The Straits Times says

Curb those who preach divisions

No country can afford to give free rein to hate-mongers in the face of social fissures. The risks are great as radical preachers are using wily tactics, some politicians are pandering to them, and the middle class are either silent or falling prey to them. Two foreign Islamic preachers, whose applications to speak here had been rejected previously, sought to get around the ban by trying to operate instead on a religious-themed cruise.

The authorities have blocked this devious attempt to circumvent the law, reiterating the serious consequences of foreigners' efforts to infiltrate Singapore's social system. In barring the Zimbabwean and Malaysian preachers, the authorities have sent out a clear message that the secular state has a responsibility to decide what kind of preaching to permit in a multi-religious society. The record of the two preachers speaks for itself. Incredibly, Zimbabwean Ismail Menk has argued that it is blasphemous for Muslims to greet believers of other faiths during festivals such as Christmas or Deepavali. And Malaysian Haslin Baharim has provocatively asserted that non-Muslims should be made subservient to Muslims despite the multicultural character of societies.

One of Singapore's key tenets is that national inclusiveness should never be held hostage by religious exclusiveness. Another tenet is that no race or religion will be allowed to hold a hegemonic place in this country, which belongs equally to all citizens. The preachers' radical views are opposed diametrically to Singapore's fundamental self-perception as a nation based on justice and equality. What gives Singapore's ban credence is that it acts impartially against unwanted foreign elements from all religions. Recently, two foreign Christian preachers also had their applications to speak in Singapore rejected because of their offensive comments about other religions.

Singapore's adamant stand, against those who pose a potential threat to its religious harmony, reaffirms that those who wish to preach here must not cross a certain line. A strong stance must be taken because of the phenomenon of preachers of hate, some of whom build up cult-like followings around the world via the Internet. While little can be done to control cyberspace, countries can prevent such dangerous figures from deepening their influence by talking to crowds directly.

Singapore's faith communities are not bereft of guidance. There are sufficient local religious leaders in every community who are capable of interpreting doctrine and placing it in the right social context. Ideas from outside are always welcome but Singaporeans must beware siren calls in the name of religion which can cause societies to self-destruct. Among the variants of hate evident today, terrorists represent the manic fringe, while radical preachers on cruises occupy the depressive end of the spectrum.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 06, 2017, with the headline 'Curb those who preach divisions'. Print Edition | Subscribe