Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied): Chairman, following the announcement this year of the arrest of the 16-year-old radicalised Christian youth who plotted terror attacks at two mosques, it was important to hear the reassurances from the Minister of State for Home Affairs – that the authorities have taken increased steps to reach out to youth through social media and other means to counter radical threats.
The case was a good reminder that religious extremism can come from anywhere, because any religion can be misused. None is exempt.
At a time like this, the population may need to be reassured that the Government is on top of things not only from an operational standpoint, but that Government policy is strictly secular and neither favours nor is influenced by religious beliefs from any quarter. Religious extremism when exposed, is obvious and rejected by all, including ordinary adherents of that religion. There is no danger that Government policy will be anything other than strongly against extremism. But is there a risk of the subtle influencing of policy by religious persons who are not necessarily radical? Is there a danger in Singapore that laws and policies could be tilted towards particular religious beliefs, for example, because of the dominant religious beliefs of senior civil servants, or people of influence, if not now, maybe sometime in future.
I would like to ask the Government if it has considered such matters, and if so, whether it intends to roll out strategies to counter such a possible risk to Singapore’s secular principles.
This may be a good time to revisit the 1989 White Paper on the Maintenance of Religious Harmony, which was a very different time in terms of interpersonal communication. For example, one issue the White Paper sought to deal with was insensitive proselytisation. Radicalism and extremism, not necessarily religion versus religion, but religion versus other communities, are subjects that deserve closer attention today.
Yet, the principles stated in the 1989 White Paper and the worrying examples of that era, bear restating and updating because they are even more important now in our age of information silos. The White Paper stated that paragraph 27, what I believe to be the critical point, and I quote, “The purpose of attempting to separate religion from politics is therefore not to determine the validity of various religious or ethical beliefs which have political or social implications. It is to establish working rules by which many faiths can accept fundamental differences between them and co-exist peacefully in Singapore.”
Sir, far-right extremism has at its core, the rejection of the other. Earlier this year, the owner of an eatery uploaded a video of a well-dressed man in office attire, throwing the rainbow LGBT pride flag at staff members. The flag was placed at the shop front. The man allegedly told staff members, one of whom was hearing impaired, to I quote, “Go to hell”, and accused them of being the kind of people who I quote again, “destroy Singapore”.
Beyond this incident, it was concerning to read that one of the reasons the eatery owner uploaded the video was, and I quote, “to highlight the everyday reality that the LGBTQ community experience when most incidents are not even caught on camera.”
I am aware Minister for Home Affairs, in particular, has spoken up about the state’s intolerance of acts perpetrated against the LGBTQ community. Minister has stressed that the Government’s job is to protect everybody and warned race, religion or sexual orientation was irrelevant. Former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong also made similar remarks.
Beyond a new White Paper or Maintenance of Harmony White Paper updated to identify the key dangers to communal harmony in Singapore for this generation, will the Government consider a restatement or an update of its working rules and laws to ensure that there is preservation of strict secularism, so that all communities recognise that no one is placed above the other in matters of law, policy and governance in our multi-racial and multi-religious society which also increasingly holds other communities.
1 March 2021
Ministry of Home Affairs