Monday 20 June 2016

Zero tolerance for hate speech, says Shanmugam

Minister warns against making inflammatory remarks in Singapore, cites concern over Trump rhetoric
By Danson Cheong, The Sunday Times, 19 Jun 2016

Inflammatory comments on race and religion have no place in Singapore, and the Government will continue to have zero tolerance against such divisive statements.

Describing Singapore's racial and religious harmony as "fragile, but precious", Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday that the country needed to reject intolerant teachings, and continue to strengthen trust and understanding between its communities.

He was speaking to reporters before the iftar at the Chong Pang Community Club yesterday, where more than 400 residents broke fast together.

He explained that Muslim communities both here and abroad were concerned by the rhetoric from US presidential hopeful Donald Trump. Just last week, a senior Muslim cleric had asked him what he thought about the presumptive Republican nominee's comments.

"They are concerned as to what is happening," said Mr Shanmugam, who is an MP for Nee Soon GRC.

Mr Trump renewed his anti-Muslim campaign in the wake of last Sunday's shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in which 49 people were killed and 53 injured. The gunman, Omar Mateen, a US citizen, allegedly pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria during the massacre.

Last Monday, Mr Trump responded to the attack by repeating his call for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country and for certain mosques to be put under surveillance. "This is a major figure, a presidential candidate, who is saying these things," said Mr Shanmugam, who also pointed to the rise in the use of anti-Islamic rhetoric by extremist parties in Europe. "Why was it said? For political benefit, pure and simple. If there are votes in it, people will do it."

But playing on race and religion for political profit and stoking fears is "really unacceptable and I think morally reprehensible", he added. "Muslims as a group were characterised negatively. Islam was equated with terror... People aspiring to leadership positions should not do this - dividing their societies and alienating their Muslim communities."

Last month, US President Barack Obama also criticised Mr Trump at the Group of Seven summit in Japan, pointing out how world leaders had been rattled by him. "A lot of the proposals he has made display either ignorance of world affairs, or a cavalier attitude, or an interest in getting tweets and headlines, instead of actually thinking through what is required to keep America safe and secure and prosperous, and what's required to keep the world on an even keel," he said.

What is happening in the US and Europe shows how quickly political debate can go along racial and religious lines, said Mr Shanmugam.

"In the US, their idea of free speech means you can burn the Quran, attack Muslims, attack others. Here we have zero tolerance for people who make bigoted, divisive statements," he added. "If a person makes such statements, the ISD (Internal Security Department) will talk to him, and where necessary take further action. You burn the Quran, or any other holy book, you go to jail - no two ways about it...

"We have built something precious, fragile but precious. And we try hard to strengthen trust, deepen understanding between the races, religions, and reject religiously intolerant teachings."


Religious leaders 'must build trust among faiths'
Condemn violent acts carried out in the name of any religion: Maliki
By Pearl Lee, The Sunday Times, 19 Jun 2016

Community and religious leaders in Singapore should be ready to condemn acts of violence perpetrated in the name of any religion, and reject ideologies that incite hatred.

Making the point yesterday at an interfaith event, Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman also noted that these leaders have the responsibility to go beyond tolerance to build understanding and trust among people of different races and religions.

"It is also important for our religious leaders to provide the moral compass and guidance for followers in practising religion within the context of multi-religious Singapore," he said.

Dr Maliki was speaking at the first of three interfaith dialogues titled "Common Senses for Common Spaces", organised by the Corporate Citizen Foundation, a private-sector initiative that focuses on fostering inter-religious harmony here.

It is crucial for Singaporeans to come together to "narrow our differences and expand our common spaces" especially as the security environment that the country is in has become increasingly complex, he said.

He cited external factors such as territorial disputes in the South China Sea and, closer to home, threats of terrorism, viruses and cyber attacks.

Terrorism, in particular, will "remain a scourge for many years to come" as Singapore is an "attractive target" for those who disagree with its multiracial and multi-religious way of life, said Dr Maliki, citing the arrest of more than 30 radicalised Bangladeshis here, and the recent US shooting at a gay club in Orlando, which killed 49 people.

"These terrorists have the single aim of dividing us and breaking the religious harmony in Singapore."

But common ground and an open dialogue among those of different faiths and races will "act as a bulwark against those seeking to exploit the fault lines in our communities", he added.

At the dialogue, Bishop Terry Kee of the Lutheran Church, Imam Habib Hassan al-Attas of the Ba'Alwie Mosque and Venerable Master Chin Kung, founder of the Pure Land Learning College, spoke of what fasting signifies in their faiths.

They said a common thread in the practice of fasting is that it helps individuals attain purity in their hearts and minds, and strengthens their resolve to fight against temptations.

Imam Habib Hassan cited the health benefits of fasting, including stronger resistance towards illnesses such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, at the event attended by about 200 people of various faiths, as well as free thinkers.

Bishop Kee drew laughter when he said that while fasting helps one lose weight, it should not be the reason for doing so.

The religious leaders also encouraged people to fast correctly and prepare their bodies before fasting.

Dr Maliki said a key takeaway of the dialogue was that in each of the three religions, the practice of fasting "emphasises the importance of values such as self-discipline, humility and compassion for others".

The next interfaith dialogues will be held next month and in August, and will focus on dietary requirements and pilgrimages.

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