Singapore is now in a better position to discuss issues like race and religion within a rational framework, but unbridled debates on these topics should still be kept in check as "they can become demons on the loose".
In an interview with Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao published yesterday, Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam said some people can be swayed by powerful emotive arguments on these topics, which may have an impact on the broader Singaporean identity if one group is pitted against another.
"Attacking somebody based on race and religion, or making fun in the name of freedom of speech or allowing open discussions on race and religion which can easily degenerate - you need to allow the discussions but make sure that it doesn't degenerate into just abuse," said Mr Shanmugam, adding that the Government will put a stop to behaviour that crosses into abuse or potentially incites violence.
He said the potential for new fault lines to emerge due to issues like demographics should not be underestimated. This has already started in the United States, Europe and Japan, where younger citizens feel resentful over having to provide for the needs of the old.
Particularly with the economy that is growing at a much slower rate and with healthcare costs shooting up... those sorts of fault lines can develop very quickly.
LAW MINISTER K. SHANMUGAM
"Particularly with the economy that is growing at a much slower rate and with healthcare costs shooting up, and senior citizens requiring more assistance and help, which has to be provided by the younger citizens, those sorts of fault lines can develop very quickly," he said, adding that fault lines are also developing over sexual and lifestyle preferences.
How well these fault lines can be controlled depends on how sensitive and skilful the Government is, and how it works with the community, he said.
While Singapore is now better off compared with the early post-independence days, it faces issues like terrorism, economic challenges, its small size and an ageing society.
Citing the case of a Muslim cleric who was shot dead in New York earlier this month, Mr Shanmugam added that he is "very concerned" about the rise of Islamophobia across the world. "We must know that we are subjected to the same influences. Non-Muslims in the region see terror attacks carried out by Muslim men, and see international terrorist incidents, and their view of Islam becomes more negative.
"We have to guard against that and make the point that in Singapore, all Chinese, Malays, Indians are moderates and believe in the Singapore identity, mostly."
If there are some who don't, they are "a very small minority", he said, adding that "we are a country with tolerance and also, in fact, appreciation of each other and that's one of our primary virtues and we have to keep it that way regardless of what happens elsewhere".
SEE FORUM A25