One of the great things about traveling is that you're able to get out from under all the political, social and cultural biases that we have at home. Often we don't even realize that we have these biases, but trust me, they're there.
Here in Singapore, far from the long shadow cast by America and removed from status quo thinking in Canada, I'm seeing things in a refreshing light. And Lady Gaga is helping to clear my vision.
One of the big stories in the region is the opposition Gaga is seeing to her tour. Churches in South Korean prayed that she might be smitten by God. And in Indonesia, Muslin hardliners have forced officials in Jakarta to issue a ban on her sold out show on June 3.
Back at home, my reaction might have been "Hah! Glad to see she's having a hard time. DIE, GAGA DIE!"
However, if I'm honest, this literally translates as "I'm not a fan of her music and her pop ilk so I'm engaging in some very jolly schadenfreude." That's petty and stupid. I now see that there are bigger issues here. MUCH bigger.
Stay with me on this.
The ruling secular authorities across the strait from where I am now having been trying hard to create an image of tolerance and fairness. They want to be known as a government that is willing to defend the rights of citizens against extremists, an important fact in light of the terrorist bombings that have killed so many in Bali and other parts of the country. They want to show that a democratic tradition is being developed in the country and that democratization it hasn't stalled in one of the most populous nations on the planet.
Critically, this means defending the rights of those in the minority when the chips are down--minorities such as those with the interest and money to see a concert by a major pop star.
However, there are signs that point to the state apparatus is becoming more integrated with religious organizations with agendas. This is worrisome.