Fighting intolerance a challenge everywhere today, says Tharman

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.
Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam. ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

It will probably take decades before people are won over by moderate political forces, such that ethnic intolerance and religious extremism can be overcome, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said yesterday.

Writing in a Facebook post and reflecting on the global outlook, he said that this is a real challenge everywhere today.

In the post, which came on the Deepavali public holiday, he explained the Hindu tradition of lighting up oil lamps at home to celebrate the festival.

"It's about the flame of the human spirit - overcoming the darkness of ignorance and bigotry with learning and understanding."

And this message is "as relevant today as it has ever been", he said.

LIGHTING THE LAMPS

It's about the flame of the human spirit - overcoming the darkness of ignorance and bigotry with learning and understanding.

MR THARMAN SHANMUGARATNAM, noting that this message is "as relevant today as it has ever been", with the rise of religious extremism in every major religion, including Hinduism

This is because every major religion, including Hinduism, has seen a rise of religious extremism, which will probably need decades of internal reformation to overcome, he added.

Mr Tharman yesterday wished all Hindus and "everyone who celebrates Singapore's diversity" a happy Deepavali, which is also known as the Festival of Lights.

But given the challenging outlook, he also added: "All the more that we do everything we can to keep Singapore a place where tolerance and open minds prevail.

"Where everyone grows up with friends of different races and religions, and where there is some give and take in everyday life in our neighbourhoods, so we live together without any unease.

"And where we develop a deeper and genuine interest and understanding of each other."

Mr Tharman had made similar remarks in another Facebook post on Deepavali last year, when he called upon everyone to fight the ominous winds of intolerance and prejudice that have been blowing around the world.

In his post yesterday, he attached a picture of the Javanese version of elephant-headed Hindu deity Ganesh.

The god is significant, because he is not only worshipped by all Hindu sects but has also travelled beyond India and Hinduism, Mr Tharman said. He noted that there are Ganesh statues in places of worship from northern China to Japan, and all over South-east Asia.

And in Indonesia where Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam have overlapped and enriched culture, the deity is not only in Hindu temples there, he said.

The statue can also be found in Surabaya's Sanggar Agung Temple - or Hong San Tang - where the main deity is Kuan Yin, the Buddhist goddess of mercy.

Noting the different variations of Ganesh around the world, which has anything from two to 16 arms and carries a different symbolism for each version, Mr Tharman said: "Everywhere we look, we find examples of learning across religious and cultural boundaries.

"Much borrowing and adaptation, as all our human traditions evolved, whether Christian, Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist. We cannot pretend otherwise. The flame of the human spirit is universal."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 11, 2015, with the headline 'Fighting intolerance a challenge everywhere today, says Tharman'. Print Edition | Subscribe