Wednesday 25 September 2013

New fault lines may have emerged in society: DPM Teo

Singaporeans urged to work together for common good, even when individual preferences cannot be fully met
By Xue Jianyue, TODAY, 25 Sep 2013

Beyond race and religion, other possible fault lines have emerged here, including citizenship, sexual orientation, and social values, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean yesterday.

Speaking to some 300 public officers at the 11th National Security Seminar, Mr Teo noted that the widespread use of social media has amplified the contending voices and views in society. And while social media can help bring together those with common interests, it can also “reinforce and entrench polarising views”, he cautioned.

“Groups on opposing sides have sometimes sought to import causes, attitudes and values from other societies and countries, and super-impose them on our social fabric,” he said.

“There are some instances, where we just have to agree to disagree, respectfully, and without pushing issues to the point of polarisation.”

Mr Teo’s comments on social media followed those by Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen last month on how Singapore’s social fabric can be affected by information circulating through the Internet.

In a speech about Singapore’s total defence, Dr Ng had warned that DRUMS (Distortions, Rumours, Untruths, Misinformation and Smears) on the Internet can spread far and wide, weakening the country’s resolve and causing disunity. He had also called on the authorities to have a quick response plan to online rumours, and urged Singaporeans to be more discerning about information on the Internet.

Addressing the seminar at the Orchard Hotel, Mr Teo urged Singaporeans to work together for the common good, even when individual preferences cannot be fully met.

“Government may also not have the best answer or the perfect solution to every issue. Sometimes, our most important role is simply to bring different groups together to find a common understanding, or to channel their energies in a constructive direction,” said Mr Teo, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security and Minister for Home Affairs.

His speech echoed earlier calls by government leaders to keep Singapore cohesive in the midst of major policy changes which will alter Singapore’s physical landscape and shift the relationship between government and people.

Earlier this month, Social and Family Development Minister Chan Chun Sing also noted widely differing views at the Our Singapore Conversation (OSC), and urged Singaporeans to find a consensus over various policy initiatives by the Government, and develop a spirit of caring for one another.

Mr Teo said the community has to do its part to support Singapore as well. “Resilience is about how our society responds, and not just how the Government responds,” he said, adding that respondents at the OSC wanted a strong “kampung spirit” and more meaningful citizen engagement.

The “kampung spirit” was exemplified by ground-up initiatives by citizens, Mr Teo said. They include volunteers distributing food to welfare homes and cleaning up the country’s waterways. Religious organisations, such as Jamiyah Singapore and Singapore Buddhist Lodge, also worked together to serve the needy.

Such groups serve more than just their specific purpose, said Mr Teo, for they build “networks of familiarity and trust” among Singaporeans, and can be activated during a nationwide crisis. For example, the voluntary Citizens-on-Patrol group helped with anti-dengue checks during the dengue epidemic.

“We hope to see more of such examples of the kampung spirit, where the purpose is not just the specific cause at hand, but working towards building social capital, a common purpose and destiny,” he added.

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