Friday, 21 July 2017

Singapore a rare, precious example of harmonious multiracial, multi-religious society: PM Lee

Telok Ayer Street a nod to Singapore's religious diversity
Singapore's racial harmony a rare and precious thing, PM says on tour of area
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 21 Jul 2017

Telok Ayer Street was once part of Singapore's shoreline, and migrants who arrived by sea built their places of worship nearby.

The area displays remarkable religious diversity even now, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a Facebook post yesterday.

He went on a walking tour of five places of worship along the street on Wednesday, and met leaders of the church, temples, mosque and shrine that have been there for more than a century.

Race, language and religion are faultlines that have torn many societies apart, Mr Lee noted in his post, which came on the eve of Racial Harmony Day.

"Singapore is a rare and precious example of a multi-racial, multi-lingual and multi-religious society where people live harmoniously together," he wrote.

"This is not by chance. The government and the different communities worked hard together to make this happen."

The Harmony in Diversity Gallery, which houses exhibits and interactive features that highlight the common thread among the different religions, is one such collaboration, said Mr Lee.

He stopped at the gallery in Maxwell Road, where he met members of the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO), and wrote: "Long may we live peacefully and harmoniously in multi-racial and multi-religious Singapore."

He also posted a photo of one of its exhibits, a trick-eye mural of a kopitiam, which he said was an important common space for Singaporeans of all races and religions.

Mr Lee's first stop on Wednesday was the Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church, where services are still conducted in Hokkien. It was set up for immigrants from China's Fujian province, and during the Japanese Occupation provided them refuge.

Mr Lee then went to the Al-Abrar Mosque, which served the Chulias - Tamil Muslims who were among Singapore's earliest immigrants.

He next visited the Thian Hock Keng Temple, one of the country's oldest Hokkien temples, then moved next door to Taoist temple Singapore Yu Huang Gong.

The Taoist temple was previously the site of Keng Teck Whay Association, which was started in 1831 by 36 Hokkien Peranakan merchants from Melaka. It still houses the Peranakan ancestral hall and clan complex.

Mr Lee ended his tour at the Nagore Dargah Indian Muslim Heritage Centre. Originally a shrine built in honour of holy man Shahul Hamid from India, the centre now has an exhibition that pays tribute to the contributions of Indian Muslim pioneers here.

Mr Lee wrote: "My thanks to the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Inter-Religious Organisation and members of the different faith communities in Singapore for helping to build a harmonious and peaceful Singapore."

Valuing everyday race relations
Editorial, The Straits Times, 21 Jul 2017

Some Singaporeans who have no direct knowledge of wrenching past events may see the observance of Racial Harmony Day today as a politically correct annual ritual that is conducted more for form's sake. Just as no one doubts the capabilities of the institutions and people behind the security of the nation, the resilience of the bonds that have brought the communities closer over time is taken for granted. Indeed, Singapore's achievement of security on the foreign and domestic fronts, as well as the state of race relations, is a key marker of its arrival as a nation-state. In a sense, the experience of everyday life bears testimony to the reality of total defence and racial harmony.

Yet, there is value in remembering the past out of which the present has been moulded through sheer strength of political and social will. The fall of colonial Singapore to the Japanese on Feb 15, 1942, was a moment like no other in the strategic history of the island. And the race riots that began on July 21, 1964, when Singapore was a part of Malaysia, threatened the viability of what would become a sovereign nation the following year.

To observe Racial Harmony Day is to recall a time when peace, to say nothing of harmony, had fallen apart so badly that the front-page headline of this paper on Sept 5, 1964, read: Singapore a 'danger zone'. Ethnic violence questioned the degree to which the social fabric had been mended since the Maria Hertogh riots of 1950. The wounds had never really healed as 1969 also saw race riots. The social progress achieved since then created confidence in the nation's resilience. But the Little India riots of 2013 sprung an ugly surprise on Singaporeans who believed that they had put lawlessness on the streets behind them.

Hence the need to regularly commemorate the social peace Singaporeans enjoy today. The depredations of global terrorists today threaten not just the lives of people - "enemies" and co-religionists alike - but also the collective identity of communities that have learnt to live together. Suicide bombings and targeted killings can drive them apart. In such circumstances, the fearful might look for security and succour among their ethnic own. Yet, it is precisely this ability to drive inclusive people into exclusively tribal enclaves that gives terrorism its terrifyingly regressive historical power.

The challenge is to ensure that Singaporeans will not move backwards should terror strike here one day. Racial harmony cannot be taken for granted, any more than national survival can. Foreign invasions draw communities together against a common enemy. Racial strife fuelled by terror, however, is insidious. It creates mass suspicion and fear that make citizens their own worst enemies. The hard-earned peace that Singapore enjoys today remains something precious and vulnerable, to be cherished and nurtured.


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