Teo Chee Hean: Fate Of Racial Harmony Lies With Singaporeans

Whether Singapore gives in to “exclusivity and sectarianism”, or builds on the decision of the nation’s forefathers to live together in racial and religious harmony, is in the hands of Singaporeans, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean today (Jan 17).

In a speech that came after the Jakarta attack and news of a foiled terror plot in Malaysia last week, Mr Teo, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security, reminded his audience that it was not by chance that Singapore is the most religiously diverse country in the world, yet enjoys racial and religious harmony. The peace in Singapore, he said, is a result of the “deliberate choice that we made”.

“We could have chosen differently, we could have chosen to live separately, each community insisting on its own practices, wanting to carve as much exclusive space for itself as possible from the common space. This would have resulted in a very different Singapore. One marked by differences, rather than the broad common humanity that we all share,” said Mr Teo, who spoke at a fund raising dinner for the upcoming Church of the Transfiguration.

But Singapore’s pioneers had lived through racial and religious strife, and did not want to see it happen again. Instead, various communities and leaders committed to work together to strengthen social harmony.

“Each community did not insist on the primacy of its race, language or practices. Instead, each of our communities is prepared to practise its own culture and religion in the context of a multi-racial, multi-religious society, making adaptations to accommodate others where necessary,” said Mr Teo.

Singapore has also been careful about teachings and practices from overseas, especially those that are disrespectful to other religions, or encourage communities to live apart from each other. “And even as we allow each community its own space, we have continually deepened the trust between communities, and expanded our common space where all communities can come together as Singaporeans. These are the precious lessons and experience from our 50 years of independence,” said Mr Teo.

In the next 50 years, “it is up to us and our children to decide what kind of society we want to be”. “We can succumb to exclusivity and sectarianism and drift apart into separate communities This can be by the choices of leaders, or by the individual choices we make every day, whether to live in harmony, try and integrate with others or whether we choose to live separately. So we can make those choices ourselves…Or we can reinforce the choice that our forefathers made to live together, and continue to celebrate and strengthen our racial and religious harmony,” said Mr Teo.

Last Thursday, a gun and bomb attack in central Jakarta left eight dead and over 20 wounded, including four civilians. A day later, Malaysian authorities arrested a suspected militant arrested in a train station in Kuala Lumpur, who confessed to planning a suicide attack in the country.

In his speech, Mr Teo said all religious groups in Singapore reject extremism, radicalism and violence regardless of the source

“This is important because if an attack were to take place in Singapore, the actions of the perpetrators would be condemned by every religious group in Singapore. Rather than allowing an attack to strike fear and splinter our society, we must unite against any such attack, stand together as one people, and emerge stronger,” he said.

He also noted that religious institutions “play a very important role in our society.” For example, organisations such as the Catholic Church have worked “hand in hand” with the Government in nation building over the last 50 years. This includes areas such as character formation, education, health-care and charity, said Mr Teo.


Source: www.todayonline.com

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