SINGAPORE - Societies need to acknowledge that Islamophobia is increasing around the world and come down hard on these people, said the Minister for Law and Home Affairs on Saturday (March 16).
Mr K. Shanmugam told the media a day after the terrorist attacks in New Zealand mosques that left 49 people dead: "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 hard equally 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."
Mr Shanmugam said societies will 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.
If people are allowed to attack other religions or races, over time this would spread as hate speech, which results in a "permissive environment for violence", Mr Shanmugam added.
"It's not an immediate line, but it does create that environment, a more permissive environment. So we have to face up to these questions."
When asked if security at religious sites will be stepped up in light of the NZ attacks, Mr Shanmugam said while Singapore remains on high alert, it has strict laws on gun control as well as hate speech.
He also asked Singaporeans who have come across the video of the NZ shooting to not circulate it and delete the footage: "I would urge people who have come across this to really not spread it ... because we are giving the gunman and the right-wing ideologists exactly what they want by spreading it.
"Please delete it. And don't spread it."
The Singapore Police Force later reiterated Mr Shanmugam's request in a statement on Facebook.
"The Police urge members of the public who have received such videos to delete them and not to circulate further," said the police.