Singaporeans can expect new policies to tackle acts that deprecate other races or religions, preach intolerance, or sow religious friction. The government states that there are worrying trends of sentiments preached by some Muslim groups in Singapore, which if become widespread, can cause a Muslim community that grows apart from the mainstream.
Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam warned of this trend yesterday (19 Jan) in his opening speech at a two-day symposium organised by the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS).
The Minister said, among sections of our younger Muslim population, sentiments against wishing Christians ‘Merry Christmas’ or wishing Hindus ‘Happy Deepavali’ have been picked up.
“Some Muslim groups preach that it is wrong for Muslims to recite the National Pledge, or sing the National Anthem, or serve National Service, as doing so would contradict the Muslim faith,” Mr Shanmugam said.
“Or that the democratically elected Government that we have in Singapore is incompatible with Islam, and that we should be a caliphate.”
“These are worrying trends and if these sentiments become widespread, a Muslim community that grows apart from the mainstream is not good for Singapore and will have serious long-term implications,” he stated.
Mr Shanmugam mentioned the bloody history of religions causing untold suffering to millions, while trying to explain, how the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group could be traced to charismatic preachers exploiting issues of interest to Muslims to achieve political power.
In the neighboring countries, Islam in particular has been used over the last few decades as a tool in political power play and to cultivate an us-versus-them mentality, he said.
Pointing to Malaysia, Mr Shanmugam said that it has become more Islamic and politics led the change.
A survey last year showed 60 per cent of Malays identified themselves as Muslims first, rather than as Malaysians or Malays, and more than 70 per cent of Malays support hudud laws that punish theft by chopping off the criminal's hands, and adultery by stoning.
Against the backdrop of such changes, some Malaysians have begun to support extremist terrorist ideology. A recent Pew Research Centre study showed 10 percent of Malaysian Malays had a favourable opinion of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
"Consider the nature of the threat posed, if even a small fraction of these become radicalised," said Mr Shanmugam.
In Indonesia, Islamic boarding schools and madrasahs are suspected to have links with terror networks and serve as conduits for money to the Middle East, he added.
Also, the country's lack of preventive detention laws has led to hundreds of terrorists linked to Jemaah Islamiah being released back into society, including those previously involved in plots against Singapore.
Thailand, the Philippines and Myanmar face the possibility of inter-religious strife too, he said, pointing that the socioeconomic conditions of their respective Muslim populations have added to the potency of the terrorism threat.
Mr Shanmugam said that the Government is watching the development closely and will take steps to address the issue, and he commended Muslim population’s stance in the country so far.
“You are a successful model to the modern world for your moderate, respectful worldview and practices. The community must continue to preserve and protect its way of life, despite challenges within and without,” he said.
“There is a fine line between gaining a better understanding of religion and celebrating the country’s diversity by identifying as Singaporeans first; Chinese, Malay or Indian second, versus believing that our religion requires us to be separate,” said Mr Shanmugam.
He quoted the words of the late founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who had spoken about the Singaporean Chinese, Singaporean Malay and Singaporean Indian as opposed to the Chinese Singaporean, Malay Singaporean and Indian Singaporean.
On the safety of the country, Mr Shanmugam said, “Singapore is fairly secure. We have tight laws, tight gun control, and with intelligence work, we try to prevent attacks from happening. But attackers are likely to gather and plan just outside Singapore and attack us, like the attack on Paris was probably planned in Molenbeek, Belgium, where security was less tight.”
“So, in addition to hard security measures, we have to do one more thing which is very urgent. We have to move to change mindsets. Our people must realise that everyone is responsible for our collective security.”
“Over the next few months, my Ministry will announce some of the measures covering both the hard and soft aspects of Singapore's security, including the response by the community,” he said.
It leaves much to be seen what the Ministry of Home Affairs will push out as Singapore has already one of the toughest law in the developed world. Its Internal Security Act allows the government to arrest anyone it deems a threat to national security without trial for an unlimited period of time. For the past few years, the government has kept individuals whom it suspect of being religious extremists under detention without trial with many still kept in detention till date.
The full speech of Mr Shanmugam could be read here.