Was recently involved in an interfaith discussion on the topic of Faith and Violence. The starting point was of course the usual : religious wars, terrorism, in the local and foreign context. So it was fascinating to me of course, when the discussion took an unexpected but yet very relevant turn.
My group expanded the concept of what ‘violence’ was in the course of discussion, when a participant introduced her work engaging religious leaders on the issue of marital rape, and how some people believed marital rape should not be criminalised because religious texts gave the right for spouses to demand/force sex. Another participant then shared, very emotionally, her experience of being abused physically and sexually by her ex-husband in the course of forcing her to go to church (she is a Muslim). Someone spoke from the Hindu faith and using Ghandi as an example, said that the concept of non-violence applies to the ‘strong’ — in that the ‘strong’ should refrain from retaliating against the ‘weak’. He explained that if a ‘weaker’ party did not retaliate against a ‘strong’ party, it was usually because the ‘strong’ party was bullying the weaker one —- this ‘non-violence’ would not be one of choice but simply being a victim. Everyone agreed with this view, and thought that witnesses to such bullying who were apathatic and did not help/stand up against the bully, can be considered being part of the violence as well. This stemmed from teachings of most religions to help the weak and oppressed.
The group viewed violence not in black & white terms — violence or non-violence — but as a continuum where riots/terrorism/physical violence was on the most serious extreme end. On the mildest end, the seed of violence is the belief that one is always right and others are always wrong. Along this continuum would be forced conversions, prevention of family members from practising their faith, incidents eg. AWARE, Rony Tan’s videos, fights over carpark space at places of worship, forcing people to fight in wars people did not agree with, etc
So as you can see, it was very enlightening a discussion for me
My dad is, in general, someone who believes in equality for all races, religions and sexual orientations.
Yet the other day, I overheard him telling my brother to be careful cos there are all kinds of people these days ……. These gay men in all the catholic churches , all the gay priests.
It seems like these days, secularists blame the Catholic Church, religious faithful blame gay people (And yes, I realise i’ve just committed the same crime of generalisation and hence have turned secularists, faithful and gay people against me with a single sentence! so i should qualify and say that it’s the media that seems to portray that. Hmmm have I made an enemy out of the media people too???shucks.)
At the end of the day, this is a matter of respecting people’s freedom to believe in whatever they choose, and to love whoever they want; it is about protecting people from being abused, about bringing justice to those who have violated others while not unjustly categorising the innocent together with the guilty. All at once.
The guilt of the abusers do not lie with the Catholic Church & followers, neither does it lie with gay people.
The guilt lies with
- the individual people who abused the trust of the Church, the followers, and the children
- the individual people who turned a blind eye to justice and covered up the crimes
Just as there are heterosexual abusers and heterosexual good people, there are also homosexual abusers and homosexual good people. Within any institution or setting or organisation, we need to ask if the loopholes allow easy exploitation by either heterosexual or homosexual abusers (ie. individual people seeking opportunities to abuse victims)
We also need to recognise the RESPONSIBILITY that ALSO lies with
- the government and law enforcement officers, whose job is to protect the citizens of all race, religion, age, etc, rather than to protect the image and sanctity of institutions
- the citizens, whose responsibility it is to call governments and institutions to question and checks
- the families, whose responsibility it is to believe in and protect their children, rather than seemingly incorruptible institutions of any kind.
This means that everyone of us is responsible for ensuring such abuses do not happen in our local institutions.
Responsibility belongs to all.
But guilt, belongs only to the guilty.
In many of these countries eg. Ireland, the government and people’s preference to protect the image of the Church had resulted in the delays and obstruction of justice for decades. The disbelieve on the part of parents made victims of their own children over and over again.
The news leaked out today that the Catholic Church has been covering up widespread embezzlement of tithes & donations for years in Singapore.
Now, THAT caught your attention didn’t it. ; )
Before I get sued for defamation, let me say explicitly that my sentence above about the Catholic Church here is NOT true — there was no such news leaking out.
What I did hope to do, was to make a point: When it comes to financial crimes, people are MUCH more rational than when it comes to sexual crimes. http://www.todayonline.com/Print/Hotnews/EDC100424-0000048/Doubt,-dismay,-denial-and-disappointment
A Just Response is needed
Over the last few years, Singapore has been rocked by 2 major financial scandals in the charity sector. In the first, we saw the downfall of TT Durai and the transformation of NKF. In the second, we saw the downfall of Ming Yi the Monk and the transformation of Renci. Additionally, we saw the government introducing stricter laws and regulations to govern the charity sector – a move that many, including myself, applauded as long overdue.
What were the reactions of the public and the supporters when these scandals broke?
Did any donor say that people were just trying to attack and bring down kidney foundations? Did any donor say that anti-Buddhists were trying to bring down Buddhism in Singapore? Of course not! The suggestion sounds incredibly silly to even mention!
Everyone recognized the goodness of having kidney foundations. Everyone recognized the goodness of the Buddhist faith. Everyone recognized the goodness of hospitals, including Renci hospital.
But everyone also recognized that TT Durai and Ming Yi were human, had committed financial crimes, and had to be punished accordingly to fair laws, whether or not followers wanted to forgive them later.
A parallel can be drawn with the scandal that is rocking the Catholic Church now, and through this parallel with NKF and Renci, we can see how simple the solution actually is.
Many people recognize the concept and ideals of the Catholic Church are good. Many people also recognize the Catholic Church has made much positive contribution.
Yet everyone also recognizes that priests are human, and humans fail from time to time. The mistakes made by Catholic priests have been recognize eg. The corruption that led to Martin Luther’s Reformation and also during the Crusades.
For non-Catholics to attack Catholicism for the mistakes of these abusive priests, and priests who covered up the abuse, would be akin to attacking Buddhism for Ming Yi’s failings. For Catholics to perceive the charges and actions against these criminal priests as attacks against the Catholic Church, would be akin to Buddhists perceiving Ming Yi’s conviction as an attack against Buddhism.
When the NKF scandal broke, hundreds of donors immediately called to cancel their donations. Was it because they were against kidney foundations or charities? No! They simply did not want their money supporting corruption. In the same way, if Catholics stopped donating to Church from tomorrow, it won’t be an indication of disrespect to the Church, but simply not wanting to contribute to an administration who covers up abuse rather than seeks justice.
In actual fact, these priests — both the abusers, and those who covered up the crimes — are simply humans who have committed crimes within an organization and deserved to be punished according to the laws of the land, like any other abuser. Structural and systematic checks have to be put in place in institutions to ensure institutionalized abuse and cover ups never happen again.
I have an Irish friend. Here is his response to the article http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8060442.stm
‘Victims of child abuse at Catholic institutions in the Irish Republic have expressed anger that a damning report will not bring about prosecutions.’
He says “I actually started the get upset and cried a little this morning as I heard about the report, which was released yesterday, on this morning’s news. I’m going to buy a copy of the report and read it from cover to cover
I’m so angry that what I feel is that. If, after that report, 800 people who caused this abuse are being given protection of anonimity and immunity….then we should seek them out and give them our own justice….but these are old men and women (terms i use very loosely) are so old now…..that we would be abusers ourselves
One thing you have to appreciate to understand what happened is this. If a young person in Ireland during this time was discovered to be gay or overly interested in sexuality they were put into the priesthood ‘to cure them’. This on top of the sexual repression of the time and indeed the fact that a person who wants to bully-abuse people will seek out these kind of positions of responsibility…this is all astonishing
What makes me really really angry is that kids told priests in confession about this and were called liars! Kids told parents who told them they were liars…you don’t question the church! And because so many people supported the church, our government felt it couldn’t take on the church and instead let these kids be abused…tens of thosands of them”
I’ve rarely been this angry or upset in my life
indeed…..i know some of the people involved in prosecuting this case…..
it was estimated that there were something like 500 child rapists/priests in the Dublin area alone, and that throughout Ireland a conservative estimate that at least 150,000 children had been assaulted. I0,000 of these have been “paid off”, at a cost of $1.5 billion…..imagine how much it would cost if all were compensated…….
and this is just ireland………..”
I hope everyone does also realise that if the Church is made to compensate, where the compensation money comes from —- from the lay Catholic followers who have been tithing faithfully, and whose family members may have been victim to the abusers………
The lesson we must learn : Preventing similar abuse in institutions in Singapore
Seeing this scandal as an issue with the Catholic Church as opposed to criminals within the Catholic Church organisation also misses the point in another way. In fact this may be even more dangerous because it blinds us to the lesson we ought to learn.
Have we looked at the Catholic Church, asked how this could happen on such a wide scale for decades, and go unchecked? Have we asked if the same organisational weaknesses are present in our temples, our Buddhist, Taoist monasteries? Our military? Our boarding schools? Etc etc? If the same weaknesses are present, do we then ask if there really has been no abuse, or if we are simply doing what the Catholic Church has been doing for decades —- turning a blind eye? The moment we see it as a Catholic Church problem, we stop looking beyond there, and we miss opportunities to check the problem that may be also occurring in non-Catholic organisations.
I know that many people simply cannot buy the idea that Catholic Priests are such evil people, who need laws and checks and regulations to keep them from molesting kids. I think an excellent book written by Anna Salter provides great insight and explains the fallacy of this thinking very well. Anna Salter is a psychologist who interviewed many victims and perpetrators of sexual crimes. She wrote the excellent book ‘Predators: Pedophiles, Rapists, And Other Sex Offenders’ ( http://www.amazon.com/Predators-Pedophiles-Rapists-Other-Offenders/dp/0465071732 )
based on these interviews.
The main point made in this book:
People need to stop asking the question “How could good church people be abusers?!?!”
People need to start asking the question “What is the best platform for an abuser to make use of?”
The starting question cannot be “What are priests/monks like? Are they likely to commit such crimes?” because the answer is No. And that leads to self-denial / defensiveness.
The starting question always has to be, “What would be the best target/platform/opportunity for a criminal to make use of? Where is security the most lax?”
Then you realise that a swindler of money would be clamouring to start charities in countries where lax laws govern the finances of charities.
Then you start realising that child molesters are clamouring to be priests in systems that cover up their crimes. In schools that have no safeguard mechanism.
You know what’s the scary thing?
When you start asking those kinds of questions, you know that such abuse/crimes are taking place all over the world, in environments where we most trust our kids to be.
The USA, Ireland, Germany etc has done very well to acknowledge it happens, and take steps, even though i believe it is far from enough/ideal.
What scares me are the environments, all over the world, where people claim/believe that no/little abuse is taking place. Because it doesn’t mean no abuse takes place, it means nobody is even doing anything to look.
It’s happening all the world over, Asia, Europe, etc etc and i think Europe/US is already ahead in doing something about it. I think we need to learn from this experience.
I recently visited the Vatican City, at the same time when protest marches were being held in Ireland over the child abuse scandals against the Roman Catholic church.
The most beautiful thing about the Vatican City that struck me was neither the art nor the architecture – those were pretty but were cloying after a while. The most beautiful thing I saw were actually 2 men. One of them was the ticket seller to the Vatican Museum — he had only one finger and a slight stump of a thumb. Yet he was collecting money, giving change, dispensing tickets, with the speed and efficiency of any other ticket seller.
Having grown up in a culture where fetuses are screened and aborted for abnormalities, where disadvantaged persons can only sell tissue paper, where we are taught to pity them with paltry donations into tin cans, I’ve been flooded all my life with messages that disadvantaged persons were a liability to society. In the recent few past years, greater awareness about their abilities have been campaigned for, and I came to think that disadvantaged people could be as contributive to society as any other person could be — all a disadvantaged person had to do was a job that did not depend primarily on the skills he was handicapped for, and for society to give him that chance.
But the Vatican City ticket seller challenged my view completely. It said something about a society who would hire a person with only 1.5 fingers to sell tickets to thousands. It said something about a person who would take a job that primarily made use of a skill he was handicapped for – and excel at it.
The other person who touched me was the locker room (where visitors could deposit their bags and bulky items in lockers and pigeon holes) attendant. Visitors did not deposit their items into the lockers directly – they passed it to the attendant over the counter who then had to make sure everything was in place. This attendant had Downs’ Syndrome (or something similar, by his looks), and was as efficient and orderly as any good attendant I’ve ever come across.
I long for the day where my society would not see cheap foreign labor as the first choice for these jobs, and cease to see disadvantaged people as being disabled.
But I do think we are getting there. In the recent few years past, I have come across people with Downs’ Syndrome travelling by themselves on the MRT, very competently like any other normal person. A decade ago, such people were always accompanied by caregivers. Just seeing these people on the MRT more than convinces me that, if society gave them an education that is every citizen’s right, people with handicaps could be no less functional than a “normal” person. The image of a disabled person staring blankly into space, depending entirely on her caregiver, is one that is the fault of a society which has already condemned the person from birth, and has shirked its duty of investing in that person’s well being and education.
Visiting both the Vatican and Ireland during this period also is a reminder that no organization is perfectly good or perfectly bad. It was at the Vatican that I saw the most beautiful accordance of respect and dignity to people who have long suffered unjust and undue discrimination. Yet it is within the same Roman Catholic church system, that gross widespread child abuse has taken place. It really highlights the importance of not demonizing organizations or people, and the dangers of idolizing organizations of people. We need to look beyond identities, and look at each deed for itself, evaluate each deed for itself, so that the good can be recognized and reinforced, and the bad can be stopped and brought to justice.
It reminded me of a conversation I had with a Chinese friend. When I pointed out the atrocities of the Chinese Communist Party, he pointed out that Communism in China actually brought equality to women by allowing them to equal status in the workforce, that slavery in Tibet was abolished, and that prosperity has grown. Of course, we who have been influenced by the Western media would look at each of these achievements with a raised eyebrow, yet what we really need to do is to stop seeing these organizations as morally responsible persons, but start looking at each deed for itself, because you will find both good and bad.
When the Western and Islamic countries demonize each other, their accusations are probably true. But to the people that belong to each of these groups, they would see themselves for the good that they are, and very understandably feel a sense of injustice done towards them , when they are accused of being the monsters they do not see in themselves, their families and friends. And we all know that injustice and a threat to the safety of your loved ones are the strongest motivations for a person to risk life and limb to fight against the “enemy”. Is there any wonder we’re not going to solve the threat of terrorism in a long long time?
- Out of 3 pregnancies, 2 babies are born, 1 is aborted
- ¾ of women aborting babies are MARRIED — 1/3 are homemakers
- ½ of 10,000 STI cases per year – patients are between 20 – 30yrs, 1/3 – between 30-40yrs old, 5% amongst teens
- PAVe found in 2003 that out of 2,200 secondary and junior college students polled, 15 to 30 per cent had encountered family or dating violence.
Alot of women actually know if their husbands are fooling around outside and know if they are at risk for STIs (sexually transmitted infections). Doing something about it is something else altogether.
I am officially shouting out my strongest disgust & disagreement with the Singapore Botanic Gardens naming an orchid after the Prime Minister of Burma.
I started with a simple question.
What can I do contribute positively to humanity? How can I be of help?
I was thinking Africa, thinking East Timor, thinking India, China. Thinking, gosh, am I prepared to live a life without hot water and air-con, without internet and instant food? To live without electricity or sanitation. To live with creepy crawlies. Could I do that?
I thought, maybe I’ll go for a soft launch into saving the world. Let me first start by looking at Singapore, at how can I help in this place that I’ve spent only all my life in. This should be a lot more bearable; I’ll have my sterility and safety, my convenience and comfort.
But seriously, Singapore, the air-conditioned nation with the efficient government who does it all and thinks it all and provides it all for you, with record efficiency and security. What could be lacking here, right?
I thought, well perhaps I could help out with those “First World” type of issues. Given my background in biomedical research, I thought I’ll go into issues with some biology basis. Homosexuality, HIV, sexuality issues. I thought the other issues that should be tackled (but by someone else) in Singapore would be stuff like having Freedom of speech and expression, Political Freedom , social stratification, educational pressures, etc . Stuff like that.
And then, as I began asking, meeting people, attending events by the U60, Calcutta began unfolding in front of my eyes , right here in Singapore. It’s as if, I was spring cleaning a really clean house, thinking there was nothing much, and then lifting the carpet and seeing in underneath infested with maggots, and half me wants to just cover it back again and pretend I didn’t see a thing, and another half makes me sick and I can no longer see my house the same way ever again.
Yesterday evening, I learnt, through films, of how Singapore is responsible for fueling the sex trade in our neighboring countries, where it is COMMON for 13 , 14 year old girls to be sold, forced, cheated into being prostitutes for peanuts, for Singaporean men. For peanuts that they wouldn’t even get.
In the Philippines (and I suspect in other neighbors as well), there are generations of families that grow up IN the rubbish dump. It’s their everyday reality and norm to pick up food scraps, re-cook it and eat it and even savor. It was horrible to watch.
Yesterday I thought that we had major “3rd world” problems with the “3rd world” around us, and though we had a role to play, it wasn’t HERE.
Tonight I was talking to a social worker. She works at a social service center in Bedok. She says, very matter of factly, that there are 5 social workers, each with a caseload of 40, handling just cases involving domestic violence, in the East side area they were in charge of. These are cases of physical domestic violence that were referred to them by the Courts. Meaning that these were the reported cases, 200 in the east side of Singapore, at this present moment. She says that abuse happens across all the family incomes and educational groups, there was no real specific profile or link to poverty. In fact she says, the richer the family, the more likely they would keep quiet and the victim would not leave because there was so much more to lose. Abuse does not start when the marriage has gone stale, often it starts early in the marriage or even before, and it escalates with the first pregnancy when the victims are “forced” to stay for their children. And victims often stay silent. And when they do speak up, women and children find themselves homeless, because they are afraid to stay in their flat with their abuser, but the flat belongs to the abuser, so the abuser gets to stay, and the victims are forced to become charity cases, staying at shelters for years. Yesterday , at the film, a lady related her experience of calling the police to intervene when she heard a violent episode happening in her neighbors flat, only to have the police tell her not to be a busybody.
She says that poverty is common in Singapore. Poverty, where you receive / earn just enough to live from hand-to-mouth, with nothing else. Poverty, where you receive just enough help to give your baby milk and diapers, where you receive just enough to keep you alive , and nothing more. There is a show on Channel 8, Monday nights, called Life Transformers. I think it is the BEST show EVER EVER made in Singapore, for all time. EVER. It shows exactly what it means to live without hope in Singapore.
I think these people tend to be invisible and isolated because of the way our society has been stratified. The scholars, had the best schools, best tuition, the educated parents (LKY is actually right to say that there is a correlation between parental education and child education now, but is it really genetic, or about the starting advantage that the child of grad parents has? ). The scholars who are roped into the government to plan policies have absolutely no idea how it feels to be at the bottom, hopeless. The mid-level people, the teachers, doctors, lawyers, media people – the people who tend to form the bulk of the social activists here – they see issues, but they don’t see or feel the depth of the issue. I must confess, I am somewhere here. The average and below, they are too focused on personal improvement.
The people that really need help. They are invisible on the internet, invisible to the vocal alternative view-generators on the Net. Because they can’t even read, don’t own a computer, may not even have electricity, let alone internet connection. They are invisible to the journalists who write the papers, because the journalists , the people who were in the correct social strata to have the chance of becoming a journalist , never had the opportunities to interact with them. These are people who can’t speak English, probably not even proper mother tongue, they can’t even get noticed by journalists. They are also invisible to each other, because in their helplessness , they can’t reach out for support , they have no voice to call out at all.
There are people dying because they can’t afford medicines. People living on one meal a day because a factory worker supports a family of 6. People in their 70s who scavenge the rubbish bins at 4am. People being raped and abused by their family. People dying because they have no idea of any other way out.
All this is happening, in some home, within a 10minute radius (half an hour if I took the public bus) from where I am this very moment. In my Singapore, my Calcutta.