Monday, 30 April 2012

Do more to help foreigners adjust: DPM Teo

Teo Chee Hean urges Singaporeans to do their part at annual community dialogue
By Tessa Wong, The Straits Times, 29 Apr 2012

As more Singaporeans go out into the world to study, work and live overseas, more foreigners are moving here and helping to make Singapore cosmopolitan and vibrant.

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean yesterday noted this reality of globalisation as he highlighted the need for Singaporeans to do more to welcome and help foreigners integrate here.

One measure of Singaporeans overseas is that there are 280 Singapore clubs in 120 cities worldwide, 'a network of little red dots'.

He was in New York two weeks ago and met 5,000 Singaporeans at the Singapore Day festivities, which included hawker food, updates on national service and a rousing rendition of the National Day song, Home.

'I am sure the sights, sounds and smells brought back many fond memories for the Singaporeans who attended the event, but we also want to make sure that Singapore is not just their home from the past, but also a place in their hearts and where they want to build their future,' he said.

Addressing 600 community leaders at the annual National Community Engagement Programme Dialogue at the Regent hotel, he said the flip side of Singaporeans moving elsewhere was the arrival of foreigners drawn here.

But a greater number of people of different races and religions in a dense city like Singapore could result in greater consciousness of the differences in behaviours and norms, he said.

'When we live close together on a sustained basis, it is so much easier to dwell on the differences, rather than build upon the commonalities,' he said.

'And those differences when accentuated can quite easily develop into fissures in our society, and weaken our unity as a country.'

Mr Teo, who is Coordinating Minister for National Security and Minister for Home Affairs, said more had to be done to help new immigrants ready to sink roots to integrate into society more quickly.

'We expect that over time, they and their children will pick up Singaporean ways and become more like us. After all, many have come here because they value what we value - the well-integrated, harmonious, multi-racial society in Singapore,' he said.

'However, Singaporeans can also do our part to make them feel more welcome, and to help them imbibe the values that we hold dear as a people, which have made us strong as a society.'

The tension between old and new Singaporeans was the subject of five group discussions helmed by various ministers at yesterday's event - Mr Teo, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Lim Swee Say, Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts Yaacob Ibrahim, Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Chan Chun Sing and Minister of State for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin.

Asked to discuss the possibility of riots happening here again, such as those seen in London last August, some participants thought it was unlikely as Singaporeans prized social harmony. But others raised the prospect of riots fuelled not by racial or religious clashes, but xenophobic discontent over foreigners.

Mr Tan said the silver lining in this discontent was that it reflected a growing sense of a Singaporean identity. 'The question is, what is this Singaporean identity, what kind of values should we hold?' he asked.

Mr Chan felt that for a start, people should try to relate to one another as human beings first. 'When we look at an issue, let's try not to pigeonhole each other as a Singaporean or a foreigner, which can complicate the problem.'

Internet can 'help unite or divide society'
By Tessa Wong, The Straits Times, 29 Apr 2012

Globalisation could be a double-edged phenomenon that could make or break a society's cohesiveness but so can technology, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.

'On one hand, they can help us to find common ground; on the other, they may accentuate differences and drive us apart,' he said in his speech at the annual National Community Engagement Programme Dialogue yesterday.

The Internet has made the transfer of information more efficient, brought together people across the world, and mobilised people to do good, he said.

But the downside could be increased physical isolation.

'For instance, a person who chooses to spend most of his time in front of the computer screen may have many Facebook 'friends', but end up not knowing or speaking with his neighbour, who lives right next door,' said Mr Teo.

By affording anonymity, the Internet can also encourage people to take on more extreme views than might otherwise be the case, and amplify these views even though they might be in the minority.

Along with extreme views, social media has also made it easier for terrorist organisations like Al-Qaeda to spread their ideological messages quicker and further.

'This has given rise to the emerging concern of more 'lone wolf' terrorists, who are indoctrinated by radical ideologies through the Internet and social media,' he said.

But while extremism thrives on divisiveness, it also rallies people together when they unite to reject extremism, as was seen in Singapore during the Jemaah Islamiah arrests in 2001, he said.

He cited an example of how local Muslim religious leaders set up a rehabilitation group to counsel the JI detainees, and helped them to eventually integrate back into society.

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