Parliament: Hate speech 'disengages morality'; leads to social divides and increases prejudice, says Shanmugam

Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said morality can get "disengaged" when people redefine their actions as honourable, or believe that victims are deserving of their punishments in some way.
Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said morality can get "disengaged" when people redefine their actions as honourable, or believe that victims are deserving of their punishments in some way.PHOTO: GOV.SG

SINGAPORE - Hate speech disengages a person's morality and dehumanises its victims, said Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam on Monday (April 1).

And once normalised, such mindsets are difficult to reverse, he added in his ministerial statement on restricting hate speech to maintain racial and religious harmony in Singapore.

"Hate speech leads to deep social divides," Mr Shanmugam said. "Repeated hate speech increases people's prejudices, feelings of being threatened, and propensity to violence."

Elaborating, he said morality can get "disengaged" when people redefine their actions as honourable, or believe that victims are deserving of their punishments in some way.

He cited the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide as examples of how hate speech can mobilise populations to commit atrocities.

Closer to home, such rhetoric has been directed towards Muslim Rohingyas in Myanmar, while hardline Buddhist extremists in Sri Lanka have promoted hate and violence against other minority groups there.

Even music can spread hate, he added, highlighting how White Power music has been used to deny the humanity of African Americans, while Malay Power music pushes the notion that Malaysia should be an exclusively Malay nation.

 
 
 
 

"People don't have to be extremists to be moved to violence by incendiary rhetoric," Mr Shanmugam said.

In the rest of his statement, the minister addressed the distinction between offensive speech and hate speech, as well as the arguments surrounding Singapore's approach to dealing with hate speech.

He also talked about the concert by Swedish black metal band Watain and the role of social media in propagating hate speech.

Through the debate on hate speech, Mr Shanmugam said he hopes the House can reach a level of clarity and agreement on how rules on speech should be framed and applied, so as to maintain racial and religious harmony.