Singapore—It’s not unusual for different political leaders, both here and overseas, to put on garments from cultures or traditions that are not their own. But Lee Bee Wah, Member of Parliament for Nee Soon GRC, received some criticism online for a banner she had put up giving Hari Raya greetings to constituents while dressed in a red Malay-Muslim tudung.
Netizens posted photos of the banner, and while some seemed to appreciate it, others were less than charmed.
Dr Lee Bee Wah, you so cute here!!! Just so unfortunate that because of the covid19 situation, I won’t be able to invite…
Some feel that there are social issues connected to the wearing the tudung, and others felt that perhaps Ms Lee’s timing is suspect, as the General Election is drawing near.
Concerning Muslim women who had defended Ms Lee’s choice of garment, Hazirah Mohamad, who said that they were “very disturbed” to see a lot of minorities, particularly Muslim women wearing the tudung, wrote,
“It is precisely because you face all those forms of discrimination while wearing the tudung (which Lee Bee Wah doesn’t) when putting on the exact same thing that further highlights the disparity faced by minorities in SG, and also demonstrates that the tudung is not a symbol to be taken lightly, or to be appropriated without context in a gaudy hari raya poster. This is especially in a country where there has been systematic and structural discrimination (which you have so painstakingly detailed) against women who do don the tudung.
The point is, after her tudung cosplay, she is free to walk around without it, ensconced in her majority identity and its attendant privileges. You on the other hand, don’t get a choice and have to live with the discrimination on a daily basis.”
Thinking that Ms Lee is already campaigning for the next GE, one netizen wrote “Agak2 lah kalau nak buy votes orang Melayu pun… (Quite a bit if you want to buy votes of Malays).
Ms Lee addressed the criticism in a Facebook post on Sunday (May 17), explaining that she celebrates Hari Raya at Ahmad Ibrahim Mosque yearly, and puts on a baju with tudung as a sign of respect. Furthermore, she said she had sought advice from the mosque’s chairman and had been given the go-signal by him to put on these garments.
She added that the photo of her in the banner was one from the past and that this year she had chosen not to put up a group photo as she normally does since people cannot gather together yet.
I received some feedback regarding a Hari Raya banner that featured me in a Malay baju with tudung.As residents know,…
A number of netizens said that wearing the full tudung plus baju was unnecessary if she wanted to show respect. A head covering would have been enough.
Hazirah wrote, “Lee Bee Wah wearing a full-on tudung complete with bling bling design in the masjid (and not merely covering the head which is enough to show respect)”
But some Singaporeans defended Ms Lee, citing the example of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who has also worn a headscarf after the massacre in two mosques wherein over fifty people were killed in 2019.
Jarrod Kwong wrote, “You guys can harp at Lee Bee Wah for wearing a Tudung when she is not a Malay or Muslim, but what about Jacinda Ardern? Why no one harped at her? Didn’t Jacinda Ardern wore a Tudung in the aftermath of the NZ mosque killings to show solidarity for the kiwis in the Muslim community over NZ and she got all the praises sung at her (sic) but our poor Lee Bee Wah here gets all the roasting.
This is not right!”
Parveen Banu also used Ms Ardern as an example, writing about people who wear headscarves, “Regardless of their intentions or agendas, the onus is on us to welcome and embrace them.”
But at least one netizen refuted this, saying wearing a tudung in New Zealand is not the same as in Singapore.
The Nee Soon South MP is known for donning garments from other traditions and cultures and has worn a baju kurung and a tudung during Hari Raya celebrations in the past. She has also worn a sari when sending greetings to the Tamil, Sikh, Punjabi, Malayalee, and Bengali communities in Singapore.
This is not the first time Ms Lee has received criticism for cultural appropriation, as last year, when she also posted Hari Raya greetings in a tudung, some netizens were less than happy about it. -/TISG