Sunday, March 31, 2024

Pope Francis Talks about the Stones that “Block the Hopes of Humanity”

In his 2024 Easter blessing today, Pope Francis asked a troubling question:
“Like the women disciples of Jesus, we ask one another: ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’ (cf. Mk 16:3).”

Francis was referring to the huge stone that blocked the entrance to Jesus’ tomb, which women were visiting to perform a final ritual. In despair, the women saw no way to move the stone, and yet the stone moved (or was already rolled away). For Pope Francis, the stone that blocked Jesus’ tomb thousands of years ago was a metaphor for the terrible stones of war and suffering that, in Francis’ words, “block the hopes of humanity.” The metaphor of the stone reminds us never to give up hope, never to give up on love, compassion, and forgiveness. As Francis said:
“The Church relives the amazement of the women who went to the tomb at dawn on the first day of the week. The tomb of Jesus had been sealed with a great stone. Today too, great stones, heavy stones, block the hopes of humanity: the stone of war, the stone of humanitarian crises, the stone of human rights violations, the stone of human trafficking, and other stones as well.”
As Pope Francis acutely noted, horrible wars and suffering wrack the world, from the Middle East and Ukraine, and on to, central Africa, Kivu, and elsewhere. Francis reminded the 60,000 worshipers gathered at St. Peter’s Square that Syria suffers from a decades-long civil war. He appealed for humanitarian aid, the release of hostages, and cease-fires. He still came back to his metaphor of stones, asking, how will we ever roll these terrible stones away? He recognized that desperate people, who see no hope, who think themselves helpless, all face – metaphorically – the same dilemma:
“Without the forgiveness of sins, there is no overcoming the barriers of prejudice, mutual recrimination, the presumption that we are always right and others wrong.”
On the one hand, Francis assured the worshipers that only Jesus can roll away the stones of war and hatred. Francis did not, on the other hand, omit that human beings today need to act. Instead, to follow Jesus—means, according to the Pope’s blessing, for us to reach out with love and compassion to one another:
“Let us not yield to the logic of weapons and rearming. Peace is never made with arms, but with outstretched hands and open hearts.”

Sojourner Truth and Her Metaphors

Metaphors carry great power. Metaphors—like equating a tombstone with today’s terrible moral failings—force us to see connections that our narrow-mindedness leads us to deny. Francis’ metaphor had two prongs. First, yes, the massive stones that block us seem overpowering and we feel helpless to move them. Second, however, in the biblical accounts, the enormous stone was, indeed, moved. The moving of the stone added hope to the Pope’s metaphor. To move today’s stones, Pope Francis said, we must reach out with our hearts and faith, to forgive one another, to show compassion, to move the stones, not with anger or violence, but with love.

A powerful Easter message. Will the world listen?

by William D. Harpinw

Earlier Posts:

Pope Francis Asked the Catholic Church to Listen

Pope Francis' Sermon for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees

The English text of Pope Francis’ blessing is taken from the Catholic News Agency.

Copyright © 2024, William D. Harpine

Image: Pope Francis, edited from a historical White House photo

Saturday, March 30, 2024

Sojourner Truth in 1867: Keep the Thing Stirring!

Sojourner Truth
“I feel,” said Sojourner Truth, “that if I have to answer for the deeds done in my body just as much as a man, I have a right to have just as much as a man.”

On May 9, 1867, Sojourner Truth, a former slave and famous abolitionist speaker, pressed for women’s economic rights in a metaphor-filled speech. She was speaking at the First Annual Meeting of the American Equal Rights Association, held at the Church of the Puritans in New York City. She spoke in metaphors to accentuate women's rights.

As she spoke, such metaphors as weeding the garden, riding horses, and healing a knife wound expressed the path toward economic equality. Metaphors, which link seemingly unrelated concepts, strike to our deepest feelings. Sojourner Truth’s speech about justice for women surely seemed radical in 1867. Yet, the problems of justice and freedom that she described in 1867 still plague the United States, indeed the world, even to this day. Indeed, just last year, the Pew Foundation found that, “even as women have continued to outpace men in educational attainment, the pay gap has been stuck in a holding pattern since 2002, ranging from 80 to 85 cents to the dollar.”

As she began, standing to applause, Sojourner Truth compared the oppression of women to the recent abolition of slavery:
“My friends, I am rejoiced that you are glad, but I don’t know how you will feel when I get through. I come from another field—the country of the slave. They have got their liberty—so much good luck to have slavery partly destroyed; not entirely. I want it root and branch destroyed.”
That was a metaphor.  Any gardener, then or now, knows that it is never enough to pull the leaves. Only when the weed has been destroyed, as Sojourner Truth said, “root and branch,” do we know that it will never grow back. Now that chattel slavery had been abolished, Sojourner Truth argued that it was time to push for women’s rights. She made her next point with a metaphor about ice fishing. A New Yorker, she knew that ice fishing requires one not only to break the ice, but to keep stirring to prevent the pond from freezing over again:
“I suppose I am about the only colored woman that goes about to speak for the rights of the colored women. I want to keep the thing stirring, now that the ice is cracked.”
Church of the Pilgrims

The speaker had already warned that the audience might not be happy about everything he had to say. The end of the Civil War and the destruction of legalized slavery was a massive blow for freedom. It was, she said, not enough: not until women achieved the same rights as men. 

And, she said, it was not enough to talk about men’s rights:
“There is a great stir about colored men getting their rights, but not a word about the colored women,” Sojourner Truth stated as she pushed for women’s rights. 

“Stir” continued the idea of “stirring” the ice. As a true agitator, Sojourner Truth sought to continue agitation until women, including freed women, had the same rights as men. Otherwise, she pointed out, women’s lot will not have improved at all:
“… and if colored men get their rights, and not colored women theirs, you see the colored men will be masters over the women, and it will be just as bad as it was before.”

Ketanji Brown Jackson, a Progressive Traditionalist. Will We Live up to Our Values?

Frederick Douglass’ 1852 Fourth of July Speech and the Christian Right

A master, of course, demands work without pay. That is not only a moral fault, but also an economic incentive. That is why it made sense when Sojourner Truth recounted the metaphorical chains that still held women to unequal pay for equal work:
“I suppose I am kept here because something remains for me to do, I suppose I am yet to help to break the chain. I have done a great deal of work; as much as a man, but did not get so much pay. I used to work in the field and bind grain, keeping up with the cradler; but men doing no more, got twice as much pay; so with the German women.”
That is, just like a modern feminist, Sojourner Truth pointed out that women “did not get as much pay.” The problem that she alleged was that while, people viewed the end of slavery as a great triumph, they felt content—too content—to rest without fighting all injustice. Still comparing the oppression of women to slavery, she said:
“You [presumably speaking to men in the audience] have been having our rights so long, that you think, like a slave-holder, that you own us. I know that it is hard for one who has held the reins for so long to give up; it cuts like a knife. It will feel all the better when it closes up again.”
It will feel all the better? Sojourner Truth harshly told the nation to get over their pain, to understand that everything would be better if the nation could heal: again, the speaker’s metaphor drove home a deeper reality. Yes, it hurts to give up power, but, yes again, a nation that heals will be better off. “It will feel all the better,” she said.

Finally, noting that nobody at the conference had been singing, Sojourner Truth said:
“I am going to talk several times while I am here; so now I will do a little singing. I have not heard any singing since I came here.”
After singing the old standard, “We Are Going Home,” she reminded the audience that, before they get to heaven, “first do all we have to do here.”

As the audience listened to her sing, Sojourner Truth had already compared the unequal treatment of women to chattel slavery, spoken against the bonds that unjustly restrict women, and propounded metaphors about everyday life: cracking the ice, breaking chains, turning loose of the reins of injustice, and healing the cuts. She reduced the problem to basic economics: equal pay for equal work. Anything less was trickle-down slavery. And she sang.

The ultimate evil of slavery, of course, is that masters force enslaved Americans to work under conditions of unfathomable cruelty, with no control over their destiny, and without compensation. The institution of slavery continued for centuries because masters gained such a huge economic advantage from unpaid labor. Slavery’s wickedness was a moral failing, but economic gain was its obvious cause. 

In her 1867 speech, Sojourner Truth pointed out the continuing injustice that occurred when women are oppressed economically. Her metaphors brought the injustice to life.


Research note:

1. It is often surprisingly hard to get accurate texts of even the most famous speeches. Sojourner Truth’s 1851 Akron, Ohio speech, “Aren’t I a Woman?” is more famous. However, communication scholars have known for many years that the published text of “Aren’t I a Woman?” is not accurate. Sojourner Truth’s 1867 speech, which I discuss in this blog post, was recorded by a shorthand reporter, and so the text probably comes reasonably close to what she said and gives us a better idea of her actual speaking style.

2. Scholars have given many excellent discussions of the role of metaphors in rhetoric. In his ground-breaking book, The Philosophy of Rhetoric, I. A. Richards argues that all language is basically metaphorical. For example, when we talk about “the leg of the table,” we know perfectly well that tables don’t really have legs. It’s a metaphor. Richards showed that metaphors can carry literal and emotional meaning. Anyway, for people who want to learn more about metaphors and rhetoric, Richards’ book is probably a good place to start. 

by William D. Harpine

Copyright © 2024, William D. Harpine

Image of Sojourner Truth, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Image of the The Church of the Pilgrims, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, March 24, 2024

July 10, 2009: The Day When Hecklers Destroyed the Old Republican Party

Mike Castle
The Republican Party of old died on July 10, 2009, when Republican Congressional Representative Mike Castle made a routine campaign stop to speak to a group of elderly voters in Delaware. Castle was running for the United States Senate in a special election. A perfectly standard, old-school Republican, Castle came to discuss his usual platitudes. He then offered to answer questions. A woman in red raised her hand to ask Castle about Barack Obama’s birth certificate. She shouted:
“I want to know. I have a birth certificate here from the United States of America saying I’m an American citizen, with a seal on it, signed by doctor, with the hospital administrator’s name, my parents, my date of birth, the time and date. I’m gonna get back to January 20th and I want to know, why are you people ignoring his birth certificate?”
A heckler yelled, “Yeah!” The crowd clapped and cheered. A heckler screamed, “he was born in Kenya.”

The woman in red said that her father was a World War II veteran, a member of “the greatest generation.” She shrieked, “I want my country back.” More cheers and applause.

Looking as if his eyes were glazed over by car lights, Castle calmly commented:
“He is a citizen of the United States. You’re referring to the president there, he is a...”
Well, that was the end of that. The crowd stood, almost as a body, and loudly recited the Pledge of Allegiance.

Castle checked his watch and tried to move on to another questioner.

Someone soon posted a grainy cell phone video of the event on the Internet. The video went viral. Castle subsequently lost the Republican primary to an ill-equipped opponent, who in turn lost the general election.

Evidently, various Barack Obama birth certificate conspiracy theories had been circulating on talk radio, conservative television, and the Internet for weeks before Castle’s speech. The elderly, apparently all-white crowd had obviously absorbed the conspiracy theory’s every bizarre detail. In contrast, Castle had, as far as I can tell, never heard of the nonsense. In more general terms, Castle discovered that day that rational discourse has no standing in a speech community that is ruled by unreason.

The birth certificate conspiracy theory did not prevent Barack Obama from being reelected in 2012. Nevertheless, Mike Castle’s explosive experience demonstrated the stunning extent to which unfounded beliefs, many of them conspiratorial and racist, have come to dominate the Republican Party. Donald Trump’s 2016 election was driven largely by denying that Obama was born in the United States. Since then, conspiracy theorists have defeated basic public health measures, called climate change a myth, and warned of the supposed Great Replacement of white people. The unfounded belief that Democrats stole the 2020 election was a predictable outgrowth. The nation’s real problems are increasingly ignored as millions of voters drown themselves in a sea of absurdity.

Never Humiliate Your Opponent: Obama Ridiculed Trump's Conspiracy Theory

Castle never had a chance. The crowd drowned out his response. They interrupted him by shouting, clapping, and bellowing the Pledge of Allegiance. Political discourse gave way to rude, boorish heckling. Castle’s timid attempt to introduce reality into his campaign appearance met, not only denial, but derision and disrespect. His crowd listened to only one perspective: a perspective founded entirely on lies. 

Castle’s appearance before what should have been a friendly crowd at a seemingly innocuous event marked a pivotal rhetorical shift. On that sad day, the Republican Party’s discussion of genuine issues gave way to conspiracy theories. The party shows no sign of recovery. Mike Castle’s political destruction at the hands of conspiracy theorists taught Republican politicians a lesson that they have not forgotten: reality no longer wins conservative hearts. After all, politicians are simple creatures who only want to win elections. Furthermore, the birth certificate conspiracy theory, the origin of all present-day conservative conspiracy theories, did not represent just one political smear. On July 10, 2009, Republican politicians learned to bow down to their party’s most despicable elements. Since that day, they face a harsh choice: support the conspiracy theorists, or face absolutely certain electoral defeat. Mike Castle’s disastrous campaign appearance ended Republican politicians’ willingness to embrace the truth. Heaven help us.

Speeches about Conspiracies: How Can We Tell Whether a Conspiracy Is Real?

"OK, Boomer:" Chlöe Swarbrick Teaches Us How to Put a Heckler Down Flat


P.S. The origin of the birth certificate conspiracy theory is that Hawaii, like many other states, has computerized its vital records to improve efficiency and security. examined Obama’s birth certificate in August 2008. They concluded:
“ staffers have now seen, touched, examined and photographed the original birth certificate. We conclude that it meets all of the requirements from the State Department for proving U.S. citizenship. Claims that the document lacks a raised seal or a signature are false. We have posted high-resolution photographs of the document as ‘supporting documents’ to this article. Our conclusion: Obama was born in the U.S.A. just as he has always said.”
Hawaii’s Director of Public Health and Governor both personally inspected Obama’s birth records and found that they were correct. Hawaiian newspapers had published a report of Barack Obama’s birth the next day. The birth certificate conspiracy theory lacks even the remotest merit. 

All the same, while truth desperately grasps for a tenuous foothold, birth certificate conspiracy theories continued to circulate as late as 2023.

by William D. Harpine

Copyright © 2024, William D. Harpine

Image: U.S. House of Representatives, via Wikipedia

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Rotary Club Speech "Four Way Test" Speech Contest

With all the bad public speaking that politicians foist on us every day, let’s celebrate the five Coronado High School students who participated in their local Rotary Club’s Four Way Test speech contest. Two of them advanced to the next level, while all five are to be praised.

Each student gave a brief, prepared speech. They applied the Rotary Club’s Four Way Test to assorted contemporary topics. The students chose to talk about such varied subjects as artificial intelligence, suicide among autistic teens, and climate change. Each speech applied the Rotary Club’s Four Way Test. 

First, it is wonderful to see students learn to use public speaking to talk about the important subjects and controversies that face us today.

Second, in a world where people often laugh about ethics, all five speakers proudly focused on the Rotary Club's moral principles, exemplified by the Four Way Test. Business executive and Rotarian Herbert J. Taylor developed the Four Way Test to encourage honest business practices. After much deliberation, he settled on these four principles: 

1. Is it the TRUTH?
2. Is it FAIR to all Concerned?
4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

Rotarians today adopt the Four Way Test as their ethical guide. The speech contest encourages young people to apply those simple ethical principles to public issues. What better use can public speaking serve?

 Congratulations to all five students—and to the many, many other students who participate in Rotary Club speech contests across the land. Well done!


Congratulations to the Lincoln East High School Speech Team

School Speech Contests


P.S. For several years, I served as a judge for Rotary Club Four Way Test speech contests in northern Ohio. It was an inspiring duty.

by William D. Harpine

Copyright © 2024, William D. Harpine


Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Biden's 2024 State of the Union Warned of Impending Calamity

Joe Biden, 2024 State of the Union
A good introduction sets a speech’s tone. In his March 7, 2024 State of the Union Address to Congress, President Joe Biden warned the members—and the nation—that our way of life was under assault:
“… freedom and democracy are under attack at both at home and overseas at the very same time.”
Biden painted a dark, dark picture: forces, domestic and foreign alike, threaten our way of life. Yes, a good introduction sets a speech’s tone. Beginning this speech, Biden laid out two historical analogies of times that the United States was attacked from without, and within. 

As they begin their presentations, good speakers want to gain the audience’s attention while pressing home their key point. Starting the speech, Biden first linked the United States of America’s current political crises with the onset of World War II:
“… in January 1941, Franklin Roosevelt came to this chamber to speak to the nation and he said, ‘I address you at a moment unprecedented in the history of the Union.’”
Biden’s startling historical analogy set the speech’s central message. In January 1941, Roosevelt had worried that neither Congress nor the nation understood the growing threat of totalitarian governments abroad. Like Roosevelt before him, Biden wanted to alert the nation of the growing catastrophe. Biden continued:
“Hitler was on the march, war was raging in Europe, President Roosevelt’s purpose was to wake up Congress and alert the American people that this was no ordinary time. Freedom and democracy were under assault in the world.” [italics added]
Pushing for aid to Ukraine, Biden then carried his analogy to the present day:
“Overseas, Putin of Russia is on the march, invading Ukraine and sowing chaos throughout Europe and beyond. If anybody in this room thinks Putin will stop at Ukraine, I assure you he will not.”
The war in Europe is not, Biden insisted, not our only threat. Making a second historical analogy, Biden warned:
“Not since President Lincoln in the Civil War have freedom and democracy been under assault at home as they are today. What makes our moment rare is that freedom and democracy are under attack both at home and overseas at the very same time.”
After all, January 2021 represented the first time in United States history that we failed to have a peaceful transfer of power.

Biden’s goal was to “wake up Congress and alert the American people.” A mild, mealy-mouthed introduction would wake up no one.

Did Congress wake up that night? Given the amount of heckling and cat- calling from the republican side, well, probably not. Maybe, however, Biden’s introduction may have been the opening salvo to break the United States out of its complacency and to remind us that we live in perilous times. I only wish that Biden had said these things a year ago. As the speech continued, Biden laid out the importance of aiding Ukraine, addressing the southern border, protecting women’s rights, and other key themes. 

Two historical analogies established Biden’s theme. Those starting analogies gave the speech a powerful framework. Biden referred to President Franklin Roosevelt and the onset of World War II, making a second reference to Abraham Lincoln and the American Civil War. Both of those times plagued the United States with terrible danger. Biden alerted Congress and the nation alike that we face great dangers today. Are we listening? No one wants to think about oncoming calamity. Yet, if we face calamity unprepared, do we not choose to become lifeless victims?

Did Biden overstate his introductory analogies? I don’t think so. If we forget history, we will relive history. World War II, the worst disaster in human history, did not break out in one gigantic attack. In fact, the long gap between the September 1939 invasion of Poland and Germany’s June 1940 assault on France was called “the phony war.” Yes, today, Ukraine seems a long way away. All the same, today, while Russia brutalizes Ukraine, does the United States confront growing danger? ­Do we need to wake up?

by William D. Harpine


Earlier Posts:

Copyright © 2024 William D. Harpine

Image: Official White House photo, via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, March 9, 2024

A Nice, Quiet Heckle

James Lankford
A gentle heckle is worth a thousand shouts! Senator James Lankford whispered a heckle and shook up the United States’ border controversy.

Biden Lashed Out at Republicans

Making one of the first points in his March 7, 2024 State of the Union speech, President Joe Biden lashed out at the Republicans in Congress for defeating what appeared to be an extremely conservative border control bill. The bill was drafted by Independent Senator Kyrsten Sinema, Republican James Lankford, and Democrat Chris Murphy. Murphy agreed to a conservative border bill as a compromise to increase aid to Ukraine. Biden called the bill:
“…a bipartisan bill with the toughest set of border security reforms we’ve ever seen.”
Joe Biden, 2024 State of the Union
The Republicans howled as if one body. (In fact, they heckled loudly throughout the speech.) Biden quickly ad-libbed:
“Oh, you don’t think so? Oh, you don’t like that bill, huh, that conservatives got together and said was a good bill? I’ll be darned. That’s amazing.”
Biden detailed the bill’s provisions:
“1,500 more security agents and officers, 100 more immigration judges to help tackle a backload of 2 million cases, 4,300 more asylum officers, and new policies so they can resolve cases in 6 months instead of 6 years now.”
Anyway, Biden pounded on and on in that vein. In the midst of Biden’s broadside attack, Lankford quietly mouthed:
“That’s true.”
Reportedly, former president Donald Trump had told Republicans to oppose the bill, presumably because he wanted to whine about the border during the presidential campaign.

Heckling and Anti-Heckling in Joe Biden’s February 7, 2023 State of the Union Address


Poor Lankford

Republicans had, for weeks, been turning against Lankford for helping to write the bill. Back in February, after the bill was roundly defeated, losing votes even from its strongest erstwhile supporters, Lankford commented:
“I’m disappointed we didn’t get it done, ... I don’t know if I feel betrayed, because the issue is still there. It’s not solved.”
Burned by his own party’s flip-flopping, Lankford’s pretty much inaudible heckle (it required lip reading) gave his understandable reaction to the betrayal. He and his colleagues had worked hard to write a strict border control bill, and to see his work upended so casually would plague even the most cynical politician.

The Lost Art of Heckling: How to Heckle and Not Sound Like an Idiot
Trying to salvage his evidently wrecked political career, Lankford promptly issued a lengthy statement criticizing every part of Biden’s speech. Too little, too late. The Republicans have abandoned him, and he has become a pariah—for the unforgivable crime of momentary integrity. His brave, honest, whispered heckle expressed, however, an unusual, though achingly brief, display of spine and conscience in the United States of America’s increasingly polarized and dishonest political environment.

And he didn’t need to shout.

by William D. Harpine

Copyright © 2024, William D. Harpine

Images:  U.S. Congress, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain; 

Monday, March 4, 2024

Singapore’s Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean Spoke for Cultural Unity and Cooperation

Teo Chee Hean
“We see all the conflicts around the world, many of which are ignited by people who seek to
find divisions and differences arising out of race, language and religion.”
On the March 3, 2024, at the Pergas Gema Kesyukuran, Singapore’s Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean gave a speech about values. He spoke about the value of religious diversity and freedom at the Pergas Gema Kesyukuran, which is a major Muslim celebration in Singapore. It is a time of unity and gratitude.

Teo’s speech supported the premises of unity, identification, and mutual acceptance. Unlike what we often hear in the United States of America, he supported religion in public life without placing any one religion in pre-eminence. Harmony, he insisted, is the opposite of seeking “divisions and differences.” Strength comes from mutual respect. Teo explained how such values underlie the nation’s success:
“We are really blessed in Singapore where all our communities have pledged to work together.”

Unity in Diversity

Teo began by greeting the attendees in the Bahasa Melayu language, which is spoken by many Singaporean Muslims. He then stated his basic value, the value of tolerance and diversity:
“In Singapore, we live in a multi-racial, multi-religious, and multi-cultural society. There is no religion which is the dominant or majority religion; so every religion is in the minority. This is a rather unique situation and makes us one of the most religiously diverse countries in the world.”
Continuing, Teo told his audience about the continuing value of cooperation. Indeed, as Teo explained throughout his speech, Singaporeans have learned to work and serve together instead of seeking to divide. Teo claimed that this has led to a sense of national unity. He set forth how Singaporeans have learned to work and serve together, leading the public toward a sense of national unity:
“Our pioneer leaders have worked hard, with the support of our religious and community leaders, to promote unity among all communities and faiths. Singaporeans of all races and faiths now live together in HDB precincts, study together in national schools, perform National Service together, and work together.”

Tragic Events around the World

As he spoke, the ongoing battle between Hamas and Israel was much on Teo’s mind. The suffering of Palestinian civilians in that conflict surely troubled his Muslim audience. So, while continuing to reject internal conflict, Teo reiterated that Singapore’s many ethnic and religious groups must continue to work in harmony:
“Not only must we be united as a nation, each of our communities must be united and make sure that the different parts work together.”
Teo’s comments celebrated and praised Singapore’s Muslim leaders. At the same time, perhaps those same leaders recognized that Teo was guiding them toward a particular attitude. Teo may have been warning them, ever so gently, not to let the horrible Middle Eastern war drive Singaporeans apart. 

The Israeli-Gaza war has let to world-wide dissent. People throughout the world are shocked and horrified by the ongoing bloodshed of civilians. Given Singapore’s historical friendship with Israel, Teo needed to handle the issue with delicacy. Teo reaffirmed Singapore’s commitment to a ceasefire, with the disagreements to be settled by negotiation rather than violence. Teo carefully avoided taking sides in the Israel-Hamas war, and instead urged Muslim leaders to continue to support unity. Indeed, Teo insisted that the war’s solution lay in negotiating a settlement under international law. He hinted that his audience members were, first and foremost, Singaporeans:
“We must not let disagreements and conflicts elsewhere in the world become sources of tension and division in our society. We act on principle, supporting what is right under international law and international humanitarian law, urging a ceasefire and for issues to be resolved in a fair and just way through negotiations.” [italics added]
Teo then wished the attendees a peaceful and rewarding Ramadan.

Why Does Singapore Support Diversity?

No doubt, Teo gave an idealized view. At the same time, one cannot overlook how sharply Teo’s rhetoric of diversity and unity clashes with comparable rhetoric in the United States. Donald Trump is literally campaigning on a platform of division, and the January 6, 2021 riots threatened our constitutional system. Simply contrast Teo’s public celebration of Muslims with the vicious reception that Muslims sometimes receive in the United States.

Donald Trump's "Send Her Back" Speech Made Ilhan Omar a Flag Individual

Bennie Thompson, Chair of the January 6, 2021, Committee, Spoke from Tradition

Teo largely based his argument on history and culture. He argued that Singapore’s diversity—no one religion dominates the nation—protects it from religious tyranny or conflict. Perhaps the nation’s tremendous prosperity also helps. Still, values make a difference. Teo’s speech urged Singaporeans to continue to work together in harmony, to work for peace, and to cooperate for mutual success.

All the same, Singapore’s harmony may come at a social price. For my part, I would not choose to live under Singapore’s one-party rule or its questionable human rights record.

Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address: “The Better Angels of Our Nature”

Compared with the United States, Singapore is a tiny nation, and it is entirely urban. Nevertheless, Teo based his values, not on asserting authoritarian leadership, but on a culture that seeks to work together. If nothing else, this should give us something to consider. So, Teo left his audience with an inspiring thought, that working together, sharing strengths, gives everyone a better future:
“… we can have a strong, progressive, modern Muslim community in Singapore, that thrive[s] for a better, brighter future with all our strengths combined. That is the target that we should achieve.”

P.S. The Economist Intelligence Group’s Democracy Index ranks both Singapore and the United States as “flawed democracies,” with the United States’ score a bit better than Singapore’s. Article 12 of Singapore's constitution specifically prohibits discrimination. Sadly, the world’s overall performance in the Democracy Index is declining, as corruption and powerful interest groups give people less of a feeling that they control their own governments. 

by William D. Harpine

Copyright © 2024, William D. Harpine

Image: People’s Action Party of Singapore, via Wikimedia Commons, used by permission