Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Are you AWARE of the implications?

Unless you were living under a rock for the past month, you would have heard about the AWARE saga. For the sake of the earthworms who did live under a rock for the past month, here's a short summary. The old Exco was unceremoniously booted out of the woman rights' association by a sudden turnout of new members who voted their own compatriots in. The mysterious newcomers were silent on their stand or viewpoint on feminist issues, and drew public speculation on their intentions for pulling such a coup.

It later emerged that the new group came from the same church, who had strong anti-homosexual opinions. They alleged that the old Exco condoned homosexuality instead of branding it as a negative trait, which promoted their coup to set up a new establishment. When contacted by the press, the church initially denied having any involvement in this coup, but the pastor later admitted to using the pulpit to encourage the congregation to support the new exco by joining AWARE to vote out the old guards and establish a new anti-homosexual order. And even more recently, it emerged that the previous dean of the law faculty Dr. Thio (a self-professed anti-homosexual "feminist") was masterminding the coup. And Dr Thio even claimed that the founding members of AWARE were her friends, a fact she was unable to substantiate when confronted by the founding members.

So exactly what is wrong with this debacle? Plenty. First of all, the coup was done in a legal way (certainly since they had a ex-lecturer of law on their side). But was it morally upright to stage a coup like this? There was no open disagreement with the old Exco prior to this, and the newcomers did not openly declare their agenda nor intentions. More importantly, the new Exco represented their church - an institution of high moral standings. Pulling off a coup like this reeks of sneakiness, hardly behaviour expected from people with supposedly high moral values. Not only did they oust the old Exco, the new Exco took pains to conceal their background (of being from the same church) and the pastor vehemantly denied instigating the church goers of being involved in the saga, until further investigations prompted him to admit otherwise. Such actions does not bode well for the individuals of supposedly high moral values.

They may truly believe in their moral stands and values against homosexuality, but to pull off a stunt in such a morally depicable fashion goes against every strand of morality. This puts the new Exco and the pastor at a poor moral position to preach about their religious beliefs. How can the public trust them to instill the right moral values of life when their behaviour is not exactly righteous to begin with? Decit and outright lies are the stuff of TV drama, hardly something one wants to associate with a church.

Secondly, and more importantly, the church serves as a vessel for moral beliefs and practices, not secular associations and groups such as AWARE. By hijacking the woman's association, the members were already guilty of overstepping their boundaries in propagating their beliefs. AWARE is an association to fight for the rights of ALL women, regardless of their sexuality and orientation. Will the new Exco fight the rights of a lesbian who has been abused or discriminated? Given their tough homosexual stance, it is highly unlikely - even though the victim certainly qualifies as a woman. This already puts them in a position that is contradictory to the goals of AWARE.

Take this example (of a secular group infiltrating a non-secular group to promote their beliefs) further, and we can soon imagine other scenarios if this was allowed to happen. Maybe some Buddhists groups may hijack the association of beef sellers to block the sales of beef, because they believe consumption of beef is evil. How about vegetarians taking over the pork seller assocation? Can we allow this precedence of AWARE to take place unchallenged?

Fortunately the civil society in Singapore is well and alive. The membership of AWARE multiplied ten fold to 3000 members in just a month, with concerned Singaporeans swarming the group to challenge the morality and legitimacy of the takeover. During the EOGM, the new EXCO was voted out with a vote of no confidence, and a new leadership was installed. This amazing show of civil participation is reassuring and impressive, and puts to rest any more notion that Singaporeans are indifferent to civil matters. We are beginning to see the stir of passion in Singaporeans to fight for what they truly believe in. Majulah!

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