Shanmugam: Watch out for Islamophobia

Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam, who said the Home Affairs Ministry will announce measures on this front in the next few months.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

WITH the region becoming a fertile ground for terrorism, Singapore will have to strengthen its security forces, intelligence and border controls, and people need to realise that everyone is responsible for the country's collective security.

This is according to Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam, who said the Home Affairs Ministry will announce measures on this front in the next few months.

He was speaking at the opening of a two-day conference yesterday and his speech comes against the backdrop of heightened security in the region following last Thursday's bomb blasts in Jakarta, and other recent attacks in cities from Paris to Istanbul.

Mr Shanmugam said Singaporeans must take a bigger collective effort to safeguard the racial and religious harmony of Singapore, a secular and multi-religious country.

The Government will step up measures to protect this peace, he added in a speech to more than 500 religious and community leaders, academics and students.

The event was organised by the Studies in Inter-Religious Relations in Plural Societies programme of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

Mr Shanmugam highlighted the growing tendency towards greater religious extremism and exclusivity in the region in recent years, as well as the rise in sectarian strife and terrorist attacks around the world.

"Our very existence as one of the most religiously diverse and tolerant societies in the world, where mosques, churches and temples are situated side by side - this is unacceptable to the zealots. They consider us infidels who ought to be exterminated," he said.

The minister added that Singapore faces four types of related threats.

They are: direct terrorist attacks; the radicalisation of a part of the Muslim population; a section of Singapore Muslims growing somewhat distant from the rest of society; and growing Islamophobia or distrust and intolerance towards Muslims.

The spectre of Islamophobia spreading among non-Muslim communities here is real, Mr Shanmugam added, citing increasing reports of intolerance towards Muslims around the world.

There have already been at least two such instances here, he added. In September, a Malay woman was approached by a man of another race.

He said the words "suicide bomber" to her.

And in November, a week after the Paris attacks, the words "Islam murderers" were found scribbled at a bus stop in Bukit Panjang and on a toilet seat at Jurong Point mall.

Such intolerant acts may be few in Singapore but they tear at the heart of a multi-racial, multi-religious society, he said.

"How our non-Muslims treat our Muslim brothers and sisters will decide what type of society we are. And if we behave with suspicion and negativity, then our Muslim population will feel isolated. The harmonious society that we have built will be at risk," he said.

"It is vital that we ask the non-Muslim communities to look squarely at themselves, their attitudes, viewpoints. How supportive they really are or are they only being superficially, politically, correct?

"Do they accept that the vast majority of our Muslim population is tolerant, positive and in every way Singaporean?

"Do we accept that it is our duty to reach out, encourage, continue to build a harmonious society where each of us, including our Muslim brothers and sisters, are bonded and keep to the ideals of Singapore?"

Mr Shanmugam added that it is important "we ensure that Muslims in Singapore enjoy good opportunities, that there is no discrimination in schools, jobs, or society as a whole".

He said Islamophobia will "tear our society apart" and that Singapore has to guard against it.

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