More important than ever to discard prejudices

Racist mindsets, negative perceptions and xenophobic attitudes have no place in our pluralistic and diverse society.
Racist mindsets, negative perceptions and xenophobic attitudes have no place in our pluralistic and diverse society.PHOTO: REUTERS

In the aftermath of the Christchurch mosque massacres and the most recent bomb explosions in Sri Lanka, it is clear that today's society is more religiously and ethnically polarised than before; hence, the greater religious and racial intolerance worldwide (World leaders condemn attack; some blame rising Islamophobia, March 16; and World leaders condemn bombings, express condolences, April 22).

Religious intolerance has always existed in the world, but it is now more visible and prominent.

In the Singapore context, our leaders have taken great pains to stress that real interaction, as well as religious and social harmony, cannot come about by chance.

As citizens, we have to work on it assiduously to ensure that sensitive issues of race and religion give way to a genuine desire to create a society that is united and cohesive.

It is obvious that unhealthy manifestations of race and religion add to the distance between the various community groups and accentuate racial stereotyping and negative preconceptions.

It is therefore important for us to foster greater inter-religious understanding through meaningful dialogue in our schools, workplaces and neighbourhoods, so that harmful stereotypes and prejudices are reduced.

Real interaction and religious harmony have to evolve with the establishment and the people coming together to expand the settings, avenues, opportunities and resources to encourage those of different ethnic groups, cultures, creeds and origins to meet and tolerate one another's beliefs, lifestyles, festivals, religious practices and social norms.

This is the surest way to wipe out the ignorant fixed notions and perceptions that many people still cling to.

This vital ingredient has to be carefully inculcated in the young from the home environment and through the school system.

The advantages are obvious, because an inadvertent, or even innocent, remark or action relating to a community's practices can be perceived as insensitive and trigger unintended consequences.

One thing is clear - racist mindsets, negative perceptions and xenophobic attitudes have no place in our pluralistic and diverse society.

The state has painstakingly created social cohesion, religious tolerance and close interaction among the various communities settled here, and our very survival and progress are built on these tenets.

With divisive forces at work in today's fragmented world, it is now more important than ever to cast our prejudices aside and work for togetherness, so that extremism and radicalised activities can be held at bay.

V. Subramaniam (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 25, 2019, with the headline 'More important than ever to discard prejudices'. Print Edition | Subscribe