SINGAPORE - The work religious and community leaders undertake to strengthen the bonds between ethnic and faith groups is "absolutely critical and cannot be taken for granted", said Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran on Sunday (April 14).
Mr Iswaran told a dialogue at the Tentera Di Raja Mosque in Clementi Road that the Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circles (IRCCs) do important work in building relations amid challenges to social cohesion, from terrorism to fake news.
"The IRCCs play a very important role at the community level, bringing together the different groups and working together in order to build strong bridges of understanding," said Mr Iswaran, who was joined by his fellow West Coast GRC MP Foo Mee Har.
"These things that we do are important because they help to build these bridges. Once it breaks, it is very hard to fix back."
He also warned Singaporeans to guard against fake news and hate speech on the Internet and on social media, which can create friction between different groups.
The dialogue, which was organised in conjunction with the West Coast GRC's IRCC appointment ceremony, comes after the March 15 terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch that left 50 people dead.
Ms Foo noted how New Zealanders banded together in a time of grief after the attacks, adding that how people respond can send a strong signal on terror.
Mr Iswaran said that such incidents can happen anywhere: "There is a constant threat to multiracial and multi-religious harmony. No matter which country you are in, you are not immune to the threat."
He added that every effort to engage others group, including simple gestures such as enjoying each other's food or celebrating their festivals, is an opportunity to learn and develop deep friendships.
"We should not wait for an incident to happen before we make an effort to reach out, understand and build those bonds," he said.
"If we do this regularly, there will be a lot less room for misunderstanding."