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Fostering trust and harmony for a more united Singapore

Speech by Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth at the National IRCC Convention 2018
27 January 2018

President Halimah Yacob,

Members of Parliament,

Members of the IRCC and various Religious Organisations,

Ladies and gentlemen

Introduction

1. A very good morning to all of you, and welcome to the inaugural National IRCC Convention 2018. We are especially honoured today to have with us President Halimah Yacob as our Guest-of-Honour. Thank you, Madam President, for your support! We would like to thank all the speakers for supporting this convention. 

Rise of extremism around the world

2. Globally, we are seeing how extremism has divided communities and claimed many innocent lives. The threat posed by terrorism is all too real; terrorists are constantly evolving their methods and carrying out more and more alarming attacks all over the world. It is more important now than ever, for us to come together and support one another during these uncertain times.

3. In the last year alone, there were a number of violent extremist attacks in several major cities:

  • On 22 May 2017, terrorists detonated a suicide bomb in the Manchester Arena during a concert, claiming 22 innocent lives; many of them were children.
  • On 13 August 2017, a car ploughed through a large group of counter-protestors, after a white nationalist rally turned violent in Charlottesville, USA. Far right nationalists took to the streets chanting racist slogans and displaying Nazi symbols. The incident left at least one person dead.
  • On 24 November 2017, militants detonated a bomb and rained gunfire inside a crowded Sufi mosque in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, killing over 300 people and wounding hundreds more.

4. The culprits behind these heinous attacks subscribe to radical ideologies to justify and further their violent cause. They aim to inject fear and breed distrust, so as to weaken the social fabric of society.

Self-radicalisation in our region

5. We are not immune to such threats. ISIS may be losing ground in the Middle East; however, its influence continues to affect cities around the world. Arrests of radicalised individuals with affiliations to such groups have gone up in Malaysia and in Singapore, while Indonesia has seen a number of ISIS-inspired attacks.

6. What is a particularly worrying trend is the rising number of radicalised Singaporeans. MHA issued orders on 11 persons under the Internal Security Act  in the 8 years from 2007 to 2014, but in the 3 years since 2015, this has risen to 19, including one female infant care assistant1. Unlike the detainees of the past, many of these recent detainees are self-radicalised, mostly online. The Internet will be a key front in our battle against undesirable influences online.

The need to guard against segregationist beliefs from taking root in Singapore

7. Apart from extremist ideologies, we must continue to guard against actions that cause disharmony and ill will between communities. We must also recognise the threat of segregationist beliefs and practices to our social cohesion. While these do not incite violence, they corrode our social fabric when different faith groups denigrate or pull away from each other.  The Government has been taking active steps to prevent such teachings from taking root. In October 2017, two foreign Islamic preachers, Ismail Menk and Haslin Baharim, were not allowed to enter Singapore for their divisive and segregationist teachings. Amongst the expressions that will sow discord between the Muslims and the non-Muslims, one claimed it was “the biggest sin” for Muslims to wish non-Muslims Merry Christmas or Happy Deepavali while the other described non-Muslims as “deviant”.

8. In another instance, two Christian preachers were barred from speaking in Singapore in September 2017 for denigrating remarks made about other religions. The preachers had propagated anti-Islam, anti-Buddhist views in their teachings.

9. Such teachings are unacceptable and dangerous in our multi-racial and multi-religious society. We cannot allow such divisive views to undermine our unity as a nation.

Fostering closer ties through dialogue

10. The trust and harmony among our communities represent our basic values and they must be protected by all of us. The Government has made effort to promote and maintain good relations between the various ethnic and religious communities. We need our community leaders to come forward, to encourage more fellow Singaporeans to stand united and to better understand one another through honest and open dialogue.

11. Take the BRIDGE programme. This is a series of community-driven initiatives, which include community dialogues to foster a better understanding and appreciation of diverse religions and cultures in Singapore. Many of you participated and curated some of these dialogues. Since its launch in March 2017, we have engaged more than 3,700 participants of different ages and backgrounds. Some of these would include:

  • Conferences held by the Nanyang Confucian Association on Islam & Confucianism as well as Christianity & Confucianism, reaching out to more than 700 participants in 2017. Both sessions were conducted in Mandarin, and reached out to an older group of Singaporean Chinese. The dialogues aimed to find similarities between the faiths, and dispel commonly held misconceptions.
  • Faith in Action, an interfaith youth conference organised by Roses of Peace in September 2017 for over 150 youths. The conference was followed by a distribution of 10,000 roses accompanied with messages of peace from different faiths by over 300 volunteers in October.

12. Moving forward for BRIDGE, MCCY is partnering South East CDC to scale up the Common Senses for Common Spaces initiative. This interfaith dialogue series will be re-launched islandwide next week in partnership with the other CDCs. New formats will be introduced – basic tenets of faiths; thematic format on commonalities across different faiths; as well as in-depth discussions on religious identity and sharing of personal stories.

13. Beyond BRIDGE, I am encouraged to see many ground-up efforts in fostering trust and understanding between people of different faiths. As I speak, more than 150 volunteers from Al-Mawaddah Mosque, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Sengkang West Grassroots Organisations and Ride of Hope, a cycling interest group, are doing good together. These volunteers are packing groceries, obtained through sponsorships and donations, and distributing them to needy families in Sengkang. This is the one of many collaborations among different religious and community groups that embody the spirit of SG Cares. Through volunteerism, diverse communities are getting to know each other, building relationships and trust through caring for others. We believe this is a good way in nurturing a caring and cohesive Singapore. 

Endorsement from the President

14. Finally, I would like to especially thank Madam President for joining us today. As our President, your presence sends a strong signal on your support for our work on inter-religious and inter-racial harmony. To quote you from your inauguration last year:

“Every generation faces new challenges to our multi-racialism. Every generation must update our institutions to strengthen our shared values. And every generation needs champions who care deeply about multi-racialism and fight to uphold and realise this ideal.”

15. I am glad that you are our champion, to lead us to a stronger and more united Singapore. Thank you.



[1] A recent example would be Nur Izzah, a 22-year old contract infant “educarer” with PCF sparkletots, who was placed under a detention order in June 2017. She was the first female to be detained in Singapore for radicalism.

 

Last Updated: 29 January 2018

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