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On the Jury of Shanghai Film Festival Tuesday, May 26 |

BEIJING -- Thesps Andie MacDowell and Komaki Kurihara, helmers Andrew Lau, Xavier Koller and Huang Jianxin and South Korean producer Oh Jung-wan will join Danny Boyle on the jury for the Golden Goblet Award, the organizing committee of the 12th Shanghai International Film Festival said.

The jury will judge 16 films from 16 territories competing for the Golden Goblet at the fest, which runs June 13-21.

Some 1,925 films will unspool at the event, which offers a platform for Chinese auds to see movies outside the 20 or so foreign pics normally permitted into China. Of these, more than 200 have not been released internationally and around a third are marking their international or Chinese debuts.

Competition pics are: "We Can Do That" by Giulio Manfredonia and "Schemes of Affection" by Dodo Fiori, both from Italy; Emmanuel Finkiel's "Nowhere Promised Land" and Andre Techine's "The Girl on the Train," both from France; "Aching Hearts" by Nils Malmros from Denmark; Swedish-Danish pic "Original" by Antonio Tublen and Alexander Brondsted; Germany-Cyprus-Greece co-production "Small Crime" by Christos Georgiou; "A Piece of Me" by Christoph Roehl from Germany; "Romance" by Guel Arraes from Brazil; "Rough Cut" by Jang Hun from Korea; "Splinters" by Maciej Pieprzyca from Poland; "Chameleon" by Krisztina Goda from Hungary; "Normal" by Julius Sevcik from the Czech Republic; "Soul Searching" by Wanma Caidan from China; "The Storm in My Heart" by Pal Jackman from Norway; and Yao Shuhua's mainland China-Hong Kong-Taiwan co-production "Empire of Silver."

Tang Lijun of the organizing committee said the jury for the Asian New Talent Award, a competition that aims to discover Asia's next generation of film talent, would be Chinese thesp Yu Nan, Chinese helmer Zhu Wen, Singaporean director Royston Tan; and Thai filmmaker Nonzee Nimibutr. South Korean filmmaker Im Kwon-taek will be the jury president.

Stephen Daldry, who directed "The Reader," has been invited to talk at the fest.

The virtues of secularism Thursday, May 21 |

by Kishore Mahbubani

1103 words
20 May 2009
Straits Times
(c) 2009 Singapore Press Holdings Limited

ONE of the best decisions I made in my life was to study philosophy at the then University of Singapore. Though I had to repeat a year in order to switch courses, it turned out to be a hugely beneficial decision because it armed me with one of the most powerful weapons developed by mankind: logic.

I discovered the power of logic when I served at the United Nations. Logic travels well across cultures and languages. A logical argument in one culture is equally logical in another culture, just as mathematical truths are equally valid in all cultures.

In 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Cuba supported it; Singapore opposed it. Hence, we had fierce arguments with Cuba in numerous multilateral fora. In the end, what helped us was a simple rule of logic: All specific propositions can be universalised. Hence, if you argue a specific case, you have to accept the universal rule that goes with it.

(Interestingly, the principle of universalisability of moral statements was propagated by British philosopher R.M. Hare in his book, The Language Of Morals. Most of this book was written on toilet paper while Hare was imprisoned by the Japanese in Changi Prison during World War II. Singapore, one might say, has a proprietary interest in the principle of universality.)

I put across this simple logical argument to the Cubans: You argue that it is legitimate for the Soviet Union to invade Afghanistan. The universal consequence of this argument is that it is legitimate for major powers to invade small states. If you accept this universal rule, it means that it will also be legitimate for the United States to invade Cuba.

The Cubans were mad as hell when we made this argument because they could not argue against the logic. Even the Iranians - who were as anti-American as the Cubans - told us that we were logically correct.

The same power of logic can be applied to all other disputes. For example, some members of the Anglican Church of Our Saviour have argued that it is legitimate for their members to take over the secular organisation, Aware, because Aware was supporting activities they considered to be against their religious principles. Their pastor Derek Hong was quoted saying: 'It's not a crusade against the people but there's a line that God has drawn for us, and we don't want our nation crossing that line.' He later expressed his regret for saying this.

The universal application of this argument is that it is legitimate for religious organisations to take over secular organisations if these secular organisations violate their religious principles. Let us now try a logical extension of this argument by imagining the following scenario.

Imagine that there is a religious organisation in Singapore which believes that it is immoral for teenage girls to be forced to expose their arms, legs and faces when they go to school. They say: 'There's a line that God has drawn for us, and we don't want our nation crossing that line.' Hence, since the teachers of Singapore are enforcing the rule, this religious organisation marshals its members, takes over the Singapore Teachers' Union and uses it to advocate the argument that female teenagers should be 'free' to choose whatever dress they want to wear to school. They argue that it is wrong to impose the corrupt Western school uniforms on young women of their religion.

Please note that the above is not a hypothetical example. This argument over school uniforms has been played out in France. Should we allow this to happen in Singapore too?

The people who led the takeover of Aware did not realise that they were pushing a rule that could undermine the delicate social and political fabric of Singapore. There is one simple political reality that many Singaporeans have not fully absorbed. It is not normal for multi-ethnic, multicultural and multi-religious societies to live in relative harmony. Indeed, virtually all the multi-ethnic former British colonies have failed to preserve ethnic harmony after gaining independence. Look at the cases of Guyana, Cyprus, Sri Lanka and Fiji.

Singapore is the exception to the rule. What principles explain its success? One key principle has been the principle of secularism. There is a place for religion in society and there is a place for politics in society. Both should stay in their respective spheres. Many societies have come to grief because religion has been used as a force in politics. And Singapore will definitely come to grief if religion enters the political sphere here. As Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng put it emphatically last week: 'Keeping religion and politics separate is a key rule of political engagement.'

This is why we should be aware (pardon the pun) that the Aware saga is not just about one organisation; it is also about the larger principles that allow Singapore to survive and not fall into the same fate as other failed multi-ethnic communities.

One reason why Singapore has done well so far is that we had exceptionally wise founding fathers. One of them was the late S. Rajaratnam. He was a fierce defender of secularism. Shortly after independence in 1965, he drafted the National Pledge, which speaks of Singaporeans as 'one united people, regardless of race, language or religion'.

One simple solution for Singapore's long-term survival is to create a firewall - a thoroughly impregnable firewall - between the religious space and the secular space in Singapore society. However, when I proposed this simple solution in the draft version of this article to my friends, I received a blizzard of comments stressing that it would be very difficult, in practical terms, to create such a firewall. I agree. It will be very difficult. But if we fail to build and maintain such a firewall, dealing with the consequences of allowing religion to enter the secular space here will be more difficult.

In some areas of life, there are no easy solutions. There may only be solutions that require vision, courage and wisdom to implement. Hence, we should not underestimate the challenges of preserving secularism in Singapore.

The writer is the Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore. Think-Tank is a weekly column rotated among eight leading figures in Singapore's tertiary and research institutions.

There is one simple political reality that many Singaporeans have not fully absorbed. It is not normal for multi-ethnic, multicultural and multi-religious societies to live in relative harmony.

Red + White Friday, May 8 |

"I refer to the letter.." (1) Thursday, May 7 |

Thursday, April 16, 2009 at 10:34pm
I refer to the letter by Amy Chua, 'Why Ban on Brides, Boy' (Life Mailbag, April 11).

In the letter, the Board of Film Censors attempted to justify its ban of the film 'Brides of Allah' on account of it being 'sensitive'. It claimed that the female terrorists interviewed in the documentary 'did not seem to be remorseful and were determined to perpetrate acts of violence should they have another opportunity'. The Board was concerned on the effect of such a film on 'those who are like-minded'.

This line of reasoning seems to me to be tenuous at best. There are many documentaries which portray all manner of sociopaths and deviants—including unrepentant criminals, racial supremacists and homophobic bigots. Just because they are allowed their points of view does not mean that the documentary, as a whole, necessarily endorses their perspectives. It is a grave disservice to refer to the warped ideology articulated by these terrorists as 'the documentary's distorted view of Islam'. This 'distorted view' is one held by the interviewees, and do not necessarily reflect those of the filmmaker. 

As a matter of fact, it has to be noted that the filmmaker herself is an Israeli female director, who professes at most a curiosity towards, rather than an admiration for, these female terrorists. A review of the documentary on the Hollywood Reporter states that 'this is a film ripe with ambiguity, neither wholly sympathetic nor wholly judgmental about the subjects’. It takes a paranoiac leap of the imagination to interpret the film as one that 'provides a platform for terrorists to champion their cause'. 

Likewise, FIPRESCI film critic Pablo Utin expresses his bewilderment at the actions of these Palestinian women. In his review, he asks, 'How can a mother abandon her kids and husband and go to kill others by committing suicide? How can a pregnant woman put an explosive belt around her belly, right on top of her unborn son?' Chris Barsanti of filmcritic.com concludes that 'some of these supposed martyrs...are nothing more than homicidal maniacs given a pass by a handily convenient ideology.' None of the reviews I have read identified the film as pro-terrorist propaganda which in the Board's own words, 'portray[s] terrorists or terrorist organisations in a positive light'.

By banning the documentary, the Censorship Board assumes that a typical Singaporean filmgoer is bereft of what it patronizingly describes as ‘a discerning and mature mind’ (even after having passed 21 years of age) and is unable to reach some of the conclusions I have outlined above. More worrying is the idea that terrorists are not supposed to communicate the reasons for their chosen course of action, or rather, that the public should be shielded from their testimonies.

There are supposed proto-terrorists now who are languishing under indefinite detention at the Whitley Detention camp. Until today, the public has yet to hear their side of the story. Denied a fair and open trial as well as access to the media, these prisoners have been effectively silenced. This veritable gag order, however, is not in the national interest. Public education on the dangers of terrorism must include an avenue where these 'terrorists' are allowed to make a statement on their motivations and justifications, and to defend themselves against the evidence laid against them. 

The Nuremberg trials, which allowed Nazi war criminals to testify in court, was an exemplary case in point. Despite fierce attempts by the Nazis to exonerate themselves, it was clear from those who witnessed the proceedings that the atrocities they had committed were patently indefensible. The Censorship Board, by banning ‘Brides of Allah’, has not only failed to recognize its pedagogical value, but has squandered an invaluable opportunity to educate the public on the multifaceted causes of terrorism.

Alfian Sa'at
Censorship Monitoring Committee