Monday, 15 April 2013

Singapore needs to be careful not to bend to external influences: DPM Teo Chee Hean at National CEP Dialogue 2013

By Saifulbahri Ismail, Channel NewsAsia, 13 Apr 2013

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said on Saturday Singapore needs to be careful not to bend to external influences indiscriminately.

Speaking at the National Community Engagement Programme Dialogue on Saturday, Mr Teo cautioned against absorbing teachings or practices which may not be appropriate for Singapore.

He said these will threaten the country's social cohesion.

Some 600 grassroots and community leaders took part in the annual dialogue.

As an open society, Singapore is subjected to external influences.

Mr Teo noted that with the widespread use of the internet, many people are increasingly forming online groups. They are finding common ground with others who may live in different countries with different social contexts.

He said with an increasing trend of greater religiosity, there's also an increasing tendency towards asserting beliefs in public. So he stressed the importance of respecting the beliefs and views of others.

The focus should be on the commonalities that unite, rather than accentuating differences.

Mr Teo said: "It is when we focus on what is common that we complement one another, and make us stronger as one people. We must not be tempted by the cloak of anonymity offered by the internet to denigrate the faiths of others, otherwise social relations will deteriorate rapidly."

He said even as Singapore maintains an open environment, foreigners working here must respect Singaporean values and norms. 

He added that Singaporeans should also treat these workers with respect, and appreciate them.

Mr Teo also reiterated key principles and values that have allowed Singapore to grow and prosper as a multi-racial and multi-religious society. These include ensuring a common space where Singaporeans of all creeds and races can interact together, keeping religion separate from politics, and taking a proactive and practical approach, when handling sensitive issues.

The role youths play in building social cohesion was discussed at the dialogue.

Ms Farisah Ishak, a student at Innova Junior College, said: "As teenagers frequent the online portal, I believe we should be more sensitive in making remarks, and not only making them because it's already accepted in our own cliques. We should always think on a larger context when we make comments online. We should know that insensitive remarks would affect a larger community online."

To deepen understanding of different faiths, many platforms have been created.

Mr Woo Sui Kee, Co-chairman of Kampong Glam Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circle, said: "We take turns to host meetings in various organisations. Maybe this month, we have the meeting in the mosque, the next month we have it in the church, and another month we have it in the Indian temple. So from there, we will create the friendship, the relationship and bonding together."

In addition, Harmony Games have also been organised to encourage interaction through sports.

Mr Malminderjit Singh, secretary of Sikh Advisory Board, said: "The structure of the games is organised such that it's not competitive, it's played in a very fun nature. Secondly, we mix the teams up. So, each team consists and comprises members of different religious groups. We think that helps to foster closer bonds and greater understanding."

Participants at the dialogue came up with ideas to help strengthen social harmony. Some believe that the first step is to build trust. For example, leaving your keys with neighbours while you're away on a holiday. Others suggested to move away from talking about tolerance, and start talking about acceptance.

Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong said: "I think what is important from here is that we get these conversations beyond our conference this morning and we work hard to translate our ideas into actions. We know that building identity takes time, it will not just happen by writing or by talking about identity, it will not just happen by us coming together to discuss, but it can only happen if we do something about it."

Input from the Community Engagement Programme discussions will be further taken up at the Our Singapore Conversation sessions.

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