Watain gig cancelled due to reaction from Christian community
The last-minute decision to pull the plug on Swedish black metal band Watain's concert here last month came after the Home Affairs Ministry (MHA) received reports that mainstream Christians were "very concerned and offended".
Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam told Parliament in a debate on hate speech yesterday that despite concerns, the initial assessment was that it was okay if the band, which he said had lyrics and beliefs that denigrated Christianity, did not perform offensively.
The Infocomm Media Development Authority had imposed restrictions, including an R18 rating, the removal of potentially sensitive songs and no use of religious symbols or religious references.
Mr Shanmugam said he made the judgment call after concluding that the mainstream widespread Christian view was to disallow the concert and assessing the consequent security issues.
He added that this does not mean that there is any general ban on black metal groups.
Denouncing suggestions of a "Christian conspiracy", he added: "I made the decision, in my capacity as Minister for Home Affairs... I am not a Christian. I also decided to ban two Christian preachers in 2017. So what does one make of that?"
Addressing arguments against the ban, Mr Shanmugam said the issue was not about whether people were allowed to listen to Watain.
Citing the example of Malay Power music, which holds xenophobic views and draws inspiration from Nazi Germany, Mr Shanmugam said Singapore would need to allow such performances on the principle of fairness, if it had let the Watain concert go on.
Mr Shanmugam asked: "Would those who are unhappy with the ban of Watain concert be willing to accept the following consequences of their position?
"Will they accept that, over time, the fault lines of race and religion will be greater? That hate speech could become normalised and will they accept the consequences of that?"
He said that some have argued that since Singapore is secular, the Government should take a hands-off approach towards hate speech and offensive speech.
"They ask why are we intervening and say leave it to the people," he added.
Drawing comparisons to France's absolutist belief in free speech, Mr Shanmugam said Singapore's secularism is one that does not privilege any religious group nor allow any religious group to be insulted and attacked.
Wrapping up the debate, which saw more than a dozen MPs speak on the issue, he said he was heartened to see that there was broad support across the aisle for the Government's approach towards hate speech.
Mr Shanmugam said: "(Nominated MP Walter Theseira) hinted at another big risk, which is not within the frame of today's debate, but I accept it as a risk, of religion either trying to influence public policy or narrowing public policy space.
"The answer is you really need a strong political leadership, which is fair between the different religions."
He added: "You do not make public policy based on a particular religious outlook or a particular standpoint of a particular religion... That has never been our position and as long as the Government holds true to the values that have been set up, then I think that we will avoid that risk."
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