Its move in omitting pig character from zodiac animal set irks Chinese
By Leow Si Wan & Chuang Bing Han
FAST-FOOD giant McDonald's has stirred up a controversy by omitting pig characters from its latest toy promotions.
The pig soft toy was expected to have been part of a 12-character Doraemon set depicting the animals of the Chinese zodiac calendar. Customers wanting the toy would have to pay $2 on top of making a food purchase.
But McDonald's decided not to include the pig toy to avoid offending Muslim customers, and had a Doraemon Cupid toy in its place instead.
The move has upset Chinese customers keen on collecting all 12 toys in the series. One of them, staff nurse Daphne Koh, 26, said: 'I was born in the Year of the Pig and would have collected the whole set. But without the pig, it makes no sense for me to do so.'
Retiree May Liaw, 55, who had wanted to buy a set to decorate her home for Chinese New Year, said: 'It is strange to have Cupid in place of the pig. The set is incomplete and I am not interested in individual pieces.'
Various online forums are also abuzz with discussions on whether the fast-food chain has overreacted.
When contacted, McDonald's Restaurants communications director Linda Ming said the chain excluded the pig toy out of sensitivity for its Muslim customers.
It chose Cupid instead to commemorate Valentine's Day, which coincides with the first day of the Chinese New Year this year, on Feb 14.
Said Ms Ming: 'We seek our customers' understanding that it has never been our intention to be disrespectful towards any religion or culture.'
She added that the restaurant would continue to sell the Doraemon collectibles which she said have been otherwise well received.
Experts contacted said the decision by McDonald's showed a lack of cross-cultural understanding.
Sociologist Daniel Goh said that if McDonald's did not consult Muslim opinions before making the decision to exclude the pig toy, the company had then presumed Muslim sensibilities. He added that it amounted to a form of self-censorship.
Indeed, Muslim teachers and scholars said they saw nothing wrong with a halal restaurant giving out pig toys.
Said religious teacher Mohammed Suhaimi Fauzi: 'For Muslims who mind the pig doll, they can choose not to buy it. But even if they buy it for their children to play with or to learn about animals, there is no problem.'
Dr Mohamad Maznah, a visiting senior research fellow with the Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore (NUS), said she felt the restaurant was just being cautious, although she doubted the Muslim community here would have been upset if the pig toy had been included.
Dr Syed Muhd Khairudin Aljunied, an assistant professor of Malay Studies at NUS, said: 'Pigs and dogs are not non- halal, except when they are consumed.'
The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore, Muis, declined comment when contacted.
Muslim patrons of the restaurant also said they did not see the pig toys as a problem.
Curator Ithnine Atan, 42, said: 'The pig is quite important to the whole collection. Even if they put a big picture of a pig there, as long as they comply with the proper halal regulations, it's okay.'
Administrative assistant Masturah Salim, 26, added: 'I think McDonald's just wanted to consider the Muslim population. Personally, I am fine with the inclusion of the pig because I won't be buying a set of the Chinese zodiac signs anyway.
'It is understandable for the Chinese to be upset about the pig being excluded from the set if they want to collect all 12 animals.'
[One of the more germane comments made on ST Online was that assuming hypersensitivity on the part of Muslims was probably more insulting to Muslims.
And gutting Chinese culture for religious sensitivity in multi-racial/multi-religious Singapore was probably ill-advised and poorly thought out.
But raising hell on this issue is also silly.
Firstly, this is a silly premium that you could choose to buy or not to buy.
Secondly, if your happiness at celebrating Chinese New Year depends on McDonald's getting its religious and cultural sensibility and priorities right, then you are a very, very sad soul.
Thirdly, collectors often collect the misprinted note, the wrongly minted coin with obvious errors. This gutted or "halalified" Chinese Zodiac collection might well be a collectors items that is a sign of the times. Even as McDonald's Singapore gets is wrong, Malaysia has churches bombed over the use of "Allah".
In any case, McDonald's still got it wrong. Islam has strict rules about idolatry so for example, Persian rugs are traditionally woven with only geometric patterns or maybe flowers. No animals are depicted. So strictly speaking, a strict Muslim would not buy the premiums anyway.
And then today I had the Cheesy Bacon Spicy Tendercrisp at Burger King, which is also a "halal" certified restaurant, and they didn't even bother to specify even in the fine print that the bacon was turkey bacon. Clearly Burger King has more respect for and a higher estimation of their Muslim customers' intelligence.]