Since when in living memory had we an occasion when the PAP openly and rationally solicited the comments and views of the opposition parties except when it served its own political purpose and objective? IMO, the tudung issue is created by as well as being the direct responsibility of the govt of the day to tackle, so why indeed should the WP be obliged to at this point express an opinion knowing full well that the PAP cronies and lackeys are just laying in wait to pounce on their views and turn it into more political capital against the WP? The taunts of PAP MPs Indranee Rajah and Hri Kumar bore all the hallmarks of the proverbial spider’s invitation to the fly, to come into its parlour, except for the complete lack of grace and civility and churlish manner in which the PAP MPs had chosen to couch their ‘invitation’ to the WP.
Obviously, the PAP is not liking it one bit when the opposition parties nudged it to resolve the issue in a rational manner. The LHL govt is simply not prepared nor equipped to open up the Pandora box that would inevitably draw in members of other religions, for in their eyes that would be upsetting the apple cart. The Sikhs’ ubiquitous turban headgear being easily the most convenient comparison in the ‘like for like’ demand for equal treatment by the Muslim community, and to which the govt has truly no clever way to explain away apart from using the ‘tradition’ argument.
But, these are arguably changing times. While China is still red, it is now welcomed with open arms (and legs) by the Lee govt. So why not tudung for the Muslim ladies? Indeed, ‘religiously’ speaking, isn’t a turban is to Sikhs what a tudung is to Muslim women, and a kippa or skullcap to Jewish males? Until someone respected can provide a finer and more authoritative distinction of their respective religious status and significance, the issue would merely be kept in the back burner to be resurfaced and resurrected for example at election time? From the govt response it is clear that it is unprepared to go in that direction. Why? Why a turban can, but a tudung cannot when the wearer so desires, one can quite legitimately ask.
I would speculate that the govt sees the hijab/tudung issue in the light of its link to the wider issue of global Muslim fundamentalism and its growing influence among the local Muslim/Malay population. Given the legendary longstanding and undenied distrust of the PAP govt towards Muslim/Malay Singaporeans, is it any wonder that the govt sees it as potentially all bad? In which case, it is being perceived as an affront to the sensibilities of local mainstream Muslims who genuinely see it as a revival of and return to some of the core norms and values of their religion, relating to the modesty in dressing of Muslim women. So who is the govt to say otherwise and to interfere with one’s religious freedom? Or, does our paternalistic govt thinks the hijab is a form of sexism imposed to hobble Muslim women and therefore has no wish to be a part of it? But I couldn’t imagine crediting the govt with such altruistic motives. Such a possibility would be totally out of character with the control freak second nature of this govt. To be fair, the Sikh’s turban is really a very ‘settled’ issue quite irrelevant to the context of the conundrum presented by the present push by the Muslims/Malay community for the right to wear the tudung in hitherto ‘prohibited territories’. However, as I have said these are changing times and one has to admit that the case is not without some merits esp. when and where the tudung does not interfere with the carrying out of duties/work of the wearer, just like in the case of the turban. So why can’t the same yardstick for the Sikh be equally applied to the Muslim womenfolk? Sauce for the goose should indeed be also the sauce for the gander, don’t you think?
The tudung has always been part of the dressing of Muslim Malay women in Singapore from the very early days and is being ‘rediscovered’ by many younger generations Muslim Malay women today arising from a reassertion of religion in their lives which is surely not a bad thing? This and many other questions could be tackled in an rational, open and sensitive and sensible manner if the govt chooses to do it. But it would appear that the govt has less faith in Singaporeans being able to respond and discuss openly and maturely such issues than many Singaporeans themselves believe that they could. Politically too destabilizing and without the govt being even sure of its capability to control the discussion that would ensue, perhaps? If that is so, isn’t the National Conversation just that, just a lot of talk?