When terrorists brought down New York's World Trade Centre on Sept 11, 2001, Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs Amrin Amin (Sembawang GRC) was an exchange student at Columbia University in New York.
Recounting this yesterday as he spoke about how a crisis can destroy Singapore's unity, he recalled how the 9-11 attacks had spread fear in the United States, driving people to exact revenge on Muslims and those who resembled Muslims. If a terrorist attack should happen in Singapore, he said, "we have to make absolutely sure that the terrorists' agenda to create chaos and sow discord does not prevail".
"Brick and mortar can be repaired and rebuilt easily. Fractures in our community cannot be fixed so readily," he said.
In his maiden parliamentary speech, Mr Amrin emphasised the importance of a cohesive community in fighting terrorism.
While the Government has been working to enhance Singapore's first line of defence - by tightening checks at the borders, increasing closed-circuit television surveillance of public areas and upgrading weapons - it is not just physical security that matters, he said. "Internally, we have to strengthen our mental and emotional borders to ensure they are impenetrable to invidious elements. The key entry points that can tear our social fabric are our hearts and minds," he added.
Speaking in Malay later, he urged Malay-Muslims not to take the community's solidarity for granted. He said: "We are able to perform our obligations as Muslims peacefully without any interference from anyone.
"This is in contrast to certain countries whereby the Muslim population faces disturbances from their neighbours and colleagues just because they are Muslims."
In other countries, he said, those spreading terrorist ideologies in the name of Islam have sparked Islamophobia, dividing communities. "We must protect our country from such incidences by having a moderate stance that is in line with multi-racial Singapore."
Parliamentary Secretary for Trade and Industry and Education Low Yen Ling (Chua Chu Kang GRC) yesterday also called on Singaporeans to "close ranks to build a fair, caring, cohesive and inclusive Singapore that leaves no space for the weeds of terrorism to grow".
She noted that disaffection and anger could make people vulnerable to the "lies" of terrorists and called on Singaporeans to care for the marginalised and weaker members of society to guard against the spread of such sentiments.
She also urged Singaporeans to develop a new mindset towards failure and success, adding that having more avenues for people to realise their aspirations could neutralise the risks of disaffection.
But she pointed out that radicalisation was not limited to those on the fringes of society, and one of Singapore's first self-radicalised men detained in 2007 was a lawyer. As such, she said, it was also important to educate people on the right understanding of Islam.
Ms Low also said forging a stronger national identity could make Singaporeans feel more rooted and encourage them to defend their country.
"It may sound antithetical, but celebrating our Singapore culture, identity and uniqueness is soft power to fight the harsh and cruel sting of terrorism."