Hate speech can destroy trust in society: Minister

In this file photo taken on Aug 5, Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam delivers a speech at the Istana.
In this file photo taken on Aug 5, Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam delivers a speech at the Istana.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

The rise of identity politics globally has led to a deterioration in trust between communities, Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said.

There is also more hate speech, which is more openly expressed, often without shame or a sense of wrong. "And we, at least a certain generation, are getting colonised in our minds," he added at a scholarship ceremony for the police and Home Team at the Istana.

Nobody denies there is identity politics and issues of race, he said. "But we are very different, thankfully, because of 50 years of active management of these issues, and the population accepting that."

Mr Shanmugam pointed out that Singapore is different compared with the US - citing conflicts between the Black Lives Matter movement and the Blue Lives Matter counter-movement, and "videos of anger and frustration, attacking the majority or minority - all in the name of freedom of speech".

"Why do we need to be colonised by that and bring that into our system?" he asked. "We are not at that stage. We are at a stage where we can sensibly talk about it. We can try to continue to make changes."

His comments come as a rap video on racism by siblings Preeti and Subhas Nair is being investigated by police for its alleged offensive content. The video was made in response to a controversial "brownface" advertisement to promote e-payments. The producers of the ad and the siblings have apologised.

The minister said allowing hate speech to become the norm here would change the values of society, and how people look at each other. "It will fuel extremist ideologies, which existed on fringes but increasingly occupy centre stage in political discourse worldwide."

Citing the weekend attack by a white supremacist in Texas, he said every sentence and video will have consequences. When hateful rhetoric is the norm and societies turn a blind eye, violence follows.


"We have to be extra vigilant in policing and keeping peace in our common space, and be firm and objective," he said. "That is why we intervened in the spate of videos alleging discrimination by the police against Malays. They think they can get away with making such false allegations, they are wrong."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 06, 2019, with the headline 'Hate speech can destroy trust in society: Minister'. Subscribe