Free speech is a tricky issue.
In the US, it is fairly common for someone to stick their foot in their mouth and try to hide behind the first amendment (a constitutional protection of the freedom of speech). The problem is, the amendment protects the person from the government — not from getting fired.
Across Asia, free speech is a hit-and-miss issue — with many governments pointing to the erratic nature of Western politics as proof it is a flawed concept.
Yesterday and today, Vulcan Post dove headfirst into the conversation with two articles that set off a firestorm. First, the editorial team decided to run an article by an anonymous (cowardly) business owner explaining while he would never hire a religious person.
Today, they defended the decision by making what largely amounts to a free speech argument. They wrote:
“So to answer the main question that has been directed at us: we published it because it exists.”
Does Vulcan Post have the right to publish the article? Of course it does. But the decision to do so should be heavily criticised.
The post is not anti-religion, it is anti-muslim
Hiding behind secularity and political correctness is a clever intellectual trick.
Religion is a tricky subject and some of the most divisive, interesting and engaging conversations are about the role it plays in this world of ours. The conversation should be embraced. One of my close friends is a devout Hindu, if anyone heard us discuss religion they would think us enemies.
Unfortunately, the article in discussion is not a smart conversation about religion. It is a poorly argued piece in which the author substituted ‘muslim’ for ‘religion’ in the hopes of blunting backlash (it did not work).
A fairly simple thought-experiment presented by a colleague pushed me off the fence and into writing this article.
“Would e27 have published a article from a VC who laid out an argument for why he/she did not invest in Indian CEOs?”
“No, of course not. That’s just racist.”
“Why is this any different?”
The author hid behind the guise of “I would act the same for all religions”— and then specifically brought up examples of why wearing a tudung, eating pork, and drinking alcohol would hurt a person’s ability to get a job. (I wonder, would this person hire a recovering alcoholic who won’t touch booze? Wouldn’t that hurt the company culture?).
But don’t worry, if the person was wearing a cross around their neck this employer would equally discriminate against that person.
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If wearing a tudung makes applying to the job futile, it is no different from the Muslim Ban in the US. Be it the Trump administration or this author, calling a dog a cat does not make it true.
The rise of populism in the West has allowed people to present terrible ideas as a rejection of an overly politically correct society. As the author wrote:
Look, it’s not personal, I’m just making the hard decision. Because someone has to.
Except this is not the hard decision. This is the lazy decision. The company refuses to make fairly minor adjustments to help a person feel at home within the organisation.
I tend to find metaphors in sports, so here is one: The best coaches adapt their system to fit their players — the bad coaches force their players to adapt to the playbook.
If a hyper-talented woman wearing a tudung walks into an interview room, it is the fundamental responsibility of the company to adapt around her, not the other way around (with a bit of give-and-take obviously).
It is ironic that when the collective media is tripping over itself to celebrate International Women’s Day (which, for the record, I support) we seem tolerate the jabs thrown at the muslims in our community.
Unfortunately, Vulcan Post doubled-down on the article and presented its publishing as something of a hero’s duty. They wrote the following:
Generating discussion around an ugly subject like discrimination, sexism or paedophilia creates awareness that such a thing exists. It also makes us more sensitive about how our own actions can improve the current landscape.
But the decision was not to present the problematic issues in our society, it was to simply lay out a series of derogatory claims without bothering to comment on their validity.
Is there any proof that a religious person is worse at group-work than a secular person? Has the dietary habits of colleagues ever actually impacted a religious person’s ability to perform? Wouldn’t an important client appreciate the honesty if the person said, “Hey, I don’t drink, but let’s go to dinner and talk business.”?
People say all sorts of crazy things — but it is the job of editors to filter through the garbage and present ideas that provide value.
This did not do so — it just tore down a group of people.
For an example of how to present the issue of racism in the workplace, NPR (America’s public broadcasting station) provided a clear blueprint for the media moving forward.
The story above is about a study that found that having an Asian name negatively impacts one’s ability to find work in Canada. It is a troubling, but not overly surprising, story that directly challenges the opinions of some Canadians that their country is the pluralistic alternative to their racist cousins to the south.
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Unfortunately, while the backlash to the Vulcan article was fierce, some people will read it and it will reinforce the prejudices that no society has yet to successfully slay.
The reason I feel so strongly is because race, religion and ethnic identity in 2017 seem to be at a ‘tinderbox moment’ across the globe — and the reality is that my viewpoint is losing (at least, when it comes to gaining and holding onto power).
In my worldview, it is time to reject ethno-nationalism, religious intolerance and racial prejudice. Unfortunately, the powers-that-be do not agree.
I hope in the future, we can approach these kinds of guest posts in the same way we would a drunken racist at the bar — just ignore them, and let their fool ideas die in the bottle of whiskey.
Copyright: afe207 / 123RF Stock Photo