SINGAPORE — While the use of a Malay-Muslim couple's wedding photo as a standee in Hari Raya decorations by the People's Association (PA) last month was "culturally insensitive", it was certainly not "racist", said the PA in a Facebook post on Monday (14 June).
"It is not right to raise the allegation of racism, without basis, to stoke emotions and sentiments," said the PA in a detailed post, adding that it saw "no point" in proceeding with an arranged meeting with Sarah Bagharib and her husband Razif Abdullah.
In an Instagram post on 28 May, Sarah had highlighted the use of the photo to create a standee alongside a decorative platform and banner depicting Radin Mas Member of Parliament Melvin Yong and his Hari Raya wishes for residents.
Noting that neither she nor her husband had given consent for the photo to be used by the PA, Sarah added, "The inappropriate appropriation and use of our cultural symbol only succeeded in showing People('s) Association's superficial understanding of Malay/Singaporean Muslim culture".
The post has garnered almost 18,000 likes.
Standee removed, apology issued
In its post on Monday, the PA noted that it had removed the standee and apologised to the couple, as well as posting a public apology on its social media platforms. Its post on 29 May revealed that Warabi Enterprise (Art Studio) had been engaged by Radin Mas Constituency Office (CO) to design and put up Hari Raya decorations at the Tiong Bahru Orchid estate.
However, in the process, the vendor downloaded Sarah’s photo from an online source and then used it for a cut-out standee. And while the PA spoke to the vendor on the seriousness of the incident, it stressed, "The PA, including Radin Mas CO, take responsibility for this error as we have oversight of the matter."
In addition, the PA offered on Monday to meet with the couple to apologise in person. "We also wished to clarify our position, elaborate on the steps we have taken to prevent such incidents from recurring, and hear her suggestions of how we might improve at the meeting."
However, it claimed that Sarah had said this incident “perpetuate(s) the racist culture” and characterised the incident as “racist”. In an Instagram Live interview with Walid J. Abdullah last Tuesday, said the PA, she also insinuated that PA staff and volunteers did not find anything wrong with the standee as they might be “blind to racism”.
"These are accusations we reject," said the PA.
Furthermore, in Sarah's public social media posts about her upcoming meeting with the PA, she had made a public call for anyone to “please share your messages/suggestions to PA here and we’ll share them”.
"We find this odd," said the PA. "We do not see why our meeting should be appropriated as a platform for her to funnel the views and comments of persons unrelated to the incident."
The PA added, "All these lead us to believe her purpose in agreeing to meet with us has gone far beyond the Radin Mas incident. We therefore see no point in proceeding with the meeting."
It also claimed that Sarah’s email to the PA on 1 June alleged that it was “hasty in sharing the name of the vendor” in order to “distance and deflect blame” from itself. "This is untrue. The vendor had identified himself directly to Ms Sarah on 28 May, and apologised. This was before PA issued our statement on 29 May," said the PA.
"It is regrettable that Ms Sarah did not clarify this point during her Instagram Live interview with Mr Walid J. Abdullah on 7 June. Instead she persisted in conveying the impression that PA had deflected blame from itself.
"We hope that this incident will not tar the other good work which our staff and volunteers have done."
PA also said it is looking at setting up a resource panel to guide its staff on cultural matters, and stepping up training to enhance its staff and volunteers' understanding and appreciation of different cultures.
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