The Singapore stat board tasked to look after the racial and religious harmony of citizens missed an opportunity to have a constructive dialogue with the Malay couple it stole a wedding photo for Hari Raya decorations, according to the bride.
The People’s Association, or PA, was supposed to meet with the couple, Sarah Bagharib and her husband Razif Abdullah, at 10am yesterday. However, the board called it off in a controversial statement on Monday after it disagreed that appropriating the Malay wedding photo for a religious Hari Raya celebration had anything to do with racism. The photo was also blown up into a standee and had its faces cut out.
“It is disappointing that the PA has decided to cancel the meeting between themselves, my husband and I that was meant to take place at 10am today,” Sarah, 30, wrote online last night, a day after PA’s Monday statement sparked a flurry of discussions online, largely between those who criticized the stat board for canceling the meeting and those who believed that Sarah was turning the matter into a bigger issue.
“We feel this is a missed opportunity for constructive dialogue; for thoughts and suggestions of members of the community to be relayed, and also for the PA to listen to the people’s voices. It is unfortunate that the PA has turned this opportunity down,” she added.
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PA had on May 29 apologized for stealing her wedding photo and using it as part of Hari Raya decorations at the Radin Mas constituency helmed by MP Melvin Yong, a day after Sarah called it out online. PA also said that it was offering a meeting with the couple.
On June 7, Sarah appeared in an Instagram live chat with Nanyang Technological University Associate Professor Walid J Abdullah, in which she discussed the incident and also talked about the larger issue of racism in Singapore, although she did not directly associate it with the wedding photo incident.
PA reacted to the Instagram chat in Monday’s statement by claiming that Sarah had accused its staff of being “blind to racism” and treating the incident as something that perpetuated “racist culture.” It then said that it was no longer meeting the couple.
“It is not right to raise the allegation of racism, without basis, to stoke emotions and sentiments,” the statement said, adding: “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.”
PA said that it found it “odd” that Sarah was trying to “funnel” opinions from her social media followers so that she can bring them up during the meeting, noting that the incident should not involve “persons unrelated to the incident.”
As part of efforts to prevent a recurrence of the incident, PA said that it was also looking into setting up a “resource panel” and training its staff further on cultural matters.
The Monday statement drew more than a thousand comments from all sides of the fence, including those who thought that the statement was a public relations disaster.
One of the popular comments, by local playwright Alfian Saat, partly said: “Wait, did you just cancel a meeting because you might be confronted with the messages by those who have felt that your handling of the issue was less than satisfactory? What is the difference between Ms Sarah conveying them on those people’s behalf and those people “funneling” their views directly onto your social media pages?”
Facebook user Angela Lau said: “Hey PA, you need to review the competency of your comms team. Or if they did provide you with a different version of this post, you may have done better simply by heeding their professional advice. This post reeks of arrogance and conveys an unrepentant spirit, for a faux pas committed by a PA entity!”
Meanwhile, user Timothy Lee said: “I may be wrong, but seems like she is conflating the issue and indirectly suggesting that what PA did was racist in nature.”
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