Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Racial, religious integration in Singapore an ongoing work: PM Lee

It is 'complacent and dangerous' to think that such matters are no longer divisive
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 5 Oct 2015

Racial and religious integration is an ongoing challenge, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Sunday (Oct 4), as he stressed that the harmony which Singapore enjoys today is not natural, but an act of will that has been sustained through the decades.

No matter the progress over the last 50 years, it is "complacent and dangerous" to be lulled into a false sense of safety that race and religion matters are no longer divisive.

These remain "difficult and sensitive" issues for any society, he said, adding there is room for open discussion, but it would be unwise to assume there is no need to be careful when dealing with such issues.

Mr Lee was addressing community and religious leaders at a forum held by OnePeople.sg, which is a national body focused on promoting racial and religious harmony.

He said that from the start, Singapore's pioneer leaders had strongly believed in the ideal of a multiracial society where all are treated equal. This caused tension when Singapore was still a part of Malaysia and was the fundamental reason why both sides separated in 1965, he added.

Recalling the period of unrest in Singapore's early years of independence, he said then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew had spoken out forcefully against Chinese chauvinists 50 years ago this week.

The language agitators had been pushing for a constitutional guarantee of the status of the Chinese language, despite assurance that the four major languages are official and equal. However, the elder Mr Lee rebuffed them, and reaffirmed the commitment to build a model society that would be "an example for everybody else to follow", said Mr Lee.

Singaporeans had supported many hard decisions along the way, he added, describing the harmonious state of affairs here as one of Singapore's "most remarkable achievements".

Yet, in some ways, racial and religious matters are more complicated today than they were 50 years ago, as evident from the occasional "prickly issues and incidents with a racial tinge", said Mr Lee.

Some examples include racist posts on social media, as well as decisions over religious rites for births in mixed marriages.

He credited community and religious groups for dealing with them "quietly, cooperatively and maturely" before they blow up.

But as Singapore preserves its harmony within borders, it still must be vigilant over external threats such as jihadist terrorism, said Mr Lee.

He said, in the event of a terror attack: "We must be very, very, very careful that we don't let it pull our fabric apart."

So, Singapore must continuously nurture racial ties and build trust and confidence among races, he said, which is why national groups like OnePeople.sg are so crucial.

Citing a study two years ago, Mr Lee noted that while most Singaporeans subscribe to racial and religious harmony, less than half had at least one close friend of another race. He said: "In principle, we have made a lot of progress. In practice, we need to do more."

Still, there is cause for cheer in Singapore's Golden Jubilee year, from the "little signals" of things that have been going right.

For one thing, the various religious groups had extended invitations to members of other religious bodies for their SG50 celebrations. And in Sembawang, there is a church that opens its carpark to the Muslim congregation from a neighbouring mosque every Friday, he noted.

For today's youth who did not experience racial strife, Mr Lee said: "We have to constantly remind them how precious this harmony is, how unusual and rare it is."

He recalled a school visit several years ago on Racial Harmony Day, which falls on July 21, when a student asked if he, too, had celebrated the occasion as a student. Mr Lee said no, and explained that on that very day one year, there was a riot.

Choking up as he related this story, he said: "I think he understood me but, in a way, he was not there. You don't want that generation ever to be there. Yet, you want (them) to understand what is it which is precious... which we have got to safeguard... so that SG50 is fine, and we make sure SG100 will be all right."


In Australia, day before yesterday, there was a shooting in Sydney.

A man working for the police, he was Hong Kong Chinese, was shot dead... Who was his attacker?

A 15-year-old boy, Iraqi-Kurdish origin. (The boy) went up to him, shot him, killed him, then the police came and killed this boy.

It is mad!

Can it happen in Singapore? Maybe. Because when somebody goes wrong like this, we may not know. We have arrested people who are self-radicalised; so far, we have detained nine people. It was not from friends, not from networks, not from underground groups, just by themselves. They went to the Internet, they were led astray, they went deeper, they got into trouble.

So, we have got to be on our guard. If it comes to Singapore, I think we must be very, very, very careful that we don't let it pull our fabric apart. ''

- PRIME MINISTER LEE HSIEN LOONG, on how external threats like jihadist terrorism can threaten racial and religious harmony in Singapore

Racial and religious harmony is one of Singapore’s most remarkable achievements. But what we enjoy today is far from a...
Posted by Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday, October 4, 2015


But from time to time, we will have prickly issues, we have incidents with a racial tinge... For example, when you are dealing with families where there have been conversions, where there have been inter-religious marriages, where there are children involved. A baby is born, someone passes away, whose rites do you follow? Do you baptise the baby, or do you take him to a temple or to the mosque? Or somebody dies, where do you bury him? What prayers do you say over him? It is very sensitive, emotions are up, everybody is already upset, and something like this comes along, it can easily become a problem.

And so we have responsible religious leaders... they set the example, and so we have been able to have amicable, compromise solutions with a spirit of give-and-take.

- PM LEE, on how racial and religious integration is an ongoing challenge

'Very remarkable' that Singapore police seen as fair by different races: PM
By Tham Yuen-C, The Straits Times, 5 Oct 2015

Police in Singapore are seen as fair by people of different races, a unique and remarkable achievement in the world, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said, as he emphasised the importance of the police being even-handed in handling racial and religious incidents.

Citing a two-year-old survey by the Institute of Policy Studies and OnePeople.sg, he said yesterday that Singaporeans overwhelmingly believe that the police treat them fairly, regardless of race and religion.

In the poll of more than 3,000 people, fewer than 4 per cent of the minority respondents said that they were treated worse than other races by the police when they reported a crime or were suspected of having committed an offence.

Crediting the Home Team for this, Mr Lee said it played an important part in maintaining racial and religious harmony here.

This is unlike the situation in some countries, where the police have been accused of racial profiling, he told community and religious leaders at the OnePeople.sg conference yesterday.

Mr Lee noted that in the United States, there have been huge uproars recently over how policemen dealt with incidents involving minorities.

"Every time... a minority gets shot, a black man gets beaten up, a tennis star gets mistaken for a crook, big uproar... Sometimes, they have riots," he said.

In Britain, too, the police are finding it hard to do their policing duties in London, with minority communities there believing that the police are "not on their side".

Mr Lee said similar issues also exist in South-east Asia.

Praising the police here for having bucked the trend, he said, to applause from the audience: "That is very, very remarkable."

This week in 1965

Mr Lee Kuan Yew tells language agitators to 'pipe down'
He says push for Chinese language status 'dangerous' in multiracial Singapore
By Theresa Tan, The Sunday Times, 4 Oct 2015

Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew spoke out against language agitation forcefully and repeatedly this week, after the Chinese Chamber of Commerce pushed for a constitutional guarantee of the status of the Chinese language.

"I would like to hear the end of all this," Mr Lee said on Oct 6, 1965. "Language, culture, religion: they are not political issues. We have defused the big bomb."

Earlier, the Chinese Chamber had asked the Government to guarantee the status of the Chinese language as one of the official languages here.

They wanted this safeguard to be written into the Constitution of a newly independent Singapore.

The Chinese Chamber argued that official recognition of the Chinese language would provide more effective government and promote greater harmony, as the language is used by the majority of the people in Singapore.

They had made that push even though they had been assured by the Government that all four languages - English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil - are official and would be enshrined in the Constitution.

Mr Lee countered that such talk was "dangerous" in a multiracial Singapore, with Malaysia just next door.

Just days earlier, Mr Lee stressed that the four major languages here are official and equal. He also ruled out all possibilities of the Government changing its position on the language issue.

He said the new Constitution would re-state the status quo of the four official languages, with Malay as the common and national language.

"The four languages are official languages in Singapore," he said. "It is right and good for our country and our people, not because a particular language has a large percentage of the population to support it."

He also warned the Chinese language agitators that their push would "jeopardise the struggle of the Chinese in Malaysia fighting for a fair place for their language".

"So I say to those who want to be language heroes: just pipe down," Mr Lee said. "They had better calculate very carefully before they say these things. And if they do not know what it is all about, better leave these things to those who know what this is all about."

Mr Lee went on to declare that Singapore would become a example which others could follow.

He said: "We will establish a model society and show that this is the type of society South-East Asia wanted. This is our sacred role to play."


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