Parliament: Two out of three Singaporeans back Government's move to cancel Watain concert

Swedish black metal band Watain mingling with fans on March 7, 2019, after their performance was cancelled. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - The Government decided to cancel the permit for Swedish black metal band Watain's concert last month when it got reports that mainstream Christians were very concerned and offended by the band, Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said on Monday (April 1).

And a survey of Singaporeans by government feedback unit Reach found that two in three supported the move, he noted. Among Christians, 86 per cent were supportive of the move to disallow the concert, the Reach poll found.

"The initial assessment was that if they do not perform offensively in Singapore, it should be okay," he noted. But MHA officers found otherwise.

"My officers and I take in account both the reaction of the Christian community and the consequent security issues in the medium and longer term.

"When we concluded that was the mainstream, widespread Christian view, and assessed the consequent security issues, we decided that the concert had to be cancelled," he added, outlining the sequence of events leading to the move.

Reach polled 680 randomly selected Singapore citizens aged 15 and above from March 11 to 15, a few days after the concert was cancelled hours before it was to take place on March 7.

Speaking in Parliament on restricting hate speech to maintain racial and religious harmony in Singapore, Mr Shanmugam said that the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) received an application for the concert at the end of December 2018. The MHA was then informed of the application and objected to the concert.

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IMDA then requested for a reconsideration of the MHA's position and proposed detailed requirements for the concert. These included an R18 rating, no religious symbols used during the concert, no references to religion in the band's on-stage dialogue, no performing of content that denigrates any faith or promoted any cult practices, and no ritualistic or satanic acts. IMDA then issued the restricted licence on March 5.

Two days later, which was also two days before the concert, the MHA received reports that mainstream Christians were very concerned and offended by the band. MHA officers then met Christian leaders, leaders of other religions, and both Christian and non-Christian MPs, and Mr Shanmugam made the decision to advise IMDA to cancel the concert.

Mr Shanmugam pointed out to lyrics from Watain's songs that denigrate Christianity, as well as controversial statements made by Watain singer Erik Danielsson.

The singer once told an interviewer that he "totally encourages any kind of terrorist acts committed in the name of Watain, absolutely, that's the way rock and roll works."

Mr Shanmugam says: "He knows that his music attracts fanatics with extreme ideas. He is aware of the lawlessness, violence, crime, madness, that can follow."

The minister also noted that Mr Danielsson had said he had "always been encouraging music to take a physical form". The singer had also cited church burnings in Norway in the early 1990s and said: "To me, it's the very natural consequences of rock and roll, in the end, being the devil's music."

Response to arguments against banning Watain

Mr Shanmugam says that he recognises that some Singaporeans disagree with the move to ban the concert, citing the articulate views online by former teacher Chew Wei Shan, among others.

"It is not about whether the Government should tell you what music you can or cannot listen to. You can listen to a Watain concert through Spotify, for example, at least as of now.

"The issue here is about whether Government should give Watain licence to perform publicly in Singapore. And the Government has a responsibility to not just the individuals who like Watain music, but also the majority of Singaporeans who would be offended."

If Watain was allowed to perform, the Government would not have grounds to ban other groups with similar hate messages.

"You will then still have a lot of hate speech in the mainstream through entertainment."

He asked if those unhappy with the Watain ban would be willing to accept the consequences of their position, that there is a possibility that fault lines of race and religion could become be greater over time.

"Would they be willing to say: I accept that similar concerts, entertainment attacking Islam, Buddhism other religions should also be allowed?"

He also asked if they would allow Malay Power music, which calls for an end of immigration and for non-Malays to be expelled from Malaysia, and draws inspiration from the Nazis. Should Chinese Power music, which doesn't exist now, then be allowed?

Why not go further, he added, citing the Danish cartoons that denigrated Prophet Muhammad and saw violent global protests. Would people be prepared to accept the consequences?

Those who are willing to accept the consequences will be in the small minority, he added.

"I don't think many Singaporeans will support that position," he said.

Mr Shanmugam also touched on "dark suggestions of Christian conspiracy" made by some online over the ban, who cited how Christians have a hold on the Government, and that it had bowed to their power.

"I made the decision, in my capacity as Minister of Home Affairs," he said. "No one, Christian or otherwise, influenced me. No matter who the Minister for Home Affairs is - Christian, Muslim, Hindu or agnostic - it would make such decisions on the basis of national interest."

He also noted that the Government "can't and won't ban everything" but will be "fair, even-handed, and has to be practical".

But he reiterated that where hate speech and offensive speech that vast numbers in any community find deeply wounding are concerned, the Government will not hesitate to take action.

He said: "I hope we will always have a Government that insists on doing the right thing, to protect any community in Singapore, no matter how small, and no matter what the majority might feel."

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