Zero tolerance for hate speech, says Shanmugam

Mr Shanmugam speaking to reporters before the iftar at the Chong Pang Community Club yesterday, where more than 400 residents broke fast together.
Mr Shanmugam speaking to reporters before the iftar at the Chong Pang Community Club yesterday, where more than 400 residents broke fast together.PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES

Minister warns against making inflammatory remarks in S'pore, cites concern over Trump rhetoric

Inflammatory comments on race and religion have no place in Singapore, and the Government will continue to have zero tolerance against such divisive statements.

Describing Singapore's racial and religious harmony as "fragile, but precious", Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday that the country needed to reject intolerant teachings, and continue to strengthen trust and understanding between its communities.

He was speaking to reporters before the iftar at the Chong Pang Community Club yesterday, where more than 400 residents broke fast together.

He explained that Muslim communities both here and abroad were concerned by the rhetoric from US presidential hopeful Donald Trump. Just last week, a senior Muslim cleric had asked him what he thought about the presumptive Republican nominee's comments.

"They are concerned as to what is happening," said Mr Shanmugam, who is an MP for Nee Soon GRC.

 

Mr Trump renewed his anti-Muslim campaign in the wake of last Sunday's shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in which 49 people were killed and 53 injured. The gunman, Omar Mateen, a US citizen, allegedly pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria during the massacre.

Last Monday, Mr Trump responded to the attack by repeating his call for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country and for certain mosques to be put under surveillance. "This is a major figure, a presidential candidate, who is saying these things," said Mr Shanmugam, who also pointed to the rise in the use of anti-Islamic rhetoric by extremist parties in Europe. "Why was it said? For political benefit, pure and simple. If there are votes in it, people will do it."

But playing on race and religion for political profit and stoking fears is "really unacceptable and I think morally reprehensible", he added. "Muslims as a group were characterised negatively. Islam was equated with terror... People aspiring to leadership positions should not do this - dividing their societies and alienating their Muslim communities."

Last month, US President Barack Obama also criticised Mr Trump at the Group of Seven summit in Japan, pointing out how world leaders had been rattled by him. "A lot of the proposals he has made display either ignorance of world affairs, or a cavalier attitude, or an interest in getting tweets and headlines, instead of actually thinking through what is required to keep America safe and secure and prosperous, and what's required to keep the world on an even keel," he said.

What is happening in the US and Europe shows how quickly political debate can go along racial and religious lines, said Mr Shanmugam.

"In the US, their idea of free speech means you can burn the Quran, attack Muslims, attack others. Here we have zero tolerance for people who make bigoted, divisive statements," he added. "If a person makes such statements, the ISD (Internal Security Department) will talk to him, and where necessary take further action. You burn the Quran, or any other holy book, you go to jail - no two ways about it...

"We have built something precious, fragile but precious. And we try hard to strengthen trust, deepen understanding between the races, religions, and reject religiously intolerant teachings."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 19, 2016, with the headline 'Zero tolerance for hate speech, says Shanmugam'. Print Edition | Subscribe