The choice between ‘Wear White’ and those dressed in white

The crowd at the SDP rally (3 Sep 2015) at its peak, while party Secretary-General Chee Soon Juan was speaking, approx 9:26pm

The crowd at the SDP rally (3 Sep 2015) at its peak, while party Secretary-General Chee Soon Juan was speaking, approx 9:26pm

Unless new information comes in that casts a whole new light on what information is currently at hand, voters in Marsiling-Yew Tee constituency who are keen on a progressive, tolerant Singapore may want to signal their views by voting against the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) team.

I know John Tan and Wong Souk Yee personally and I have a high regard for both. They too are standing in Marsiling-Yew Tee. It is not easy for me to take the position I am now taking, but it is a matter of deep principle. Such is the nature of the group representation system that we sometimes have to make hard choices.

Damanhuri bin Abas is another candidate on SDP’s slate for Marsiling-Yew-Tee. While he was speaking at the SDP rally Thursday night in Choa Chu Kang stadium, a friend seated next to me whispered, “He’s the darling of the Wear White campaign.” I hadn’t known that, but as soon as I got home, I began searching.

Wear White was a nasty little campaign that in mid-2014 sought to demonise lesbian and gay people in the run-up to that year’s Pink Dot. Wear White was active again in 2015. It is one thing to express one’s view about gay relationships, it is quite another to use language that seeks to stigmatise and dehumanise.

However, it is important to first establish the connection between Damanhuri Abas and Wear White. At this juncture, this is not 100% clear (which is why my opening sentence above is phrased as it is). Though there are substantial indicators of a connection, I can’t yet find a smoking gun.

What I have found so far

Quite quickly, a websearch using the terms “Damanhuri” and “Wear White” came up with a tag on rilek1corner.com:

pic_201509_11

(http://rilek1corner.com/tag/wear-white/page/5/)

pic_201509_12The website seems merely to have re-posted a statement issued by the Fellowship of Muslim Students Association (FMSA), but the brief caption makes some link to Damanhuri Abas. Exactly what the link implies is not clear. Rumour is that he helped draft this FMSA statement dated 24 June 2014 (click on icon at right to see it), but it is not apparent from the statement itself, which I retrieved from FMSA’s Facebook page.

The statement makes sweeping references to “incest”, “hedonistic lifestyle” and “spreading of new diseases such as AIDS”.

pic_201509_13 pic_201509_17Interestingly, there is another statement on FMSA’s Facebook page, this one dated 3 March 2014, defending Syed Muhd Khairuddin Aljunied who had cast shocking aspersions on lesbians. I wrote about this incident in Lesbians dance before NUS professor’s eyes. Apparently, a letter of complaint had been sent to the NUS Provost about Khairuddin Aljunied’s inciteful words, and so FMSA came out to defend him. In this statement the LGBT community is described by FMSA as “Neo-Sodom-Gomorrah (NSG) community”, and in another sentence as having “infected” Singapore.

Likewise, the post on the FMSA Facebook page publicising this statement also says “with Hairudin Hamid and Damanhuri Abas”, (scrutinise image below) but once again the significance of such a mention is hard to figure out. All we can say is that in the general case, a post is tagged because the tagged person usually has a stake in it.

pic_201509_15

Nonetheless, what both statements show is the stance of FMSA with respect to equality and respect for LGBT persons. To the extent that Damanhuri is involved with FMSA — and a photo on FMSA’s website shows him involved in at least one recent activity — it becomes incumbent on him to disavow these statements if he does not subscribe to them. I believe he has not done so.

Earlier today, the website Aiseyman posted an image of a Facebook (?) conversation which appears to show Damanhuri explicitly saying he is against repeal of Section 377A, the law criminalising gay male sex. The proxy effect of keeping 377A is to institutionalise discrimination against all LGBT. Unfortunately, the date of this exchange is not clearly shown.

Damanhuri_377A_answer_aiseyman

(http://www.aiseyman.com/2015/09/03/aiseyman-is-sdps-damanhuri-abas-pro-lgbt-or-anti-lgbt/)

No information about FMSA office-bearers?

I next tried to see to what degree Damanhuri Abas is involved with FMSA. If he is only engaged as an outside consultant to help with its programs, we cannot hold him responsible for FMSA’s corporate stance (as evidenced in the issued statements), but if he is on the management committee or the like, then it’s quite a different matter.

FMSA’s registration (UEN) number is S61SS0174D. A search with the Registry of Societies (ROS) confirms that such an entity is on its rolls. However, when I tried to purchase a recent copy of its Annual Return — all entities registered with ROS are legally required to file Annual Returns (declaring its office-holders and providing information about its accounts, among other things) — the ROS server listed only 15 documents, the most recent of which was the Annual Return submitted by FMSA for 2001. Yes, 2001.

Had it not complied with the law in submitting its Annual Return for each of the past 14 years? I cannot see on the ROS website any provision for a society to be exempted from filing Annual Returns.

Might there be something faulty about ROS’s listing? A test search of a similar society showed nothing wrong. My test involved searching for Fellowship of Evangelical Students, a society that was founded in 1960, one year earlier than FMSA. The Fellowship of Evangelical Students had filed an Annual Return for 2014. Its Annual Returns for 2013, 2012, 2011, etc, were available too.

This no-find for FMSA on ROS’ server makes me wonder about FMSA’s own transparency and operational accountability. As it is, it does not list its office-bearers on its Facebook page or on its blogsite (http://1fmsa.blogspot.sg/)

Jasmine flowers in spring

Let me come back to Damanhuri’s speech at the SDP rally Thursday night. He spoke in Malay and English. I don’t understand enough Malay to tell you what he spoke about in the first part, but his English speech dwelled largely on discrimination faced by Malays. One specific example he gave was this: Muslim nurses who wanted to wear the tudung at work were not allowed to do so (I think he was referring to public hospitals). I hadn’t known that, and I would agree with him that this is rather ridiculous.

Now, I am usually alert to any religion making demands on public space, but in this particular instance I will take the view that whether nurses wish to wear a tudung has no relevance to the standard of patient care, which is how they should be judged professionally, nor does it impinge upon any other person’s freedom.

I expect any right-thinking person to apply the same logic to equal rights for gay people. Equal rights for gay people do not take away anybody else’s rights. Unless, of course some people see that they OUGHT to have a “right” to interfere with and restrict the autonomy and dignity of others…. in which case, what do they mean by equality?

But the most memorable part of his speech (for all the wrong reasons) was when he tried to lighten his argument. He said something to the effect that in any case, a tudung only makes a woman more beautiful, like a jasmine flower in spring. This is sexist. It reinforces the tendency to measure a woman by her looks; it once again implicitly adopts the male’s perspective — whatever his idea of beauty may be — as the dominant consideration.

A sexist attitude often correlates with an anti-gay one.

The choice to make

It is very easy to mouth the words and declare that one is “for” non-discrimination and acceptance of diversity. Indeed, this is the Singapore Democratic Party’s stand, and the least Damanhuri could do was to sing the same tune. But a closer examination will reveal to what extent a person actually lives these virtues. In his case, the evidence is very troubling. Speaking up for non-discrimination only for one’s own kind, while ignoring and (worse) denying equal respect and rights for others is not the real thing; in fact one could even argue that it is a distant cousin of sectarianism.

In Marsiling-Yew Tee, the candidates for the People’s Action Party are Lawrence Wong, Halimah Yacob, Ong Teng Koon and Alex Yam. I have considerable respect for Halimah Yacob; Lawrence Wong strikes me as being one toe away from putting his foot in his mouth but is generally all right. I don’t know much about Ong Teng Koon or Alex Yam.

This might make it easier for voters in Marsiling-Yew Tee to tell SDP that choosing someone like Damanhuri to be its candidate is not without consequences for the party. In the longer-term interest of truly promoting a progressive Singapore, this hard step needs to be taken (unless new information emerges that overturns what I have found).

In previous general elections (as recently as 2011 too), the SDP’s manifesto contained a statement that it supported repeal of Section 377A, consistent with its overall stance on equality and non-discrimination. This election, it does not seem to have a single manifesto. Last night, when I began researching Damanhuri Abas, I emailed the party to ask them to clarify whether they still hold this position or whether they are retreating from it. When/if I hear from them, I will publicise their reply.

Mirror image

Meanwhile, a mirror-image situation applies in Holland-Bukit Timah constituency. There, the SDP team is standing against a PAP team with an outspoken homophobe in its ranks. Christopher de Souza gave a particularly insulting speech during the 2007 parliamentary debate about Section 377A, full of slippery-slope scare-mongering. There is also Vivian Balakrishnan in the PAP team. In the 2011 general election, he made sly derogatory remarks against then-SDP candidate Vincent Wijeysingha’s sexual orientation.

The choice is clear.

19 Responses to “The choice between ‘Wear White’ and those dressed in white”


  1. 1 yuenchungkwong 4 September 2015 at 20:27

    so in 2011 SDP had candidate Vincent Wijeysingha, a gay activist, but he left SDP soon after; it cannot be mere coincidence that in 2015 SDP has someone with a very different attitude among its candidates

    • 2 Qwerty 5 September 2015 at 14:42

      Gay activist? Makes as much sense as Lee Hsien Loong as a heterosexual activist.

      There are people who support gay rights. Some are gay, some are heterosexual.

      See below (video). Is Paul Tambyah a gay activist then?

      If someone is an activist for children’s rights and happens to be gay, what do you call him?

  2. 3 Mary 4 September 2015 at 23:41

    Thank you Alex for highlighting this crucial and important issue. I’m shocked that the SDP has this candidate on the ballot. As much as I have personally suffered and been almost homeless from the HDB and PAP’s rules that only over-35’s can purchase flats, I will vote for them over such a hatemonger as Damanhuri appears to be. It’s disgusting and Wear White is a disgusting, bullying group stuck in the Stone Age.

    • 4 Raidi 6 September 2015 at 17:23

      In Alex’s article, Damanhuri’s stance appears to be unclear. There was no clear smoking gun. Can I suggest you write to Damanhuri directly at his FB and see if he “elak” or give a straight answer?

  3. 7 gentleaura 5 September 2015 at 02:57

    That may be his personal views. Perfectly valid opinion. But whether the party whip (SDP) is lifted when it comes to the actual vote (another big if – SDP gets into parliament) on such a human right remains to be seen.

    I doubt his disapproval (if his stance has not shifted) would be so much of an issue that would cause him to quit the party especially after elected.

  4. 8 gentleaura 5 September 2015 at 03:43

    This is the result of the PAP’s GRC and minority representation requirements. Liberal parties will find it difficult when scrambling for minority candidates that truly align their ideologies from fulling that requirement. In fact, many of them have prior knowledge of the party’s liberal stance, but choose to stand under their banner for reasons only known to themselves. They may not be truly loyal to the party’s cause and may have not walked the ground with them, only joining just before polls.

    The Reform Party’s team in AMK also have such a candidate. Though I’m not mentioning names, you would think that its ironic he’s standing with an openly gay candidate?

  5. 9 melbyfool 5 September 2015 at 12:35

    Headwear of any kind shouldn’t be worn if you are a healthcare professional because they are a potential carrier of bacteria.

    • 10 yawningbread 5 September 2015 at 12:47

      Then why is it the general rule in food handling situations that staff should tie up and cover their hair?

      • 11 wendy 5 September 2015 at 14:16

        i believe the rule is that hair must be tied up and not in your face etc, but it does not require a hat etc

    • 12 Medic 6 September 2015 at 16:34

      Exactly. The tudung, being a non-standard dress item, would have to be supplied by the nurse herself – this means that the hospital cannot enforce standards of hygiene, which is one consideration among others like professional appearance and ergonomic suitability, that it can enforce with other standard forms of clothing.

      Furthermore the tudung can obscure the face, which is not good form when one is in a position of caring for patients. This is undoubtedly an issue which has implications for security as well.

      All in all, having universal standards of dress for all your healthcare employees is right for practical reasons, and should not be compromised because of religious beliefs. If a hospital makes concessions for one religious belief, where do they stop? If they allow the tudung then to be consistent shouldn’t they have to allow magic underwear and ceremonial weapons if these were required by the nurses’ religions as well?

      • 13 Raidi 6 September 2015 at 17:30

        Tudung can obscure your face? What are you babbling?

        The tudung can be a standard dress item, why not?

        Look the point Damanhuri made was why the discrimination. So by extension, there should not be any discrimination and this should apply to other aspects of Singaporean lives as a matter of general principle which he needs to clarify.

      • 14 Gotcha! 6 September 2015 at 17:46

        Bullshit. Doctor’s ties are their own – why don’t the hygiene reasons apply here?

        Professional appearance and ergonomic suitability? How about hospitals where nurses dress the same as Catholic nuns?

        Choose your prejudices.

        Gotcha.

        This is a perfect example of deciding first what conclusion you want and then coming up with the reasons later. In this case it is so lame it takes only seconds to call out.

      • 15 Medic 6 September 2015 at 19:49

        The tudung can obscure the face depending on how it is worn, and the angle at which its wearer is facing. Like I said, it could have security concerns as well for this reason, which I trust is self-evident.

        A tie is very much unlike a tudung – it is worn over a shirt and so doesn’t have direct contact with the wearer’s skin. Additionally doctors who are treating patients (e.g. on-duty physicians in a particular ward as opposed to those who are merely doing consultations) either don’t have to wear ties, or can wear scrubs.

        Additionally, the argument that just because hospitals in other countries make their nurses dress like nuns does not mean that said attire is ergonomically ideal or superior to another attire that doesn’t restrict movement. Feel free to ask the opinion of any nurse or hospital administrator.

  6. 16 Sam 5 September 2015 at 13:12

    I think you should consider the maths. Damanhuri is only one out of four candidates. Why do you want to kick out the other three just because of the one. If the other three’s position is opposite of Damanhuri’s, there would be three votes against one.

    I think you should also consider whether reforming the political system is more important than LGBT issue. Personally, I would give priority to reformation of the system because only within a reformed system is there any chance of the LGBT issue having a fairer hearing and consideration.

  7. 18 A Weird Little Bird 6 September 2015 at 11:04

    This is no reason to vote against the opposition. The fact that you find the choice to vote for the Opposition GRC team so unpalatable is because of the GRC system which we all know which party came up with and has refused to abolish all these years.

    Once you see it that way, you should cast your vote against the party which came up with the GRC system, no matter how credible the candidates on either side are.

  8. 19 Wondering 6 September 2015 at 20:38

    Alex, how does one, especially when voting in a GRC, “signal their views” as you suggest, on one candidate’s stand on any one particular issue, especially when this stand is clearly not the party’s stated stand? It will only come across as “I mostly disagree with your party’s overall position on all matters” if one votes against the party. Worst still, it could also be taken to mean that “I disagree with the party’s stand on THIS issue” which is the exact opposite message of what one may hope to give.


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