Community leaders play 'key role' in unity here

They can counter misinformation, work with youth to maintain social harmony: Grace Fu

When a text message claiming six Syrian fighters were targeting Singapore went viral last year, Innova Junior College student Tan Xue Wei had his doubts.

The message had also claimed that the country was going into lockdown. Said Mr Tan, 18, who received it from a friend: "Official sources didn't report a situation like that. Many of these messages are started by pranksters."

He was one of 300 community leaders, grassroots volunteers and students at an Inter-racial and Religious Confidence Circle workshop yesterday on how Singapore should respond in the aftermath of a terror attack.

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu said yesterday that community leaders and organisations play a key role in quashing rumours, which can create anxiety and stir up negative emotions, especially in a crisis.

To this end, they must be given timely and accurate information so they can help counter mistaken views, she added in her opening address at the event.

She also said it is important to pass down the values of respect for one another's beliefs to the next generation.

She called on community leaders to reach out to young people to help them better understand the sensitivity needed to maintain social harmony in multiracial and multi-religious Singapore.

Doing so will also equip them with knowledge to counter untruths and misinformation and counsel "friends who may have developed mistaken views about certain religions", said Ms Fu.

Reminding participants of the key role they play in helping the country stay united after a terror attack, she said: "We must be mentally prepared that an act of terrorism in Singapore is no longer a matter of if, but when."

Participant Anisah Abdul Khalid, 25, who works for a social enterprise, agreed it is important to increase Singaporeans' understanding of the different faiths here.

For instance, she said, she had read comments on social media declaring that "all Muslims are terrorists".

She said: "A lot of non-Muslims don't realise that the victims whom ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) have killed are mainly Muslims.

"They're as much our enemies as the enemies of non-Muslims."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 29, 2016, with the headline 'Community leaders play 'key role' in unity here'. Print Edition | Subscribe