Government’s stand on Tudung is untenable in this day and age

Since my post rebutting the position of Minister Masagos Zulkifli on the Tudung issue, I have received much support from members of the public, majority of who are Muslims, indicative of the frustration within the community towards the continued disregard of the feelings of the community on the Muslim women being discriminated against. The Muslim community has for many years patiently expressed our collective disapproval of the discriminatory policies within the channels possible in the community as well as via national platforms whenever there was a chance to do so. Each time, the community is left disappointed by the government’s response.

I have personally engaged on the issue even before I decided to join politics by directly being involved with individual efforts within the nursing professions as well as with undergraduate nursing students. These individuals suffered direct discrimination for not being allowed to don the Tudung as a Professional nurse or during practical exams in their Professional Nursing undergraduate program. They have resorted to communicate to the Institutions within the Nursing profession on the matter. These Institutions share the views of the Muslim women nurses on the fact that there is no Professional basis to disallow the Muslim nurses who wishes to put on the Tudung and that the policy that forbid the Muslim women should not continue as it is discriminatory. However their hands are tight to undo the policy.

The government on the other hand has kept repeating the same mantra to justify prolonging the discriminatory policy. It uses the excuse of potential social agitation among races and communities should they change the policy. Each time they only offer anecdotal evidence that highlights the so-called social ramification that worries them. However, this reliance on social scenarios is not in anyway backed by analysis and studies, which interestingly are available on such, related intra-community relations and whose findings points otherwise. (I have referred to 2 such studies done in my earlier posting on the issue) In fact the corresponding implication should the government reason be true means there is a serious problem with the majority community for still maintaining an intolerant, biased and almost negative perception towards other minority communities. Thus a glaring failure of so-called community trust-building initiatives, which wrongly focused on the minority rather than the majority.

Prior to the views of the Minister, which has angered the Muslim community, 3 other Muslim PAP MPs mentioned in their speeches in parliament directly or indirectly echoing the sentiments of the Muslim community on the Tudung issue. Those speeches by the 3 MPs were very much welcomed by the community and were in fact offering much hope that a policy shift seems to be on the card. However sadly, the recent statement made by the Minister directly addressing the community via national TV on the matter was a cruel denial of the desire of the community to see the overdue changes take place. What is most frustrating for the community is the clear reference to non-professional related reasons to justify the policy continuation. Thus it therefore becomes incumbent upon us to scrutinize the validity of the secondary reasons forwarded by the Minister as justification for the government’s position.

The Minister mentioned too the need to ensure that the demands of the Malay/Muslim community on the Tudung be equitably responded in relation to “similar” demands by other communities. In particular he mentioned the LGBT group’s call to repeal the 377A penal code that criminalizes gay sex. Let us look at how accurate it is for the Minister to compare the 2 issues and call for the entire Malay/Muslim community to accept the tradeoff that he implied are a fair and equitable deal.

The Malay/Muslim community call for lifting the Tudung ban on the nursing profession is primarily based on the lack of evidence to support its continuation from a Professional point of view. As mentioned earlier, the Professional nursing body as well as the Medical institutions found no legitimate grounds to justify any ban for nurses to put on the Tudung and perform their nursing role professionally. There are in fact many examples of other majority non-Muslim secular countries in the world that have already allowed Muslim nurses who desire to put on the Tudung to do so. This is simply done by making modification to the uniform of the nurses in hospital to have versions that suited the dressing requirements of Muslim women who wants to put on the Tudung.

The other arguments that the Muslim community put forth to challenge the government is that contrary to what they claim, a women nurse wearing a Tudung and doing her professional role as a nurse in public or private hospital are not seen as undesirable by the majority that may require their nursing services in anyway. While no known surveys were done specifically to enquire about this so-called unhappiness by the majority who happened to encounter a women nurse in Tudung, it would suffice to draw some ideas about the most likely outcome of such a survey, by opening our eyes to observe what kind of social attitudes do the majority of people, especially non-Muslim have towards other Muslim women in Tudung that are currently employed in Medical facilities such as Nursing attendants and Doctors. To date, we are unaware of any untoward incidences or complaints made on any such Muslim women in Medical facilities already allowed to wear the Tudung, especially those that are professionally related.

Thus based on the 2 reasons forwarded above, one on Professional grounds and the other on social grounds, the government’s position is untenable. Then we have the curious reason of the wider implication on harmony should the government be seen to be uneven-handed towards specifically the LGBT community if they agree to submit to the demands of the Muslim community by allowing the Muslim women to wear Tudung as nurses. Lets us analyze this strange logic. To impose an equitable clause would require the comparison to be of equal merit, which in the case of the Tudung and the LGBT are a real stretch.

The Tudung ban for nursing are professionally and socially unjustified as they are, on both grounds invalid arguments as explained and evidenced clearly above. The demand by the Muslim community for a policy change on the Tudung ban for the nursing profession stands on its own merit. For the case of the LBGT, on both medical and social grounds there are reasons to keep the law even though the law essentially is irrelevant as gay sex can easily take place in the privacy of hotels and homes and it is only a criminal offense when it is reported which seems most unlikely as they would have mostly been done in private by consenting adults. The only likelihood of any possible penal case would be if a public arrest was made for such an act in public and that criminal offense applies to both gay and straight sex. Thus to compare the Tudung case to the LGBT case clearly shows that they are not similar. Before the LGBT group protest, let me state clearly that the above explanation in no way intended to disrespect the LGBT group, the example is used only because it was raised as a comparison by the learned Minister.

Putting the 2 issues by the Minister as comparable cases worthy of tradeoff is clearly a bad call. A like and like analysis above goes to show how unlike and unlike the 2 issues are. Inevitably we have to wonder what other hidden reasons there is, which makes the government so reluctant to change and remain intransigent on the Tudung issue.

For the Malay/Muslim community, this continued refusal to explain clearly and honestly inevitably could only imply that the government itself do not wish to allow Tudung to be worn by nurses or any other uniformed services for reasons that it continues to hide behind the notion of sensitivity. This prolonged silence and elusiveness are unhealthy as it only invites speculations on the part of the Malay/Muslim community as well as other communities as to what could be the probable reason. Worst of all it conveys a subtle but demeaning message of arrogance and distrust on the part of the government in dealing with a minority community. Above all, the continuation of this ban for Tudung on the nursing profession is ultimately discriminatory towards Muslim women and the Muslim community as a whole.

The above suffice for now as additions to my earlier post in response to the Minister. I offer more clarity to my initial posting in order to avoid any potential misunderstanding from anyone who may instead of dealing with my arguments, once again chooses to adopt the conventional ‘we know better coz we are the government’ approach which is not in the spirit of openness that our President and the Prime Minister have clearly highlighted as their preferred ways for this newly elected government during their recent speeches in Parliament. Majulah Singapura!!!

Source: Damanhuri Abas

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