PA's photo blunder: Woman says she raised issue to make Singapore 'more inclusive', after accusations of broader agenda
SINGAPORE — The couple whose wedding photograph was misused by the People's Association (PA) has said that their intention in bringing the matter to light was to be “active citizens” and this was “clear from the start” — a day after PA cancelled a meeting with them, suggesting that the wife had a broader agenda.
- Ms Sarah Bagharib’s wedding photograph was used as a standee for Hari Raya decorations without her permission
- The People's Association had rejected accusations that the incident was "racist"
- Ms Sarah said the incident did not just affect her family, but also the "wider community that celebrates Hari Raya"
- Malay community leaders and former MPs also chimed in on the issue
SINGAPORE — The couple whose wedding photograph was misused by the People's Association (PA) said that their intention in bringing the matter to light was to be “active citizens” and this was “clear from the start”.
Their statement to TODAY came a day after PA cancelled a meeting with them, suggesting that the wife had a broader agenda.
Ms Sarah Bagharib and her husband also said that they wanted to "positively contribute to making Singapore a better, more inclusive home for our daughter”.
Ms Sarah, 30, a communications specialist, voiced her displeasure after learning that PA had used her wedding photograph for a Hari Raya Puasa occasion without her permission. The photo was repurposed as a standee for Hari Raya decorations at the Tiong Bahru Orchid public housing estate.
The couple were asked by TODAY to respond to PA's earlier statement on Monday, when it rejected assertions that the incident was “racist” and said that it saw no point in proceeding with a planned meeting with them at 10am on Tuesday.
PA said then that Ms Sarah’s “purpose in agreeing to meet us has gone far beyond” the incident involving the Hari Raya decoration and could have been “appropriated as a platform for her to funnel the views and comments of persons unrelated to the incident”.
To that, Ms Sarah said: “This incident didn’t just affect my husband and I through the ‘culturally insensitive’ depiction of Hari Raya celebrations, but also the wider community that celebrates Hari Raya. We are all equal stakeholders in the work that the PA does.”
She had first gone on Instagram on May 28 to speak about the matter and PA issued an apology the next day, noting that an outside vendor had been engaged to design and put up the Hari Raya decorations.
In its statement, PA said Ms Sarah made claims that this incident perpetuated the “racist culture” and has characterised the incident as “racist” — claims that it rejected..
The organisation also noted that Ms Sarah did an Instagram Live interview with Assistant Professor Walid Jumblatt Abdullah, from Nanyang Technological University’s Public Policy and Global Affairs programme, on June 7 where she “insinuated that our staff and volunteers did not find anything wrong with the standee as they might be ‘blind to racism'”.
Of the cancelled meeting with PA, Ms Sarah said: “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 People’s Association to listen to the people’s voices.
“It is unfortunate that the PA has turned this opportunity down.”
Ms Sarah said that she had sent the same statement to PA in response.
TODAY also asked her to responded specifically to PA's assertion that what it did was not racist and also its reference to her interview with Assistant Professor Walid, but she declined to do so.
Several prominent figures have publicly chimed in on the episode, with a former Member of Parliament (MP) and a former Nominated MP urging Singaporeans not to label actions as racist when they are not.
In a Facebook post, former MP Amrin Amin on Monday shared PA’s statement and wrote: “It’s wrong to use someone’s photo without permission. And of course, wedding does not equal Hari Raya — but that’s not ‘racist’. As we call out racism, we must be careful not to label every error as borne out of racism or ‘racist culture’.”
He added that it is “important to point out shortcomings” without being too quick to “cancel”.
In the comments section, a user by the name of Adam Hussain wrote: “No offence, but just (because) you don't see it as racist (doesn't) mean the rest of us minorities have to agree with you. Stop being out of touch."
Mr Amrin, who was also Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs and Health before he failed to be re-elected in the General Election last year, replied: “Don’t take offence too easily, snowflake”.
TODAY reached out to Mr Amrin, who declined to elaborate or comment about his post and his reply to the comment.
Former NMP Calvin Cheng also took to Facebook on Monday with a post about racism, though he did not directly address the incident involving Ms Sarah.
“There is racism in Singapore. This is a plainly true statement, because there is racism everywhere,” he wrote.
“The problem is when people jump on the bandwagon and make everything about racism, or claim matters that are not racist, to be racist.”
Another former NMP, Ms Kuik Shiao-yin, who chimed in on the incident on Facebook, said that the incident can be viewed through the lens of conflict negotiation.
“Every good conflict-negotiating person knows that you have one job: Do not add fuel to the fire. Your job is to de-escalate. The moment you escalate, you become enmeshed as part of the problem,” she wrote.
While the conflict between PA and Ms Sarah could have initially been resolved by establishing both parties’ common interests of building better inter-racial and intergenerational understanding, Ms Kuik said that this is no longer possible as “power-play (has) entered the picture”.
“If you are a leader leading the charge to build harmonious relationships among the people, then, strategically speaking, a unilateral power move to shut down negotiations very quickly goes against the very interests you stand for,” she added.
“Nobody likes being subjected to a unilateral power move. It creates unnecessary long-term unhappiness.”
WHAT MALAY COMMUNITY LEADERS AND FORMER MPS SAY
TODAY reached out to all the current Malay MPs from both the People’s Action Party and Workers’ Party, all of whom either did not wish to comment on the matter or did not respond.
Various Malay community leaders and former MPs gave their views on the matter when approached.
Mr Zainal Sapari, former MP for Pasir Ris–Punggol Group Representation Constituency (GRC), said that he would not frame the recent incident as a case of racism.
“I believe PA is true in its cause of promoting racial harmony and social cohesion,” the former PA grassroots adviser said.
“Despite their best efforts, such incidents do happen and will happen again in future, but I would not frame it as racism.”
He also hopes that this incident “does not dampen the spirit of many volunteers who want to serve the community, but may make some bad judgement calls unintentionally”.
“We should just apologise, learn from it and move on,” he added.
Mr Zainul Abidin Rasheed, former Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, said that the reactions to the incident should be one of understanding rather than taking on an accusatory tone.
“We need to continue to learn from each other — how do we appreciate each other’s cultures and differences and bring about better understanding and harmony — rather than to start pointing fingers,” the former Aljunied GRC MP said.
Mr Mohamed Imran Mohamed Taib, an interfaith activist and founding board member of the Centre for Interfaith Understanding, said that racism cannot just be confined to an act of an individual or a particular incident.
He said in a Facebook post on Tuesday — which he confirmed with TODAY was a response to the PA incident — that racism is a “structure, and a system of thinking and doing, that can manifest in an individual, group or social organisation through a style of thinking, speech and communication, law and policy, and physical action”.
“One has to go to the root source and identify what makes the individual think, say and act in a particular way,” he said in the post.
“Doing so would bring us to a point where we say it is not his, her, their or my problem, but it is our problem; that there is something wrong in the way we organise society.”
When asked to elaborate on his post, Mr Imran told TODAY that given the sensitivity of the issues concerning racism, we “must learn not to rush into saying that something is racist or not”.
He said that racism is experienced at the “everyday level” and one should be careful not to dismiss and invalidate the experiences of racism, especially among minorities.
“Instead, we must learn to ask ourselves what racism looks like, especially to those who are at the receiving end... Racism feels real, even if we don’t believe so.”
Mr Hazni Aris Hazam Aris, vice-chairman of AMP Singapore, a non-profit group serving the Muslim community, said that there needs to be a “paradigm shift” in how inter-racial relations are approached and understood.
“The types of conversations on race must progress beyond festivals and clothes, and move into understanding values and worldviews that shape how members of a race thinks or behaves.”