The persistent threat of terrorism and radical ideologies has made it more urgent for every Singaporean to do their part in strengthening the country's harmony, Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman said yesterday.
Non-Muslims, he said, can help correct misconceptions or stereotypical and anti-Muslim remarks or actions by family members and friends, as well as on social media.
Muslims, he added, need to send a clear message that they denounce violence, just as community and religious leaders have been doing each time a terror attack takes place.
He said a military solution alone will not be enough to fight terrorism, "which aims to exploit potential racial and religious fault lines and destabilise society by causing mistrust among different religions and races".
"Each of us needs to pay special attention to strengthening our social and psychological defences, two of the five pillars of Total Defence."
Dr Maliki, who was the first speaker in yesterday's debate on the President's Address, noted that the fight against violent extremism will not be quick or easy.
Scholars and Islamic religious leaders have noted that terrorists who claim to be motivated by religious ideology often turn out to have little and incomplete understanding of Islam, he said.
Unfortunately, radicals' misrepresentation of Islam has caused anxiety and even fear between Muslims and non-Muslims in Singapore.
While this tension "is understandable as a natural human reaction given the misinformation, if left unaddressed, it will surely - and not necessarily slowly - lead to suspicion and one group blaming the other".
If there is an abrupt end to the social harmony in Singapore, everyone will suffer, Dr Maliki added.
He said every group needs to make the effort to understand the other, and "act and react in constructive and adaptive ways".
Non-Muslims need to understand that terrorism is based on radical ideologies and teachings that are completely unIslamic.
To believe otherwise would cause society to "fall into the terrorists' trap to sow discord", he added.
Dr Maliki said Muslims need to reject any forms of violence in the name of Islam. It is also important for community and religious leaders to equip them so they can discern correct Islamic teachings from the multitude of alternative extremist views that are available online.
He cited recent cases where radical preachers called on Muslims to abstain from wishing Christians Merry Christmas. The messages were spread via SMS and WhatsApp.
He said he was heartened that many Singapore Muslim leaders have dismissed such calls, and said that they have "no Islamic basis".
While such calls, taken alone, may seem insignificant, Dr Maliki said if they happen often and "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".
Non-Muslim leaders should also speak up on how people should and should not treat Muslims, he added.
Ms Joan Pereira (Tanjong Pagar GRC) also said every Singaporean had a role to play in staying united, as social integration is built "one encounter, one day at a time".
"And occasionally, when we accidentally step upon one another's toes, we must always remind ourselves to take the high road for the greater good," she added.
To strengthen social harmony, she suggested improving community bonding programmes and stepping up public education to better promote responsible behaviour online.