Fighting intolerance and prejudice, everywhere we see it: DPM Tharman

Dancers from Kampung Chai Chee CC performing Indian dances at the Deepavali Istana open house on Oct 22, 2014. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND LIM
Dancers from Kampung Chai Chee CC performing Indian dances at the Deepavali Istana open house on Oct 22, 2014. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND LIM

SINGAPORE - Even as Hindus in Singapore celebrate Deepavali, or the "Festival of Lights" today, the ominous winds of ignorance and bigotry are blowing, said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam on Wednesday.

That is why people everywhere, especially in Singapore, must learn to fight these dark forces and forge societies based on mutual understanding and openness.

Wishing all Hindus a happy Deepavali on his Facebook account, Mr Tharman, writing from Beijing at an Apec Finance Ministers' meeting, also took the opportunity to reflect upon the deeper meaning of the occasion.

Deepavali is about the human spirit, "the triumph of the light of learning and understanding over the darkness of ignorance and bigotry," he said.

Unfortunately, the winds are blowing the other way today, with a rise in religious and ethnic tensions and conflicts around the world today.

"The headlines are about the Middle-East - the growth of Islamist aggression against the Kurds, Christians and Yazidis, in defiance of the long history of Muslim civilisation that was in fact relatively free of the persecutions and holocausts that marked other civilisations; the surge in Sunni-Shia rivalry within the Muslim world; and the denial of Palestinian rights to co-existence," he noted.

"But the problems are elsewhere too. In the continuing rise of the religious right in Hinduism and Christianity. And in the discrimination of minorities and rise of ethnic nationalism, in parts of Europe and Asia."

The problems are likely to get worse, before they get better, he warned.

"We cannot just hope for a better world," he said.

"Fighting this requires leadership, internationally and in each of our societies, collective will, and everyday actions by all of us."

In Singapore, tolerance must be part of everyday life; more than that, Singapore must be a society founded on "open-mindedness, empathy and understanding of each other."

"Where there is some give and take, so we live easily with each other. Where every kid grows up with friends of other races and religions. There is more to be done. So that we remain a peaceful place, a place where the flame of human spirit stays alive against the winds of intolerance," he said.