Strong links between faith, ethnic groups key: Iswaran

Efforts by religious and community leaders to strengthen these bonds critical, he says

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 yesterday.

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 at the event.

"These things that we do are important because they help to build these bridges. Once it breaks, it is very hard to fix back. So it is better to keep it as strong as we can."

He also warned Singaporeans to guard against fake news and hate speech on the Internet, particularly on social media, which can create friction between the different religious and racial groups here.

The dialogue, which was organised in conjunction with the West Coast GRC's IRCC appointment ceremony, came 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 attack, adding that how people respond can send a strong signal on terror.

Mr Iswaran said that such incidents can happen anywhere, adding: "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 other groups, 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."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 15, 2019, with the headline 'Strong links between faith, ethnic groups key: Iswaran'. Print Edition | Subscribe