SINGAPORE - Faced with the spread of extremism and misinformation on Islam, Muslims as well as non-Muslims must take constructive steps to preserve and strengthen Singapore's harmony, Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman told the House.
Dr Maliki, who was the first speaker to debate the President's Address on Tuesday (Jan 26), added that all groups in Singapore have a major role to play in tackling the threat of radical ideologies and terrorism at a time when extremists "continue to exploit the misunderstanding of Islam and seek to divide us along racial and religious lines".
He also noted that a military solution alone will not be enough to fight terrorism.
"The fight against violent extremism will not be a quick or easy one. It is an ideological war against terrorists whose goal is social destruction through fear and mistrust, and not only physical destruction," he said.
This ideological war that is "fought in the minds of our people" is made more challenging with modern communication tools such as social media, he noted.
Firstly, non-Muslims need to understand that terrorism is based on radical ideologies and teachings that are completely against Islam. To do otherwise would cause society to "fall into the terrorists' trap to sow discord", said Dr Maliki.
Small but important gestures such as correcting misconceptions or stereotypical and anti-Muslim remarks or actions by family members and friends will also help to preserve social harmony, he added.
For its part, the Muslim community must also act decisively to give a clear message and assurance that they denounce violence, he said.
Noting that a Turkish Muslim scholar recently wrote in The Wall Street Journal that terrorists are "committing grave sins in the name of Islam", he said Muslims must therefore reject any forms of violence in the name of Islam.
Secondly, there is a need to improve religious understanding and build up social and psychological resilience so as to reduce society's vulnerability towards those who exploit the internet and social media with false teachings.
Community and religious leaders will have to lead and guide the community through the web of information and discern between Islamic teachings and misrepresentations of Islam and wrong teachings, he said.
This will also benefit the larger non-Muslim communities who will have greater awareness of the true Islamic values and teachings given Singapore's multi-racial context.
Citing recent examples of exclusivist tendencies such as messages over SMS and WhatsApp for Muslims to abstain from wishing Merry Christmas to Christians, Dr Maliki said he was heartened that Muslim leaders have come out to dismiss such teachings, saying that they have " no Islamic basis".
"This occurrence of expressing a festive greeting if taken alone may seem insignificant, but if it were to occur every other day and if the Muslim community does not have the religious ballast to fight the ideological challenge, one can only imagine the religious fault lines it could create in our society," he added.
Dr Maliki called on all Singaporeans to build social cohesion that is backed by having a proper understanding and trust among people of different races and religions.
"Without social cohesion and social resilience against the threat of radicalism, all it takes is one hit for terrorism to sow deep mistrust and create irreparable fault lines in our society," he said.