SINGAPORE - To preserve Singapore's social cohesion and racial harmony, the different ethnic groups in Singapore have to seek common ground and be willing to make sacrifices and put in the requisite effort, said MPs and community leaders on Sunday (Aug 29).
They were responding to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's National Day Rally, where he said in the Mandarin portion of his speech that it was "entirely baseless" to claim that there was "Chinese privilege" in Singapore, and that all races were treated equally here with no special privileges.
PM Lee noted that Chinese Singaporeans had made concessions for the greater good, such as when English was adopted as the nation's lingua franca.
This give-and-take is real and not trivial, especially when one has to give up certain aspects of their cultural existence, said Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Maliki Osman.
"In any multiracial society, there will always be differences between the majority and the minority and... (PM Lee) spent a lot of time acknowledging that minorities in Singapore continue to face such challenges," he added.
The Malay/Muslim community has had provisions made for it, he said, including Malay being the national language and the establishment of the Muslim Law Act that forms the Syariah Court and the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore. "These are all privileges given to the Muslim community also," said Dr Maliki, who is also Second Minister for Education and Foreign Affairs.
The Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations president Tan Aik Hock told The Straits Times that for several generations now, the Chinese community has been giving back to society and helping individuals regardless of race and religion. "But we don't particularly highlight this," he said.
Mutual tolerance is key, he added. "Even though we may have different views, we should seek common ground and build a harmonious society together."
Minister of State for Education and Social and Family Development Sun Xueling said the new Maintenance of Racial Harmony Act announced yesterday would serve as a framework to reiterate values held dear by Singapore society and signal bad behaviours.
The proposed law will incorporate "softer and gentler touches", such as powers to order someone who has caused offence to stop and make amends by learning more about the other race. These rehabilitative and persuasive aspects are important, said Ms Sun.
"At the end of the day, you want to educate people in the process," she added. "And when people are given opportunities to learn more about each other... there is then an opportunity after that to move forward together as one."
Ms Sun said such a law would also encourage people to be sensitive to how their actions might impact those around them, especially minorities who may see and feel things differently from the majority group.