'Respect one another's religions'

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called for Singaporeans to respect one another's religions.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called for Singaporeans to respect one another's religions.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Singapore has been fortunate to be spared from a terrorist attack so far, but what happens when the terrorists get through - and are Singaporeans, too?

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in his National Day Rally speech last night, took on the sombre reality of the growing threat of terrorism and the consequences such an attack might have on social cohesion.

"If the terrorists are from abroad, it may be easier for us to stand together," he said. "But if the terrorist is Singaporean - one of our own, like what happened in Nice where the truck driver was French - our multiracial society will come under tremendous strain."

People in countries hit by terrorist attacks have reacted in two possible ways: with shows of solidarity, or with mounting fear and distrust. When Paris was rocked by a series of attacks last November, Parisians banded together. But tensions boiled over too, with mosques and Muslim shops vandalised, and Muslims physically attacked.

"The question is: Which will happen in Singapore?" asked Mr Lee. "The answer comes down to our collective resolve to stand together, with one another. And that, in turn, depends on how well we prepare ourselves now, before an attack. Prepare ourselves to build trust, to strengthen bonds, to maintain and expand our common space, so that we instinctively feel one people."

A big plus, he said, is that religious and community leaders here have taken a stand in condemning terrorist attacks and refuting extremist views. They make it clear that terrorists do not represent Islam or Singaporean Muslims.

Mr Lee stressed that in Singapore's multiracial society, there has to be give and take. "We have to respect one another's religions. We cannot treat other groups as infidels. If religious groups take an exclusivist approach and discourage interaction and contact with others, we will deepen our fault lines."

He raised the scenario of a Singapore where only the Chinese greeted one another during Chinese New Year, only Muslims said Selamat Hari Raya, only Hindus exchanged Deepavali greetings and only Christians said Merry Christmas. "It would be a very different and a very troubled Singapore."

Singapore has thus banned preachers - Christian, Hindu and Muslim - from overseas who want to preach exclusivist and intolerant doctrines, he noted.

Beyond social cohesion, Singapore is also beefing up its community response. Mr Lee said: "Our diplomats and security forces, the Home Team and SAF (Singapore Armed Forces) are doing excellent work, but they alone cannot guarantee our security and safety, or hold us together. All of us must do our part."

He will launch the SG Secure national movement next month. "It is a call to action to all Singaporeans. To be sensitised, trained and mobilised to protect our society from a terrorist attack. Ultimately, what matters most is our resolve to hold together and fight to defend our place in the world."

Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 22, 2016, with the headline ''Respect one another's religions''. Print Edition | Subscribe