Societies need to acknowledge that Islamophobia is increasing around the world and come down hard on these people, Singapore's Minister for Law and Home Affairs K. Shanmugam said yesterday.
Speaking to local media a day after the terrorist attacks in New Zealand mosques that left 49 people dead, Mr Shanmugam said: "When you see the face of the person who was alleged to have committed the crime, I think you see the face of evil."
He added that while people with right-wing hate ideology have carried out terror attacks for many years, the issue has not received "as much attention" as those said to be carried out on behalf of Islam.
Beyond having leaders speaking publicly to condemn the attacks and stepping up security, societies have to "face squarely the reality that Islamophobia is rising", said Mr Shanmugam, who was speaking on the sidelines of a grassroots event.
"Just as we come down hard on terrorists who say that they attack on behalf of Islam, you got to come down equally hard on Islamophobic people and also you got to deal with the ideology - it's not just dealing with specific incidents," he added.
"For that you got to start by acknowledging that it is there. When you do not acknowledge it, the problem just grows."
Societies need to figure out the boundaries between free speech and hate speech - a line which, in many places, is often blurred.
"We try and draw a line and a fairly strict line, whether it is in the form of entertainment or it is preaching... anything that interferes or attacks other peoples' religions, race," he noted.
Highlighting Queensland Senator Fraser Anning, Mr Shanmugam said of the controversial comments made by the far-right independent politician: "Attacking Islam, attacking the Prophet, saying that it is a savage religion. If he had been in Singapore, this would never have been allowed."
It was important for Singaporeans to understand that if people are allowed to attack other religions or races, over time this would spread as hate speech which results in a "culture of permissiveness", Mr Shanmugam added.
And that creates "a greater divide" and "a more permissive environment for violence... so we have to face up to these questions," he said.
When asked if security at religious sites will be stepped up in the light of the Christchurch attacks, Mr Shanmugam said that while Singapore remains on high alert, it has strict laws on gun control as well as on hate speech.
He also urged Singaporeans who have come across the video of the New Zealand shooting to not circulate it and delete the footage.
"Please delete it. And don't spread it. Because we are giving the gunman and the right-wing ideologists exactly what they want by spreading it," he said.