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Cherian George on tudung debate: Gov’t “declares it will align the system with patients who discriminate”

'A missed opportunity for public education'




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Singapore—Academic Cherian George commented on Facebook on the tudung debate in Parliament that made the news last week, calling it “A missed opportunity for public education” for the Government.

The debate that Prof George was referring to occurred last week when an answer was given in Parliament to Workers’ Party (WP) Member of Parliament (MP) Faisal Manap, who had suggested that Muslim nurses wear the tudung as part of their uniform.

Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli said that the uniform policy in public service cannot be tilted towards any particular religious belief.

“We don’t want patients to prefer or not prefer to be served by a Muslim nurse, nor do we want people to think that public security is being enforced by a Muslim or non-Muslim officer,” he said in Parliament last Monday (March 8). 

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Prof George, who writes on politics and media and teaches in the School of Communications at Hong Kong Baptist University, commented on the issue in a Facebook post on Sunday (Mar 14).

He wrote that as the ruling party, the People’s Action Party (PAP) sets the tone for Singapore’s values and national culture,

In a book of essays he had co-authored with fellow academic Donald Low last year, Prof George had written, “In a country dedicated to racial and religious equality, the state has a special responsibility to shape the appropriate norms, through the force of its example and what it says. Unfortunately, the PAP’s rigour in dealing with diversity as a law and order problem has not been matched by vigour in playing its normative role.”

He was reminded of this by the tudung debate last week.

While he says he disagrees with the ban, what concerned him the most was the “lack of headway (forgive the pun) in this debate.”

“What’s sad about the government’s statement is that, having said that it does not want patients discriminating against nurses of a particular faith, it declares it will align the system with patients who discriminate, instead of educating such patients that nurses of any faith deserve equal trust and respect.”

Prof George added that “antisocial or anti-national behaviours” should not be spoken of without clearly stating “that these behaviours are unacceptable.”

He cited the example of people who urinate in lifts, which talking about carries the risk of others copying it.

“To avoid this, responsible leaders know they must wrap such observations in clear moral condemnation (“If you do it you are scum.”), and/or accompany such talk with hard regulation and law (“Our cameras will catch you, so don’t try your luck.”)”

As for the debate about wearing the tudung, “we need to hear the government say that patients who do not trust nurses of a particular faith are wrong. 

“Especially if it is not going to change its tudung policy, it should state that our nurses of any or no religion are trained to act and speak in a secular and professional manner. You may be able to tell a nurse’s religion (if not from her dress, in many cases from her name) but if that’s enough to trigger doubts in your head, that’s your problem not hers.”


Read also: Writer Sudhir Vadaketh: Any anti-Muslim fears have essentially been validated by senior Muslim politician

Writer Sudhir Vadaketh: Any anti-Muslim fears have essentially been validated by senior Muslim politician

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