DPM red-flags religious friction

15 April 2010

Inflammatory posts that denigrate other races and religions have cropped up on the Internet.

At the same time, more Singaporeans are becoming religious in a highly public and assertive manner.

Some groups have also become more vocal and articulate about their views.

Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng yesterday highlighted these trends as being of concern, saying they raise the potential for friction and tension.

The solution, however, is not to roll back religion, as Singaporeans must be free to practise their faiths, he said.

It is for the Government to continue to ensure it keeps a big enough neutral, common space where different communities can engage, free of religious considerations and sensitivities, he added.

Mr. Wong, who is also Minister for Home Affairs, was speaking at the Internal Security Department (ISD) intelligence service promotion ceremony.

The potential for religious friction was one of three threats he touched on, the others being terrorism and cyber espionage.

He noted that although the Constitution enshrines the right to propagate one’s faith, this becomes problematic when followers become overzealous and self-righteous in their missionary work, and disregard the feelings of people of other faiths.

‘Unlike previously, devotees of the different faiths today appear to be less tolerant over perceived slights to their religion, and are more ready to retaliate,’ he said.

As for groups becoming more vocal, Mr. Wong noted that some public policies and issues will pose dilemmas for some.

‘We can expect them to speak up. This development is not a security problem per se,’ he said.

‘However, there could be flashpoints when groups go too far in advocating their cause and make unfounded allegations, whip up the emotions of their followers, or mobilise them,’ he added.

‘They could heighten tensions between the religious community and the state.’

He noted that groups are becoming more visible, organising large-scale events at commercial venues. There have also been discussions of religious groups being involved in business.

‘These trends are of concern to Singaporeans as they are seen to be a further encroachment of religion into the common space,’ he said.

‘We have to find the right balance: We cannot have unbridled freedom of religion at the expense of nation-building and social cohesion, to the extent that it foments divisiveness among our people.

‘We will continue to refine our policies to ensure this.’

He noted that every now and then, this delicate balance will be upset by ill-considered remarks and actions by some groups or individuals.

ISD’s responsibility is to help the Government manage tensions and conflicts in a firm, fair and flexible way, he added.

However, he stressed that there is no one-size solution for these problems.

He said: ‘The bottom line we want to achieve is that we preserve for Singaporeans, for the long term, the social stability and harmony among races and religions that we have enjoyed in the last four decades.’

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