Dangerous to blame quickly: Experts

Dangerous to blame quickly: Experts
New Town Secondary School students put on a dance performance as part of their celebration on Racial Harmony Day.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

In light of the Berlin attack on Monday, experts here have warned of the dangers of assigning blame without evidence.

After the attack, in which a truck ploughed through a Christmas market and killed 12 people, German authorities detained a 23-year-old Pakistani asylum seeker based on a description of the man who had fled from the truck.

He was released on Tuesday because the police lacked evidence putting him in the truck at the time.

National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser said that without evidence, assigning blame could inflict "grave injustice".

"It could reinforce certain stereotypes and result in those who fit these stereotypes being subjected to discrimination, abuse, or even physical harm," he said.

"It could reinforce and perpetuate mistrust and fear, whether it be a case of misplaced accusation, or when it is established that the attack was carried out by some radical or extremist groups."

Mr Ahmad Tashrif Sarman, assistant secretary of the Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circle (IRCC) at Bukit Batok, also cautioned against attributing blame too quickly.

"When you jump the gun, the wrong conclusions can stoke racial and religious tension. People might make unnecessary comments, which will cause the aggrieved party to feel even more excluded," he said.

Just three hours after the Berlin tragedy, US president-elect Donald Trump released a statement that described the attack as the latest in what he said was a global religious war.

'GLOBAL JIHAD'

"ISIS and other Islamist terrorists continually slaughter Christians in their communities and places of worship as part of their global jihad," he said.

An AFP report pointed out that Mr Trump's comments were made before Amaq, a jihadist-linked news agency, claimed that the Islamic State group was behind the attack.

Miss Nur Azlin Yasin, from Singapore's International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, said Mr Trump's finger-pointing was "dangerous", and had detrimental effects for the global community.

"Terror groups and ideology breed in cracks in society. Without these cracks, terrorism cannot come alive. But what Mr Trump is doing is making the cracks even bigger and heightening the perceived threat people face," said the associate research fellow.

Jalan Kayu IRCC chairman Thiruchelvam Anjappan was also disappointed with Mr Trump's response.

"...Pointing the finger at a group makes it a very isolated statement and is not representative of the general public."

The experts said the attack and Mr Trump's reaction are a "timely reminder" to reiterate religious and racial tolerance.

"Some of us are different and we have had our tensions in the past, but we are enjoying peace now. It's important to be tolerant of one another," said Mr Ahmad Tashriff.

Miss Nur Azlin said: "We are fortunate to have the harmony we have here. We do not let these cracks fester and we accept each other. That is our greatest defence."

harizbah@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Dec 23, 2016.
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