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photo: straitstimes

“We want to live together in peace and harmony”

Punggol North festival has been an annual grassroots initiative since 2005, celebrating the dynamism of Singapore’s multi-racial society. The festival also aims to promote racial harmony, inter-faith understanding, as well as religious harmony among residents in Punggol North.

Speaking at the annual street parade and carnival to celebrate racial and religious harmony in Punggol North yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean - three days after a terrorist struck Nice in France - urged people who know of anyone who may be going astray, whether it be a family member, friend or co-worker, to notify the authorities.

Short of locking down society and preventing people from living as normally as possible, it is impossible to stop every possible way of executing a terror attack,

Rather, the solution to countering extremism must come from the hearts and minds of Singaporeans, deciding that “we want to live together in peace and harmony and that we’ll make sure that our society, our neighbourhoods remain that way”, added Mr Teo.

“We’ll work together to help to save him from doing damage to himself and doing damage to his family, to society and our country,” said Mr Teo, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security.

He also pointed to how terrorists led astray by misguided teachings have mounted attacks in the name of religion, citing recent attacks in cities such as Kuala Lumpur, Medina and Nice, he said the intention of any attack was not only to take lives but to strike fear and divide societies.

Singaporeans must know how to react to an attack here, as being prepared could mean saving lives, “and if we’re ... ready, we know that we’ll never allow such attacks to divide us and then we’ll remain strong and resilient; we focus on what we have in common and what unites us as Singaporeans, rather than be drawn apart by what makes us different," Mr Teo said.

While the different races have lived together in harmony for decades, Mr Teo noted this was not always the case. He pointed to the lives lost, people wounded and property damaged in the racial strife and religious riots of the 1960s. “We don’t want ever to have that again,” he said. Only through the resolve of the founding generation of leaders and Singaporeans did a “cohesive and resilient” society, whose people are united as one, develop, he added.

Meanwhile, Acting Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng, who also spoke at the event, said the community must always be mindful of the “delicate balance” needed to maintain racial and multicultural harmony.

“This is something we mustn’t take for granted, and we should build on the many years of friendships and solidarity,” he said. “We must constantly remind ourselves of the need always to be tactful and respectful of each other’s race, culture and religion.”

At a separate community event, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim said racial and religious harmony was still a “work in progress” and that ongoing community efforts were of utmost importance in the light of the recent terror attacks.

“We don’t have to wait for an event to happen, before we jump into action,” he said. “We’ll continue to reach out to the wider population because Singapore’s population is changing and becoming more diverse.”