Multiracialism a bulwark against terror: Shanmugam

Besides strengthening social cohesiveness, affirming multiracialism as a fundamental principle of Singapore society is vital if the country is to stay united the day after a terror attack, he added.
Besides strengthening social cohesiveness, affirming multiracialism as a fundamental principle of Singapore society is vital if the country is to stay united the day after a terror attack, he added. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

Govt is also studying whether to tighten laws against hate speech, says minister

Singapore's multiracialism is a key defence against the scourge of terrorism, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday, when he also disclosed the Government was studying whether to tighten laws against hate speech.

Besides strengthening social cohesiveness, affirming multiracialism as a fundamental principle of Singapore society is vital if the country is to stay united the day after a terror attack, he added.

The experience of other countries also shows the aftermath of a terrorist attack often leads to increased suspicion among communities.

Mr Shanmugam made the point when responding to a parliamentary motion to be resolute in standing united against the terror threat. "We don't have in Singapore movements titled 'Black Lives Matter', or counter-movements 'Blue Lives Matter', because to us, all lives matter," he said, referring to activist movements in the United States.

The motion was filed by four People's Action Party MPs: Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio GRC), Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok) and Dr Tan Wu Meng (Jurong GRC) .

MPs on both sides of the House agreed that multiracialism was a bulwark against terrorists who seek to tear people of different races and religions apart.

Mr de Souza calls it a "socio-weapon" while Workers' Party Non-constituency MP Leon Perera said it is the surest defence against terror.

"It is the ultimate goalkeeper," Mr Perera added.

A total of 17 MPs spoke during the 41/2-hour debate and everyone supported the motion.

Mr Shanmugam, in his 50-minute speech, dwelt on the types of threats confronting the country, Singapore's response and what the Government and the community need to do.

The terror threat is worsening in the region and further afield, he noted.

Conflicts continue to fester in Myanmar's Rakhine state and the Philippines' Marawi city.

Also, neighbouring countries have released radicalised prisoners, who are "free to plot and are capable of inflicting harm".

There has also been a steady trickle of Singaporeans being self-radicalised.

In recent years, terrorists have used vehicles for attacks, ploughing them into large crowds to inflict casualties. It happened last year in Nice, France.

"There have been several calls for Singaporeans to copy attacks using vehicles, knives, day-to-day implements. We don't say much about this but it's there," said Mr Shanmugam.

A Singaporean arrested last year, Mohamed Omar Mahadi, was a waste truck driver.

"We need to strengthen cohesiveness and our unity now, and do what we have been doing and add on to it," he said, and recalled the ideals set out by founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

The late Mr Lee had said Singapore was to be a multiracial nation, where "everybody will have his place, equal; language, culture, religion".

Mr Shanmugam also said a strong "Singaporean identity" - which will overlay separate racial and religious identities and form the framework of a vibrant society - is something Singapore can achieve.

The Government takes an activist stance in this regard with policies that foster inter-religious and inter-racial harmony, he added.

Race relations remain fraught in most places, he said, drawing MPs' attention to the situation in the US.

Pointing to surveys in 2009 and 2016 on Americans' views on race relations, Mr Shanmugam said there has been a 40 per cent drop in the number who thought race relations were good.

In Germany, where the government had assumed that new Turkish immigrants would assimilate over time, the reverse has happened, and "parallel, isolated societies" have been created.

He said: "Chancellor Angela Merkel said German attempts to create a multicultural society had 'utterly failed'. She was very frank." Germany is now taking a more interventionist approach, he added.

"We have never believed that a laissez-faire approach in creating a national identity, a multiracial society, will work. We were activists in this respect," he said.

He noted that MPs, including Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) and Ms Sun Xueling (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC), had highlighted the benefits of the Ethnic Integration Policy in housing estates in creating common spaces where Singaporeans of all races can interact. The policy mandates a quota for all communities in HDB estates, to prevent racial enclaves from forming.

Other efforts include using English as a medium of instruction in schools and national service.

He also responded to calls by MPs Desmond Choo (Tampines GRC) and Mr Murali for the Government to do more about addressing hate speech online.

He said the Government was "studying whether we need to move more quickly", and be given more options to deal with it.

Mr Shanmugan, who ended his speech to rousing chair-thumps. also stressed that terrorism was not connected to a single religion.

Rather, it is a threat that will not go away soon and threatens Singapore's existence as a religiously diverse and harmonious society.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 04, 2017, with the headline 'Multiracialism a bulwark against terror: Shanmugam'. Print Edition | Subscribe