Earlier in March, Singapore’s most prominent (only?) women’s advocate group held their Annual General Meeting. Members were to vote and elect the executive board. As reported in The Straits Times (kudos to them for their neutral and objective reporting in this instance), it turned out to be a hostile takeover of sorts by a group of Christian fundamentalists whose track record has been more of oppression rather than liberation as preached by Jesus.
El posted an article from Glass-castle.org on FB and I thought it was interesting and important enough to repost it here. You can read the article after the jump.
What resonates and scares me the most is the fact that a group with different views would and COULD systematically overtake another group so as to stymie their point of view. The loss of healthy citizenry by informed, rational thought, and respectful dialogue to this cancerous cell of self-righteous bigots is no FUCKING SMALL MATTER. Who’s next? What’s next? What have we lost by just assuming that that kind of activity is isolated in a space and time? I don’t think it’s paranoia at all. This is real people.
Followers of Christ, lovers of Justice, Love and Grace, where do you stand in all this?
Not Secular Feminists but Sectarian Fundamentalists: And they’ll come for you too
By Jolene from Glass-Castle.org
At the end of March, AWARE held an AGM attended by a large bloc of new members, many of whom had not previously been especially active in the organisation (according to the Straits Times, a large majority of them had only joined the organisation in the preceding 3 months). They proceeded to elect a new executive committee dominated by anti-gay activists. The new President (who has since, bizarrely, resigned), Claire Nazar, has publicly said that in her interpretation of her religion, Christianity, homosexuality is an ‘abomination’ and ‘the [result] of sin and flouting of God’s moral order’. The new honorary secretary, Jenica Chua, has previously criticised NMP Siew Kum Hong for his support for the legalisation of gay sex by referring to ‘the homosexual agenda’ and ‘the homosexual interest group’, language which originates from Christian fundamentalist movements in America.
Their supporters at the meeting included more individuals with clear connections to anti-gay Christian fundamentalist activism. Among these was Angela Thiang, who works in a company headed by infamous anti-gay Christian NMP Thio Li Ann, and who has publicly spoken in favour of Section 377A and in opposition to abortion rights. There was also Dr Alan Chin, who has used the language of American Christian fundamentalists by referring disapprovingly to ‘the gay lifestyle’.
Many of the members who voted for this new executive committee had only joined recently and were not well-known to active existing members of AWARE – suggesting that they were a new faction, rather than representing and reflecting the existing values of the group. In other words, the organisation appears to now be run not by secular feminists but by sectarian fundamentalists. It is likely that they will use it to push through a new agenda, promoting visions of gender, sexuality and women’s rights which are contrary to what AWARE previously stood for.
This has severe implications for women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and civic society at large. Even if you consider yourself wholly indifferent to feminism or LGBTQ rights, please sit up and pay attention. They could come for you next.
This takeover was effected by people who signed up as members of AWARE but who were not known for being particularly central or active in AWARE before (although Claire Lazar had been a committee member even prior to this AGM). In other words, people who had not participated prominently in AWARE’s existing activities, and who had values which were in opposition to AWARE’s existing values, decided they wanted to run the organisation.
Why did they do that, rather than simply forming their own organisation? This is a deeply unethical tactic. It is a group of people with one particular ethos and vision, disrupting the legitimate activities of an organisation with a different ethos and vision, and seeking to co-opt the brand name and credibility that was built up with the old ethos and vision, in order to promote something else entirely. They do not seem to consider it sufficient to have their own groups and their own platforms to voice their perspectives: instead, they interfered with a group and a platform which voiced opposing perspectives.
This mode of activism is deeply hostile to diversity, to different groups in different spaces doing different things. If you have any interest in civic society at all, you should be deeply worried. In fact, unless you are yourself a fundamentalist within this coterie, you should be worried. It could be your group next. I’ll explain some of the ramifications of this further on.
Women’s Rights, Aside from Queer Issues
This is a huge blow. The old AWARE was flawed, insufficiently robust on gay rights and came across as rather elitist, but it did some good work – on bride trafficking, on sex education, on body image, on domestic violence. The infrastructure and kudos that the organisation lent to that work will need to be rebuilt in a new form. It is a major loss for feminism in Singapore.
In the meantime, it is probable the new AWARE will use the perception of AWARE as an organisation that speaks for women’s interests, so as to lobby for programmes that are directly contrary to women’s interests. They could well support substantial restrictions on abortion rights. They might also change AWARE’s existing comprehensive sex education programmes and favour abstinence-only ones which condemn sex between women. And I will be entirely unsurprised if they preach traditional gender roles, and the idea of women and men being two opposite and complementary flavours, instead of promoting equality, diversity and individualism in gender identities.
There are already groups that do all this, but their backgrounds and positions are known to be those of Christian fundamentalists. Focus on the Family (and their No Apologies programme) and Liberty League, for instance, as well as Exodus International. By taking over AWARE, people with the same Christian fundamentalist ethos could confuse others into believing that these agendas are supported by an organisation which is concerned with women’s best interests from a feminist and humanist point of view, rather than a Christian fundamentalist point of view. So we need to shout it from the rooftops: if these people are in a position to dominate AWARE, then the new AWARE will behave as a group of sectarian fundamentalists, not a group of secular feminists. AWARE will not stand for gender equality; it will stand for a particular vision of Christian morality. Know who you’re dealing with when you hear them speak.
It is sad that it should come to this, but Constance Singam and the rest of the AWARE ‘old guard’ should take heart: there is a way forward. Disassociate publicly from the new AWARE. Set up a new organisation. State clearly, without hedging, and without obfuscation, what you stand for: secular feminism, including abortion rights, equality for LGBTQ people, and freedom from oppressive gender roles. Put it in your constitution this time, and make it a habit to stand up for what you believe in, in the loudest, clearest, most principled possible terms, whenever the opportunity arises. Be transparent about your values, and accountable – including, yes, to queer women (more on this below). Learn from this mistake and it won’t happen again. It might even be better this time.
Queer Issues – Women and Men Both
Everything that was said about women’s rights here applies to queer issues as well. The new AWARE could well use the guise of women’s rights to attack lesbians and bisexual women’s interests, and they could do it in terms that attack gay men as well. Again, it is vitally important that everyone knows they are doing this as sectarian fundamentalists, not as secular feminists.
Why does this matter? It’s not that secular feminists are a particularly influential group whose invocation will cast some kind of spell upon all. Rather, making the facts clear will destroy any illusion that broadbased, autonomous agreement on a homophobic agenda has arisen from both the different philosophies of Christian fundamentalism and secular feminism. It will reaffirm that what looks like multiple homophobic voices in civic society are by and large part of the same one movement, the same one community, with distinctly Christian fundamentalist, American-influenced origins. The response to Repeal377a.com dramatically revealed the character of the main organised opposition to gay rights. They must not be allowed to use this opportunity to dress themselves up as something else.
It’s All Connected: We Must Unite
If you desire an equal, secular society, you have to unite with others who share that desire. And you have to make a commitment to it: a commitment backed up by more than just private feeling. You have to speak openly about what you believe in, and you have to stand shoulder to shoulder in solidarity when people other than you are threatened. Christian fundamentalists in Singapore are phenomenally well-organised, and if we remain fragmented – too afraid or selfish or apathetic to take stances in support of others – we will not have the numbers or resources to withstand these tactics if and when they come for us. Consider yourself warned.
An example is right before us. Queer women appealed to the old AWARE to represent their interests, to show active solidarity rather than passive tolerance, and AWARE fobbed them off. If they had been engaged more closely, if they had been persuaded to see AWARE as a space in which they had ownership and which reflected their values and interests, the AGM might naturally have had a higher turnout of queer women. No guarantees, but it was more likely. They might have been able to block the election of the new committee. Everything might have been different.
We have to build alliances, and in order to build them we have to earn mutual support. We have to care about a little bit more than ourselves and our personal pet causes. We are all in danger otherwise.
And don’t let them paint this position as a threat to religious freedom. It is the takeover of public life by fundamentalism which threatens religious freedom. In the first place, there are many religious people whose values are not those of these fundamentalists: there are Muslim feminists, gay-friendly Christian churches, Hindus who believe in the value of a secular society, and so forth. The whole point of secular society is to give everyone space to practice their own religious values in their private lives and through private associations of private people. A secular society values plurality and diverse groups.
The act of hijacking a private group which doesn’t share one’s values, so as to disrupt the group’s activities and use the group’s infrastructure to promote wholly different religious values, threatens that plurality and diversity. It threatens religious freedom.
To Infinity and Beyond
There is one group about which this piece has been utterly silent, and that is the PAP government. Have they a role in this?
Yes. This brand of Christian fundamentalism appeals to some Singaporeans precisely because of the stifling nature of the society the PAP has created. They clamped down on diversity and freedom; they sought to limit social imagination. Little wonder one of the most popular social movements that arose is one which is hostile to diversity and freedom, and which is wholly socially unimaginative.
There’s something else here, too. Political apathy has often been attributed to the PAP’s governing style. Political naïvete has the same source. If you have no experience of organising, how can you effectively oppose the activities and values of people who do? The PAP should be worried. There is a new power centre in society, and it is growing, and it is better at organising than anyone else is. It could even be better at organising than the PAP itself: the PAP could conceivably, in the future, be taken over by exactly the same dynamic that felled AWARE.
It’s time to wake up, folks. The stakes are too high.