International Conference on Cohesive Societies: Making sure nobody is left out of the dialogue

President Halimah Yacob in a fireside chat with delegates from the Young Leaders’ Programme on June 19, 2019. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

It is heartening that leaders of different religions are building relationships, but how can these discussions involve other parties who have been left out?

What can be done to make sure that social media does not spread hateful content?

These were among the issues brought up at an informal discussion President Halimah Yacob had with young community and religious activists from around the world at the Raffles City Convention Centre yesterday.

She met some of the 100 delegates who were in Singapore for the Young Leaders' Programme of the International Conference on Cohesive Societies. Aged between 20 and 40 years, they came from faith and community groups as well as public sector and corporate organisations.

Participants stressed the importance of making sure that nobody is left out of religious dialogue. "Everyone has a role," President Halimah agreed. "Finding out who is not in the room or part of the conversation is really important because sometimes we talk to ourselves.

"We may be disseminating information to ourselves and like-minded people but we may not be communicating to others or find out who is not in the room and bring them into the room so that they may also find common goals, platforms," she said.

Participants also brought up concerns over technology being used to spread hatred. "We may live in one country but we are very much connected to the whole world. And what we see around the world is not very pleasant," said President Halimah. "We see rising instances of racism, of discrimination or hatred of all forms. Discriminatory sentiments affect everyone."

Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman, who attended the session, said: "Countries around the world today face different crises, social distrust, misunderstanding, disharmony.

"There is a proliferation of extreme views made possible by social media. This aggravates racial and religious misunderstanding, tension, intolerance and confrontation.

"It is critical that we actively resist hatred politics and strive for mutual tolerance, understanding, respect for all races and religions. We must be discerning of messages that propagate hate."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2019, with the headline International Conference on Cohesive Societies: Making sure nobody is left out of the dialogue. Subscribe