SINGAPORE - Multiculturalism and harmony have always been the focus in Singapore but foreign ideas now travel here at the speed of light through the Internet and social media, said Senior Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad.
But these ideas must be contextualised against lived experiences and the nation's social fabric before they are applied, he added on Friday (Dec 10).
"What's important is that we have to be sensitive in how we apply theories, models and frames as you read materials outside, as you go out there and learn about others' cultures and views," he said.
Speaking at a dialogue on race relations at the opening ceremony of the annual OnePeople.sg Model United Nations, Mr Zaqy added that it is important to evaluate why social movements, such as Black Lives Matter, are happening overseas.
"We are set in a very different context from many of these things that you read out there," he said.
He answered a question from a student who asked about his personal experiences with transgressions.
Mr Zaqy spoke about his experiences growing up in Singapore, recalling when people would assume he was great at playing soccer, or ask why his skin was fair if he is Malay.
"I would put it more on ignorance and being unaware of cultural differences or nuances, and it is something that we can do better - taking an interest in learning other cultures and beliefs," he said.
There is no space for tolerance for the few cases of individuals who are actively harmful, though, he emphasised.
A video of then polytechnic lecturer Tan Boon Lee telling a couple in Orchard Road that they should date within their own race made its rounds on social media in June, triggering anger from the community.
The man was seen accusing Mr Dave Parkash, who is half-Indian and half-Filipino, of "preying on a Chinese girl". He was later dismissed from his teaching duties at Ngee Ann Polytechnic following police investigations.
Many community leaders stepped up to comment on the man's actions, with Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information and Health Janil Puthucheary criticising the "blatant racism and bigotry" of the man.
The OnePeople.sg Model United Nations was established in 2015 to promote racial and religious harmony among youth in Singapore.
More than 300 students from secondary schools, post-secondary institutions and madrasahs are expected to participate in this year's seventh edition, run by youth, which will be held over three days until Sunday.
At the opening ceremony, Mr Zaqy said: "To strengthen race relations, we need to have deeper connections with our diverse ethnic and religious communities."
"This could mean levelling up on our understanding of different cultures and engaging in safe spaces for conversations to better understand sentiments, and lend our voice in tackling racial prejudice and build deeper community ties," he added.