RACIAL and religious integration is an ongoing challenge, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday, as he stressed that the harmony which Singapore enjoys today is not natural, but an act of will that has been sustained through the decades.
No matter the progress made over the last 50 years, it would be unwise to assume Singaporeans no longer need to be careful when discussing race and religion issues, he said.
"That's being complacent, that's dangerous," said Mr Lee. "Because race and religion remain sensitive and difficult issues... in some ways even more complicated and difficult today."
This is seen in how, from time to time, there has still been the need to deal with "prickly issues (and) incidents with a racial tinge".
He cited examples, such as the offence taken when somebody makes a racial post on social media, religious rites for funerals or births especially when there is a mixed marriage, or when family members convert from one religion to another, which may result in disputes in a family.
Mr Lee was speaking to community and religious leaders at a conference organised by OnePeople.sg, which is themed 50 Years Of Harmony: Reflections And Aspirations.
OnePeople.sg is a national body focused on promoting racial and religious harmony.
Singapore also remains susceptible to spillover effects from the external environment, including Islamist terrorism - in particular, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
"We must be on our guard," he said. "We must be very careful so that if (a terrorist attack) happens, we don't let it pull our fabric apart," he said.
This, he added, is why it is a must to nurture racial harmony and strengthen inter-religious ties as much as possible now.
Citing a study two years ago, Mr Lee noted that while most Singaporeans subscribe to racial and religious harmony, less than half had at least one close friend of another race. He said: "In principle, we've made a lot of progress. In practice, we need to do more."
As Singapore celebrates its Golden Jubilee, Mr Lee said, Singaporeans must continually remind themselves about the importance of racial and religious harmony.
"For the younger ones who are lucky to have never seen racial strife before, we have to constantly remind them about how precious this harmony is, how unusual and rare it is," he said.
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