In the wake of the government’s order to block a black metal band from playing here (just hours before the concert was due to start), Minister of Home Affairs K Shanmugam oddly dragged in racial issues.
In a speech at an appreciation lunch for Malay-Muslim anti-drug campaigners on Saturday, the minister honed in on a photograph taken at a meet-and-greet session between Swedish band Watain and their fans. The picture depicted Watain and their fans flipping the bird at the camera — a defiant (and very metal) response to the government’s decision to cancel the concert on grounds of preserving “public order”.
According to Channel NewsAsia, Shanmugam detailed how the ministry would be unable to let the concert go ahead, given how Watain’s lyrical content held anti-Christian themes. Then he went into length about the photograph, harping on how it showed “primarily Malay young men”.
“You have a group of Malay young men, showing the one-finger sign, supporting the group,” CNA quoted the minister.
“If a group of Chinese went and showed the finger sign and said that we should allow it – how would you all have felt? It is the same.”
Mentioning that the photo has gone viral “across the Christian community”, Minister Shanmugam stated that it was crucial to show that the picture does not represent what the Muslim community thinks.
“They won’t realize that this a small group of Malays, but they may think, is this what Muslims think of us? So now we have to send the message that this is not what the Muslim community thinks. These are black metal group supporters, they are not the mainstream community.”
Already having caught flak for canceling the concert (which Watain actually agreed to compromise by not playing anti-religious songs), Shanmugam received a new round of pillories for pinpointing a particular race of people as part of the defiant assembly.
The photo had gone viral online after Watain posted it on their social media accounts, captioning it with a message of admiration for their fans for flying in from all over Southeast Asia and slamming the “lesser men” who canceled their show.
Local photographer Gary Ng, who manages Boplay Photos, took issue with how Minister Shanmugam chose to bring in race into the matter. The man had taken a similar photo of the band and their fans, and did not see why ethnicity had to be dragged in.
“My photograph shows the group that took a photo with Watain expressing their unhappiness, and all I see is racial diversity that cuts across all races, regardless of Malay, Chinese, Indian, Eurasian or others,” Ng wrote on the Boplay Photos Facebook page, adding that there weren’t any posters, banners or signs with anti-Christian sentiments.
“This was a photo of metalheads that are expressing their frustration at the cancellation of what was essentially a private ticketed event, which had been approved by the authorities,” he continued.
“It’s a very dangerous game when authorities start turning what basically is a photo of a group of unhappy people into a racial statement with anti-religious overtones. This will affect the social harmony more than what Watain’s lyrics will ever do.”