Don't take racial and religious tolerance for granted

At the FairPrice Finest supermarket at Bedok Mall on Saturday afternoon, I noticed a man wearing a T-shirt that read "Mr Jihad".

The T-shirt design mimicked the characters in the Mr Men series of children's books, with "Mr Jihad" having a bomb strapped to his back.

I was immediately outraged, and told him that his T-shirt was offensive and should not be worn in public since it could get him in trouble.

The man, who appeared to be and spoke like a Chinese Singaporean in his 30s, acknowledged what I said but seemed to laugh it off.

It troubles me that a Singaporean adult should be so cavalier about this sensitive issue.

The T-shirt design reinforces a terrible stereotype and perpetuates ignorance about Muslim beliefs, serving to anger a minority race along with secular moderates like me.

New York Times columnist Charles Blow once said: "One doesn't have to operate with great malice to do great harm. The absence of empathy and understanding are sufficient."

His words ring true here, this man was not ignorant to the objectionable nature of his T-shirt, but still chose to wear it in public.

Knowing nothing of the man, I cannot say if he was a bigot or was simply out to attract attention, but such undue provocation takes a jab at the peace and harmony we enjoy in Singapore.

I am all for creative freedom, but something like this goes too far.

Worn at the wrong place at the wrong time, the T-shirt could have sparked a fight, riot or worse.

As a Singaporean, I believe that our racial and religious tolerance should never be taken for granted, as our success as a nation is due in part to how we all get along in harmony.

I therefore feel it is my duty to speak up when I see this status quo threatened, and hope more people will do the same.

Gurmit Singh Kullar

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2019, with the headline 'Don't take racial and religious tolerance for granted'. Print Edition | Subscribe