Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Amy, Amy, quite contrary

As I have stated elsewhere in my blog, I don't read the local newspapers and I didn't know a thing about Amy Cheong until early this morning when I read her sacking from NTUC on the front-page headline.  I only read it briefly and my first reaction was not a pleasant one towards her.  If there is something I absolutely detest, it's the scorn poured by a snob on the celebration of those who have to operate on a tight budget.  Amy Cheong was mocking a Malay wedding party held at the foot of a block of government housing flats.  She deserves the sacking, I thought to myself.  After all, as Asst Director in NTUC's Service Quality in the membership sub-division, she has no business to mock low cost anything.  The NTUC is Singapore's only trade union and it's fully owned and controlled by the government.

Apart from being sacked summarily by NTUC, one Lionel Jerome de Souza, secretary of Hougang's Inter-Racial and Confidence Circle (IRCC), which comes under the purview of the Ministry of Community Development Youth and Sports, made a police report against Ms Cheong.

You may want to read some of the news on yahoo: Click here  but do it quickly: Yahoo News is notorious for removing their news posts after some time.

Now, let's see precisely what Ms Cheong has said in her Facebook that has sparked off such a storm of protest.  Here's a copy of her Facebook entry which I obtained from Yahoo News:

First, we have to be clinically objective, ie, let's be objective to a fault.  The text is not a racist denigration of Malays at all but she was taking a low crass and repulsive swipe at poor Malays.  Now, let's be honest.  Of course nobody is suggesting that Ms Cheong was not aware that there were rich Malays.  Would she say the same thing of the Sultan of Brunei?  The Sultan of Brunei wouldn't hold his wedding celebration in such a condition anyway.  Ms Cheong knew that perfectly well.  From the context, Ms Cheong would have hit out at any low cost wedding.

From what she has written, it's absolutely clear that what she was opposed to was not Malays but "cheap" weddings.  She says society shouldn't allow people to get married if they can't afford a more expensive wedding celebration.

Why would anyone suggest anything so unjust and vile against the poor?  If you look at her facebook post again, the reason is obvious.  Amy Cheong believes that a "cheap" wedding will result in a greater likelihood of a divorce.

I believe in free speech and in my books, Amy Cheong has the right to express her views in any way she pleases even if I find her statements repulsive, which I certainly do.  Most of us feel the same way about her post.  That's because we were all brought up to respect people of all classes and to admire the cultural diversity on our planet.  I personally find Malay weddings extremely charming and my only grouse against Malay wedding organisers is that they haven't invited me to tuck into the delicious beef or chicken rendang usually served at weddings.  But I tell myself constantly that we are all different and not all of us were brought up the same way.  It's natural for us to dislike somebody who transgresses what we have all been brought up to view as our propriety code but I always try to temper my aversion to rude people with reason.  People are rude for a variety of reasons and although I'm tempted to write them off as "beneath me", I think such a reaction on my part smacks of arrogance and I'm doing the very thing I detest Amy Cheong for having done.

I would rather engage Ms Cheong with reason.  If she thinks low cost weddings will result in a higher divorce rate, I would explain to her why she is in error.  It is a fact that the Malay community sees a higher rate of divorce than the other communities in Singapore.  If Ms Cheong is concerned about this problem, it is one strong argument in her favour against the allegation that she is a racist.  A racist will not bother about any problem faced by a community that isn't ethnically his. 

I think the problem has already been looked into and there are two areas that the Malay community may want to examine in order to solve this problem of a high divorce rate.  One of them, if I recall correctly, has to do with the tradition of getting married at an early age.  I recall having seen some statistics on this - that those who marry early are more likely to go for a divorce than those who marry later in life.  The other factor is the ease in which a divorce is granted under Muslim law.  Perhaps some of the obstacles to divorce existing in the civil law can be adopted by the Malay community but this is a complex area involving religion and it's a matter best resolved by the community itself.  Whatever the solution to the problem may be, having a low-cost wedding is certainly not a recipe for a quick divorce.

If anything, I would imagine that hosting an expensive wedding party is more likely to cause stress to the married couple.  If the wedding party is so expensive that huge debts are incurred, wouldn't that be a more likely cause for a breakdown in the marriage?  Those who incur lower expenses in their wedding celebrations are being prudent and they should be commended for this.

Miss Cheong is not just rude and vulgar; she's factually wrong too.  But is the reaction of the PM, Ministers and other members of Parliament in denouncing her too strong?  The Straits Times today has a list of other "insensitive comments that went viral".  Here they are:

I do remember the last item on the list.  A Chinese national complained to the Community Mediation Centre that his neighbour's curry was offensive to him and his family.  He wanted the tribunal to rule that his Indian neighbour be barred from cooking curry!  Now, this is the part that has not been made clear in my mind.  From what I recall, the tribunal ruled that the Indian family could not cook curry as long as the China nationals were at home.  How the tribunal could come to such a ruling is shocking unless my memory is unreliable and it wasn't a ruling but a consensus reached between the parties.

At no point was the identity of the Chinese national revealed by the press.  Contrast all the above insensitive remarks made with what Ms Cheong has written.  Her facebook comment was rude and insensitive, vile and repulsive but what about the other remarks made from the list given by Straits Times?  None of them received such a strong reaction.  The identity of the Chinese national in the curry case was not even disclosed by the press.

Ms Cheong, on the other hand, was summarily dismissed from her job and she's received so much public anger.  I'll ignore the police report.  I have no doubt nothing will emerge from that.  If it did, it would only serve to make Singapore appear like a police state, that a facebook post of this nature merits police action!

To me, what's really important in the interest of justice is this:

1.  If the other racist, insensitive and rude people aren't given the same treatment as Ms Cheong, we have no business hounding and harassing her.

2.  Would Ms Cheong have received less condemnation if she were a Chinese national or other foreigner?  Did the PM and the other Ministers and MPs bring up the other cases in Straits Times' list?  Was a police report made against Sun Xu?  Was the Chinese national in the curry case even named and shamed?  These are questions that we will all need to probe deep within us in order to reach totally honest answers.  These are important questions that we should look into.  Are we harsher to our own people and if so, why?

Edit: I have since received information that Amy Cheong is a Malaysian-born Australian citizen and not a Singaporean.  But what I have stated still remains unchanged.  How terrible is she when you compare her with some of the others in the Straits Times list?   And yet she seems to be at the receiving end of so much more fury while most of the others escaped with impunity and in the case of the curry case, the China national was not even named.

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