ST: Keep religion above ‘petty politics’, says Vivian

27 April 2009
Straits Times

Keep religion above ‘petty politics’, says Vivian 

Following Aware saga, he urges groups to be ‘rainbow coalition’ 
By Li Xueying 

IN SINGAPORE’S multiracial and multi-religious society, it is ‘potentially dangerous’ for religion to ‘descend into the fray of petty politics’, warned the Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports yesterday.

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan made it clear that it is not a good idea to mix religion and what he called the hurly-burly of politicking on the ground.

He gave this piece of advice yesterday when commenting on the dispute between the new and old leaders in the ongoing saga at the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware).

Speaking after a ministerial visit to Nee Soon South, Dr Balakrishnan prefaced his remarks by stressing that the Government would not be getting involved ‘at this point in time’.

Saying the dispute is ‘not a national problem’, he added: ‘This is a problem they (Aware) have to solve themselves. Let me state categorically that at this point in time, the Government has no intention of intervening.

‘Let them settle this democratically, according to their own rules, abiding with their constitution.’

But what he would do was to offer three pieces of advice – not to just Aware, but also to all Singaporeans.

ONE: Religion should be kept out of petty politics.

‘It is potentially dangerous for religion to descend into the fray of petty politics – and more important than that, because we live in a multiracial and multi-religious society, we want to protect and nurture the special place religion has in our society.

‘We don’t want our religious organisations to be compromised or be damaged by the hurly-burly of politicking which occurs on the ground.

‘It’s not a good idea to mix the two.’

TWO: Do not let one issue hijack the agenda and polarise Singapore.

Singapore, he said, is a diverse society and there will always be some issues that not everyone can agree on. ‘We need to be able to learn to live and let live, to agree to disagree and to do so agreeably.

‘But don’t let these single issues polarise and divide us, and become the be-all and end-all of your social activism or of your organisation. If you allow these single issues to dominate and hijack your agenda, I think you’re not going to succeed – it’d be counter-productive.’

THREE: A rainbow coalition is vital for any group here to make meaningful change.

‘If you want to make meaningful change to our society, in the case of Singapore, you must build a rainbow coalition,’ he said.

‘You must always make sure that your group has representation from all the different streams and segments that constitute Singapore.

‘That is the only way to make meaningful change which would benefit all Singaporeans.’

Bear these three points in mind, he said, and Singaporeans can have ‘a more mature civil society’ in which people can take ownership of issues for the common good, maintain a unique cohesion, and have an open, tolerant and secular society, ‘without worrying about unnecessary angst and anger’.

Last Thursday, it was revealed that several of Aware’s new leaders had been urged to take charge by lawyer Thio Su Mien, who said the old leadership had lost sight of its original purpose and was preoccupied with promoting lesbianism and homosexuality.

Of the nine new faces at the helm, at least four attend the same church as Dr Thio.

The old guard, in refuting the claims, said Aware’s founding principle was inclusiveness and that it has tackled many issues, from single mothers and migrant workers to violence against women.

Homosexuality figures in only a small part of its many programmes and activities, they added.

They also said that what has transpired is a ‘threat to Singapore’s pluralistic society’.

Aware will hold an extraordinary general meeting on Saturday.

Dr Balakrishnan believes it is still possible for the two sides to abide by the three points he made.

‘I will urge everyone concerned to pay attention to the long term,’ he said. ‘There are many more fundamental challenges facing the women of Singapore. It’d be good if we can focus on that and not be distracted.’

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