MP’s view on fusion of religion and politics dangerous

For an utterly cringing experience, have a look at this debate between Shanmugam and Aljunied MP Faisal Manap.

In very short summary, the motion is: Should religion and politics be kept separate. 

The opposition MP evades answering the question, not once, not twice…but multiple times. The basis for his evasion is a matter of grave concern: that there are politicians who are unable to distinguish religious interests from secular ones.

Faisal appears to be able to only make one point and not move further, he says “As a Muslim, Islam is understood as a way of life. Islam encompasses all aspects of life, including politics and the way to practice politics.” 

And from this position, it must flow that policies such as how the country is governed, how policies are considered and made, will all be designed based on religion. The question will then naturally be, whose religion? 

In Shanmuggam’s words, this is a “very surprising statement” and one with “serious implications”. This is not at all a difficult statement to understand. I think it won’t take much to convince Singaporeans that religion and the state, in the context of a heterogenous society, must be kept separate. 

Religion has created tensions caused by aggressive proselytisation and competition for converts. Throughout the world, religion has crept into politics and social activism and this has direct implications in the affairs of the state.

A study by Pew Research Centre on 159 countries in 2006 found that 20 per cent encountered religious-based conflicts. The figure for the same list of countries increased to 33 per cent six years later in 2012. Many of these conflicts were due to the politicisation of religion or the “religionisation” of politics.

Then there is religious extremism, which is a different kettle of fish altogether. Although not entirely state and politics, these are external organisations that are drawn to countries that appear to espouse a competing religion.

In a country north to us, leaders have come together at a Malay Dignity Congress (MDC) to do precisely the opposite of what we’re doing. They’re asking for more Muslim integration. “We must reject any effort by outsiders to spread ideologies and teachings which deviate from Islam and the Malay culture”, said Muhammad Za’im Rosli, a counsellor at Universiti Putra Malaysia.

The Malay Dignity Congress is Malaysia’s controversial platform where race and religion based politics is played out. If Faisal has his way, politics, social spending, economic policies will be influenced by religion, similar to what the MDC is trying to do in Malaysia.

His statement will have serious implications, and it contradicts the basic tenets central to being Singaporean. These very values form the foundation of religious harmony, safeguarded by the separation of religion from politics.

Faisal wants an integration of politics and religion. If this was allowed, religion would be finding its way into policy making. He vehemently emphasises this point several times. “It encompasses every aspect of life. That’s what I meant that as a Muslim, I can’t separate the two entity of politics and religion,” said the Opposition MP.

At the end of his exchange, Faisal appears to grudgingly conclude with the statement “I do agree that religion needs to be kept aside or apart from politics so that the religion won’t be used to gain personal benefit or the benefit of any political party.” 

It appears that Faisal hasn’t understood the implications. It is not just “personal/partisan benefit”, but rather religion itself should not be conflated into affairs of the state. 

Coming from a politician, it is a very disturbing observation. Singapore has done a lot of work in keeping the country secular. The result is a peaceful and stable way of life, that we can go about practicing our faiths freely and without interference. On one street, we can see a temple, a mosque and a church side by side, each preaching their beliefs peacefully without incident. 

If we allow religion to influence our policies and politics, even if it was done in the best intentions, religious based politics would return. Along with it, all the religious baggage we have managed to unload over the decades. All those will return and it will not be pretty. 

Source video here: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/parliament/videos/k-shanmugam-responds-to-comments-and-clarifications-sought-by-11978944

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