[UPDATE on Wednesday, 5 March, 2:45pm: Adding NUS provost’s comments]
The National University of Singapore (NUS) professor who had likened lesbianism to cancer has acknowledged that his recent Facebook posts had reflected “poor judgment in the tone and choice of words”.
In a circular sent on Wednesday, NUS provost Tan Eng Chye said that Associate Professor Syed Muhd Khairudin Aljunied’s comments on his views of lesbianism “contained provocative, inappropriate and offensive language”.
“I have counselled Associate Professor Khairudin, who has acknowledged that whilst his only intention had been to convey his point of view, his original posts reflected poor judgment in the tone and choice of words. He has since amended or removed these posts,” said Prof Tan.
Last week, NUS was alerted to the controversy by one ex-student and two current students, who expressed concern after seeing what they said were two posts by Associate Professor Khairudin Aljunied, who lectures in NUS’ Malay Studies department. The latter updated his Facebook page on 20 February with a status that, among other things, likened lesbianism to “cancers” that must be stopped “in their tracks”.
He labelled it as a “wrongful” ideology that will corrupt the true meaning of Islam and sexuality as defined by the Quran, warning that it will “spread like wild fire” if scholars and religious teachers do not speak up against it.
In another part, Khairudin referred to homosexuality as “waywardness” and “diseases” that must be detected early on by parents and teachers.
“All diseases must end at homes, if not, in schools,” he wrote. “Together, we will stop these cancers in their tracks!”
He subsequently edited his post a series of 11 times, with the last edit made on Thursday afternoon, removing the allegedly offending words “cancers”, “wrongful” and “diseases”, among others that the students pointed out. He also modified the last line in the first post to “Together, we will stop these developments in their tracks through education and reasoned arguments”.
His final edited version of his first post saw a new line being added, however, which read "Make the pure message of Islam viral to cleanse liberal Islam and lesbianism from the hearts of the faithful."
Assoc Prof Khairudin’s initial version of the post was what triggered the response of graduate student Benjamin Seet and ex-NUS student Melissa Tsang, as well as final-year student Khairulanwar Zaini, who also took to Facebook about 10 minutes later on Thursday to pen a letter of concern to NUS’ Provost and Deputy President for academic affairs Prof Tan Eng Chye, as well as Vice Provost for academic personnel Prof Lily Kong.
In it, they described Khairudin’s comments as “unbecoming of a university professor”, saying that his words were “tantamount to hate speech”. The three also pointed out that in a second post titled “When Liberals Become Oppressive”, Khairudin was said to have refused to apologise for his first post, arguing that his comments were borne out of his religious convictions and that preventing him from voicing his views is acting to “censor” him.
The second post was later removed, said the three.
Responding to queries from Yahoo Singapore, a spokesperson for the university said NUS is aware of the open letter, as well as the concerns that were raised in it.
The spokesperson said NUS is seeking to better understand the concerns and to “help address the issues at hand”.
“NUS advocates a culture of respect for individuals regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion, nationality, political or sexual orientation,” she said, adding the university’s appreciation for the diversity of perspectives surrounding various issues. “We hope that such conversations will remain respectful and sensitive at all times.”
Yahoo Singapore is seeking comment from Khairudin and the authors of the letter.