Singapore must deal with hate speech in a no-nonsense fashion, and must not do anything that may normalise it, said Minister for Law and Home Affairs K Shanmugam.
This, he added, addressing the Religious Rehabilitation Group in a speech on Tuesday, March 19, includes accepting entertainment that contains hate speech.
"... when there is entertainment which contains hate speech — it does something to society, it normalises hate speech. It makes it acceptable that you say this. When you say it and someone else criticises it and you continue saying it, then more people say it, it becomes fair game. Everybody attacks somebody else’s religion. What happens in society?"
On "If you don't like it, don't watch it"
He questioned the argument of "if you don't like it, don't watch it" as well, arguing that allowing it to go on despite its limited audience has the impact of normalising what the specific entertainment espouses also:
"People’s attitudes are 'I want to go and watch. If you don’t like it, you don’t go and watch. So why are you stopping me?' What they do not understand is that we live in a society. If you go to something like this, it has the impact of normalising such speech. If it is entertainment, why not the media, why not in other places? Then if you can say it about Christians, why not say it about Muslims too? If you do not like it then you do not have to go and watch it. What does it do to society?"
The minister also spoke about the song that played in the alleged Christchurch terrorist shooter's livestream prior to him starting his massacre:
"The young man who did the killings played a Serbian song which glorified the killing of Muslims. It is a song too. Songs can be powerful. They are not as powerful as a religious speech, they may not be as impactful as sometimes what politicians may say. They can have an impact. Not all songs. They are different things; we have to make a judgement."
Why Singapore has to be as intolerant of hate speech as it is
Shanmugam was speaking in the context of the strict intolerance Singapore's authorities have toward hate speech, which he says is "criticised" by others.
He said that if someone here were to speak about burning Qurans, or repeat what Australian senator Fraser Anning posted in the hours following the Christchurch shooting, they would be arrested.
"But in other places, this is free speech."
This is the second time Shanmugam had commented about Anning.
"His speech, which I think, is among the very worst that you can think of. As I said, if it had been in Singapore, he would have been arrested. We don’t allow this".
In his first post, Shanmugam said that Anning's islamophobic statement is "sickening" and "completely unacceptable".
Anning had said that the real cause of bloodshed on the New Zealand streets "is the immigration programme which allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate to New Zealand in the first place".
Shanmugam also touched on the fact that Singapore was number one in the world in social and religious harmony, and said he would also like to debate the issue of hate speech in Parliament.
He stressed that "every generation has to understand what works in Singapore and why we are ranked number one in social harmony and religious harmony in the world":
"... we make no apologies for the approach we take and we will continue to take a tough and strict approach, but a fair approach, across all communities. That is, I think, the only way to make sure that everybody can go about their businesses, do what you want, achieve their full potential, profess whichever faith you want, pray to whichever god you want.
That’s your right, and we protect that right."
Top file photo by Matthias Ang