Donald Trump recently called to deport Muslims from America. When 8 year-old Sofia heard that, she was gripped by fear. Why? Because Sofia is Muslim. She was convinced that “Trump wanted to kick her and her family, who are Muslim — and American citizens — out of the country”. Sofia’s mother, Melissa, had to stay up the whole night comforting Sofia. Melissa then posted her experience on Facebook:
The post went viral. The story gets better. The post caught the eye of Kerri Peek, an Army veteran from Colorado. Kerri responded to Melissa a few days later with a picture of herself and this message: “Please show this picture of me to your daughter. Tell her I am a Mama too and as a soldier I will protect her from the bad guys.” Kerri told Upworthy: “It bothered me all night. Stuck in my craw, so to speak.”This rhetoric and fear, hate, and violence is not okay. It’s not the United States that I would fight for. I was awake all night.”
Kerri then started the hashtag #IWillProtectYou and encouraged other veterans to respond. Which they did. In droves.
In Singapore, many people have compared Calvin Cheng to Donald Trump. He is the most public figure who has said things which most closely resemble hate speech. Amongst others, he said:
Which suggests that he is advocating the killing of children of ISIS members pre-emptively, in cold blood and not in the heat of battle. He also said this:
Which suggests that he is advocating not just to kill the children of ISIS members, but also killing entire families of ISIS members. It may well be that Calvin Cheng didn’t mean to imply any of that. It may well be that he only intended to advocate killing child soldiers, who are bearing arms, and only in the heat of battle.
But regardless of what he really intended, I wonder how Muslims feel after reading about what he said. Especially the families of Singaporeans who have been detained under ISA for trying to join ISIS or other extremist groups. For example, how would the family of Mustafa Sultan Ali, who had tried to join ISIS but was sent back to Singapore from Turkey and subsequently detained. Would the family of Mustafa Sultan Ali worry about their safety after reading what Calvin Cheng said? Would they think that there are Singaporeans who want to kill them? How about the families of the “handful of Singaporeans ho have gone to Syria to take part in the conflict”? Would they also, after reading Calvin Cheng’s remarks, think that there are Singaporeans who want to kill them?
I reiterate. It may well be that Calvin Cheng never meant to advocate killing the Singaporean families of Muslims who have been radicalised. It is also not my intention to insinuate that Calvin Cheng ever intended to advocate that. Nevertheless, that may well be what Muslims understand his comments to be. The unintended consequence of what Calvin Cheng said may well be that the Muslims feel threatened and/or that there is a segment of Singaporeans who have become intolerant and suspicious of Muslims.
That is why it is important to be careful with what we say. We may have not intended to mean certain things. But other people may interpret what we say quite differently. Particularly if you are a public figure and you wish to comment on a very public platform. The unintended consequences may well be more damaging than whatever good you are trying to achieve.
So. Just in case any Singaporean Muslims feel threatened by what Calvin Cheng said, I hope to assure you that most Singaporeans reject and condemn what any form of hate speech. Like the many veterans who responded to Kerri Peek’s call, we too will protect you against the few amongst us who wish to threaten you. We will stand resolutely with you in peace and harmony.