Don't let foreign conflicts affect harmony here: PM

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong chats with Monsignor Philip Heng, Roman Catholic Archbishop William Goh and Minister Grace Fu at the ITE College Central on July 24, 2017.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong chats with Monsignor Philip Heng, Roman Catholic Archbishop William Goh and Minister Grace Fu at the ITE College Central on July 24, 2017. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Singapore must not let conflicts elsewhere affect the trust and harmony between different races and religions here, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

The country has to try its best to insulate and inoculate itself against conflicts and quarrels in other countries such as Iraq and Syria, he said.

He noted that attacks by terror groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) can affect attitudes towards Muslims here. "We have to expect the recent spate of ISIS-inspired attacks in the world, the situation in the Middle East, around us, and... even in Singapore, to have caused some doubts and qualms among Singaporeans," he said.

That is why effort must be put in to ensure racial and religious harmony remains strong, he told around 300 community leaders before a closed-door dialogue on terrorism and Islamophobia at ITE College Central.

In his speech, PM Lee highlighted the global threat of terrorism. Terrorists are increasingly carrying out attacks with everyday objects, which are very difficult to detect and prevent, he said.

And while ISIS has lost its stronghold of Mosul in Iraq, it remains "a magnet for religious extremists".

Some of its followers will return to South-east Asia, which PM Lee said is "on the front line" - terror groups are actively recruiting fighters from Malaysia and Indonesia, while terrorist militants are still battling Philippine forces in Marawi.

In Singapore, there are worrying trends of foreign workers being radicalised, and a steady trickle of Singaporeans being self-radicalised. Extremist and exclusivist teachings are creeping into the mainstream and will weaken racial harmony if they take root.

PM Lee urged the community leaders to combat these problems by repairing the harm done by external events, and strengthening trust between the different faiths.

"The racial and religious harmony we have in Singapore is very precious," he said. "What we have didn't happen by chance."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2017, with the headline 'Don't let foreign conflicts affect harmony here: PM'. Print Edition | Subscribe