Debate on hate speech

From The Backbench

NOMINATED MP MOHAMED IRSHAD
NOMINATED MP MOHAMED IRSHAD
MS RAHAYU MAHZAM (Jurong GRC)
MS RAHAYU MAHZAM (Jurong GRC)
MS LEE BEE WAH (Nee Soon GRC)
MS LEE BEE WAH (Nee Soon GRC)
MR MURALI PILLAI (Bukit Batok)
MR MURALI PILLAI (Bukit Batok)
NOMINATED MP TERENCE HO
NOMINATED MP TERENCE HO
MR PRITAM SINGH (Aljunied GRC)
MR PRITAM SINGH (Aljunied GRC)
NOMINATED MP LIM SUN SUN
NOMINATED MP LIM SUN SUN
MR SAKTIANDI SUPAAT (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC)
MR SAKTIANDI SUPAAT (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC)

NOMINATED MP MOHAMED IRSHAD

Celebrate UN interfaith harmony event

Mr Mohamed Irshad recommended that Singapore adopt the World Interfaith Harmony Week, which is observed in the first week of February.

The event was first proposed at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2010 by King Abdullah II of Jordan and unanimously adopted by the UN a month later.

"This week can be an occasion for us to celebrate the rich diversity of religions that harmoniously coexist in Singapore and promote deeper appreciation and tolerance through a series of exhibitions, performances and talks," Mr Mohamed Irshad said.


MS RAHAYU MAHZAM (Jurong GRC)

Address casual racism

Hateful and offensive expressions lie on a spectrum, said Ms Rahayu, and on the milder end, there could be casual racism and inappropriate stereotype jokes.

While it is not practical or meaningful to legislate regulations for such conduct, there is still a need to educate and allow for discourse, she added.

She cited a survey which found that more than 70 per cent of Singaporeans feel that people of different faiths can get along when living close together, but some 15 per cent find Muslims threatening. "It is a solemn reality that Muslims here in Singapore must face. But I think there is much that could be done to create opportunities for greater understanding and for strengthening inter-racial relations," she said.


MS LEE BEE WAH (Nee Soon GRC)

Report hate speech

Ms Lee urged Singaporeans to report any hate speech against their communities and not to spread the perception that the rules are not applied fairly.

When restricting hate speech, the law must be applied impartially to protect all races and religious group, and if there is any suspicion that this is not the case, there will be discord sowed between groups, she added.

Ms Lee said a firm stand must be taken against hate speech. "Words can move emotion and give rise to hate, distrust and destruction. It takes weeks to create distrust and to sow the seeds of discontent. But it takes years and even generations to heal the wounds thereafter," she said.


MR MURALI PILLAI (Bukit Batok)

Be wary of divisive views

Be careful of views that go to the extent of instigating racial issues and confront them courageously, Mr Murali urged Singaporeans.

He gave the recent example of a wet-market operator printing multilingual fliers with a Hindi translation instead of a Tamil one; it went viral on social media and angered many Tamils. The problem, Mr Murali pointed out, was that some people said on social media that Hindi would be used to replace Tamil as an official language; this was untrue. Of the false views being spread, Mr Murali said: "We must courageously confront such efforts that try to divide our society."


NOMINATED MP TERENCE HO

Space for creative expression to flourish

Although hate speech must be regulated to protect Singapore's social fabric, we need to make sure that the space for creative expression and imagination is not reduced as a result, said Mr Ho.

"While we must be responsible for what we say or do in the public arena, we also need to understand creative expressions often should not be taken literally," he added.

Mr Ho said he hopes the Government can continue to focus on helping citizens make informed decisions and appreciate the diversity of creative expressions. "In the sphere of arts, culture and entertainment, there will always be a diversity of world views and values represented," he added.


MR PRITAM SINGH (Aljunied GRC)

Careful approach to uphold secular society

In dealing with hateful or offensive speech, the Government must be careful not to be perceived as taking sides, and must err on the side of wisdom, especially on matters that are expressions of free speech, said Mr Singh.

This approach particularly applies to the entertainment and performing arts space, he added.

"Instead of a hard policy such as bans, a graduated approach establishing a range of conditions, like that done by the Infocomm Media Development Authority in its original assessment of the Watain concert, may better reflect the compromises required to create and sustain as accommodating and robust a common public space as possible," he said.


NOMINATED MP LIM SUN SUN

Exercise rationality and practise restraint

In fighting hate speech, Professor Lim called for Singaporeans to confront their biases, and inclinations to fall prey to them.

"Recognise that we can be easily swayed by sensationalist content that is emotive in nature. Remember to keep a cool head and verify news that seems too extreme," she said.

She also asked citizens to refrain from making baseless and inflammatory comments that disparage others.

"A fleeting 'like', a casual share, a throwaway comment - all these micro actions can come together in a digital patchwork to create a tapestry of hostility," she noted.


MR SAKTIANDI SUPAAT (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC)

Nip stereotypes in the bud

Racial or religious stereotypes can be passed on from parent to child, and these will remain entrenched from generation to generation, said Mr Saktiandi.

He suggested that young parents be exposed to programmes that allow them to mingle with people of all races and religions, and to experience their cultures. He said more can be done, in the form of activities at the grassroots level, for example, through sports and interest groups. "If, from stereotyping, distrust, mischief and misguidance among some people build up, then with the prevalence of hate speech and hate messages, the cracks can turn into chasms," he said.

Adrian Lim

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 02, 2019, with the headline 'From The Backbench'. Print Edition | Subscribe