No space for extremism, ministers say, as they urge caution in publicising sensitive matters

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam (left) and Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim. PHOTOS: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - It is right to blow the whistle when one sees something that is wrong, but some sensitive matters are better reported to the authorities directly rather than being aired online, two ministers said on Saturday (March 4).

Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim said in a Facebook post: ""There is no space in Singapore for extremism or exclusivism because we uphold values of mutual respect and harmony."

He added: "While it is correct to whistle blow when one sees wrongdoing, one must also ask whether the manner in which this is done is appropriate, or if it sows more discord and causes tension in our society."

"On such sensitive matters, it would be better to go to the authorities in the first instance, rather than online," said Dr Yaacob, who is Minister for Communications and Information, in his first comments on the ongoing police investigation of an imam who allegedly made insensitive remarks about Christians and Jews.

His comments came about a week after investment associate Terence Nunis, 40, posted a video on Facebook of what appeared to be an imam reciting a prayer after a sermon at Jamae Mosque in South Bridge Road.

In the video, the imam reportedly recited a prayer that said: "God grant us victory over Jews and Christians".

The police are investigating the video and the conduct of the people involved in the case. The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) is assisting police in the investigation.

In a separate post on Facebook, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said that the "right thing to do" in the incident was for the matter to be reported to the Police and not put out on social media.

Reporting the matter to the Police will allow the authorities to focus their investigations on the subject of the complaint, he said.

"If instead, the matter is publicly posted, it could lead to a ground swell of feelings, in this case, both from Muslims as well as non-Muslims. It could cause confusion about religion, and increase tensions and so on," he noted.

"We don't want that in Singapore."

In his post, Dr Yaacob noted that the video sparked a storm in the community.

"This issue has generated many emotions both online and offline. Many in our community felt angry, because they believe that the postings could be used to cast aspersions on Islam and the asatizah in our mosques," he added.

It is important to step back and reflect on the incident, he said.

"We utterly reject any speech or actions that foster ill will between communities," he wrote. "This is the Singapore way."

Dr Yaacob also noted that there will not be any "double standards" in dealing with issues on race and religious harmony.

"If one of us, a preacher or otherwise, has the crossed the line, he or she must be taken to task," he noted. "This has been done in other cases involving other religious groups which have crossed the line."

In his Facebook post, Dr Yaacob noted that top Muslim leader, Mufti Fatris Bakaram, had taken his Facebook account offline for a day to "cool things down" because he saw emotions being whipped up on his page.

After restoring his account last night, Mufti Fatris said when faced with a disorderly situation, one had to take a step back to reflect on the matter.

"Personally, I do not agree with the approach taken by some individuals to sensationalise the video and related reports on social media."

"Whatever our views, it is not appropriate to act or comment in a way that hurts feelings or creates public unease," said Dr Fatris, who added that no one should give the wrong impression of Islam or the Muslim community which had all along led efforts to build harmony across different races and communities.

He also said that as investigations are ongoing, it is not appropriate for him to comment publicly on the imam or his recitation, as the authorities need room to do their work.

The mufti added: "We must strive to hold fast to our religious convictions, and at the same time, ensure that our religious texts are used appropriately, so they are not misunderstood and as a result smear the good name of Islam and the Muslim community."

Mr Shanmugam said he was heartened Muis and Muslim leaders had come out clearly to state their position, and it showed the community values religious harmony.

He also had strong words for those who attacked Muis and the Mufti. He noted that Muis and the Office of the Mufti are important institutions that play a critical role in contributing to the maintenance of religious harmony and inter-faith relations.

"Regrettably some people have been attacking them - both now and previously. The Mufti himself has been attacked, in rude and unacceptable language," Mr Shanmugam wrote.

"Just because these people may not agree with the Mufti, or the Islamic authorities, does not mean they should use rude and abusive language against them. I find that very saddening - kurang ajar," he added, using the Malay term for lack of good upbringing.

"We are keeping a close watch on people who do these things. If the conduct crosses over and becomes criminal, action will be taken," he said.

On the matter relating to the imam, police will investigate the case thoroughly and interview all parties involved, he added.

"This includes the persons who filmed and publicised the video. Whether there is a case for further action against any of the parties will depend on the outcome of investigations."

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