Social media influencers to reach out to community in event of terror attack: K Shanmugam
'We have to win the fight for hearts and minds.'
The activist, interventionist model is Singapore’s chosen method to combat the scourge of terrorism, said Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam in Parliament on Oct. 3.
“We have never believed that a laissez-faire approach in creating a national identity, a multi-racial society, will work. We were activists in this respect. We have had an activist policy of fostering inter-religious and inter-racial harmony.”
Shanmugam was responding to a Parliamentary motion on “Fortifying Singapore’s resolve to stay united against the threat of terrorism.” It was advanced by four PAP MPs, Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), Intan Azura Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio GRC), Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok SMC) and Tan Wu Meng (GRC).
Problems with race and religion overseas
In total, 17 MPs spoke during the debate on the motion, including Workers’ Party members Pritam Singh, Faisal Manap (Aljunied GRC), Leon Perera (NCMP), and it was unanimously supported.
To bolster his point, Shanmugam quoted European leaders, like U.K.’s Prime Minister Theresa May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who have had problems building an inclusive, multi-racial society in their countries.
“In fact, we are often accused of being too interventionist and too focused on race. I don’t think one can be too interventionist in this context. And it is useful to see what is now being said in other parts of the world with regard to race relations and integration.”
What’s being done?
Shanmugam touched upon the measures that have been previously implemented to foster greater integration between the races. The HDB housing estate model was held up as an example of creating common spaces for people to interact. Also, the self-help groups which were delineated by race (e.g. Mendaki, SINDA, CDAC) were brought together under the banner of OnePeople.sg 10 years ago.
But in a rather more dramatic example, Shanmugam cited the example of the government banning foreign preachers who spread hatred and division. He played two video clips of speeches given by such preachers, one of Mufti Menk and the other of Zakir Naik.
Menk was blathering on about how it was an unforgivable sin for a Muslim to wish a non-Muslim friend ‘Merry Christmas’ or a ‘Happy Deepavali’. Naik claimed that if a Muslim voted for a non-Muslim political candidate, they would become non-Muslim themselves and presumably be damned for all eternity.
Shanmugam said that the government had banned them from visiting Singapore, and also cited the example of two Islamophobic Christian preachers who had been similarly barred from the country.
“Mufti Menk whom you saw in the video was not the only preacher I banned. A few weeks ago, we banned two Christian preachers who had made several Islamophobic comments. Those two preachers had been contacted by churches in Singapore – they were coming in to speak, but we said ‘No’. The National Council of Churches came out and told all churches to be careful who they invite.”
What will be done next?
Shanmugam next outlined five steps that the government is taking to tackle the threat of terrorism
1. Restrictions on foreign preachers. The government will continue to monitor foreign preachers visiting Singapore to see if they have an agenda to sow religious discord.
2. Hate speech. Social media “emboldens” and some viral comments could “inflame emotions”. Shanmugam said the government had used existing laws in the past to combat hate speech, but are looking into more options to deal with it “appropriately and decisively”.
3. Prevention of radicalisation. Community actors — such as parents, spouses, siblings — should play their part if someone close to them is showing signs of radicalisation.
4. Islamic College. Shanmugam referred to an earlier speech made by Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim on the setting up of a new Islamic College in Singapore. Once built, the college will train a new generation of religious leaders mindful of Singapore’s multi-racial and multi-religious context.
5. Dealing with segregationist teachings. The government will review the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act to see how it can best deal with exclusivist or intolerant practices.
6. Social media influencers. In a twist that perhaps few saw coming, Shanmugam agreed with MP Desmond Choo (Tampines GRC) and said that the government is currently engaging high profile social influencers to reach out to the community in the event of a terror attack. So if you’re someone who never pays attention to the news but follow social influencers religiously, you’ll also be warned.
Not a race-blind society yet
Despite the government’s efforts to integrate society, Shanmugam acknowledged it was a bridge too far to think that Singapore society is currently totally race-blind.
He cited the late Deputy Prime Minister S. Rajaratnam, who took a “noble view” and said that “Let’s have a homogenous Singapore race.” Shanmugam said that was “challenging”, and what the government could realistically do instead was to foster a strong sense of a Singaporean identity that could be laid over one’s racial identity.
“Looking at current trends, the kind of centrifugal forces society is facing, including Singapore, on the many pulls and pushes, I think many will agree that it is going to be challenging to achieve a homogenous race of Singaporeans in the near term. I think what we can realistically achieve is a strong national identity, a Singaporean identity, which will overlay our separate racial and religious identities and that framework can create a vibrant society.”
Shanmugam even quoted Martin Luther King Jr. and Lee Kuan Yew, both of whom spoke of their visions of a multi-racial and a race-blind society. He said that 50 years on, Singapore is on the right path towards achieving that vision, although it is not perfect yet.
He concluded his speech by making the point that terrorism remains a threat, and that it should not be linked to any single religion. Efforts at promoting multi-religious harmony are important in fighting terrorism.
“Almost 15 years ago, I spoke in this House, during the debate on the White Paper following the JI arrests. I shared my view that it is an ideological battle that has to be won, and it is incumbent on all of us, as Singaporeans, to reach across racial lines to build stronger ties across communities. Ties that bind us more closely. That is the only way to cut terrorism from its base. We have to win the fight for hearts and minds.”
You can watch his speech in full below.
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Top image via Gov.sg’s YouTube Channel.