony act, and therefore we want to see them for what they are, we don’t want them to have sneaky agendas, the way some of them tried to overthrow AWARE a few years ago. If we don’t like or tolerate the government’s lack of transparency, neither will we tolerate a lack of transparency coming from religious organisations either.

  29. 66 Novelltie 23 September 2012 at 03:48

    a friend who once was head of Marriage Encounter, a catholic program that helps married couples stay married told me that the political turmoil in the roman catholic faith is more crazy than the outside world… people are more vicious and uncompromising…

    that is one of the few reasons i stayed out of church for a long long time…

    A Christian once said to me, “i have no religion, i only have relationship with God”…

  30. 67 Rushifa A Rushifa A 23 September 2012 at 09:00

    Chia gave his religion a bad name. And looking at his age, this incident might be his legacy. What’s the point of doing a lifetime of good, only to be cowed by the government for speaking up against unusual malice and cruelty? Of course they’ll try to play the political card. It’s in their interest to make it an issue of church and state being separate. If the police moved in to beat up and arrest protestors are all religious groups suppose to look the other way? I repeat, this was simply speaking up against unusual malice and cruelty. Yes, there is the issue of government sanctioned KGB style detainment of citizens without trial, legal representation or charges. Yes, chia is archbishop. and yes he folded like a pack of cheap cards


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