Shanmugam: S'pore influencer & Sikh community incident shows spirit of new remedial initiative

New tools are needed for new times.

Sulaiman Daud| October 07, 07:28 PM

A rather ugly online incident was transformed into a valuable learning experience, thanks to the patience and understanding of the young men of the Young Sikh Association of Singapore (YSA).

Social influencer Sheena Phua caused a stir online after referring to two Sikh men who blocked her view at the F1 Grand Prix as "obstructions".

Phua insisted that she had not intended to disparage the Sikh community, but the YSA reached out and invited Phua to visit a Gurdwara (a place for worship for Sikhs), and taught her more about their community.

Spirit of the CRI

This response, said Minister for Home Affairs and Law K Shanmugam, "encapsulates the spirit of the CRI", referring to the proposed Community Remedial Initiative.

It is among the measures included in the Maintenance of Religious Harmony (Amendment) Bill, which was debated during its second reading in Parliament on Monday (Oct. 7).

Shanmugam called the CRI a tool that focuses on "restoration and rehabilitation". Commenting on the YSA's actions, he said:

"It would have been entirely understandable for the Sikh community to criticise her, but the Young Sikh Association took a better path. In many ways, a very commendable path.

They reached out to her, invited her to visit the gurdwara so that they could educate her about Sikhism. These young men understood that at times, insensitive and derogatory comments can come from a place of ignorance, and that the better and more sustainable path is not of hate or taking sides, but of friendship, respect, and learning about each other."

Drawing a comparison between this and the CRI, Shanmugam said that the CRI will not be compulsory, as the authorities did not want to force a person to step into a religious place of worship against their wishes.

But it will be left on the table as a "natural offer", and it will be taken into account in whatever actions are taken next.

Circuit-breakers required

In his speech, Shanmugam laid out the reasons why the Act was needed to deal with the complex issue of religion. He mentioned:

  • Rising religiosity,
  • Increasing violence from religious conflicts,
  • The widespread reach of the Internet, and
  • The threat of foreign interference.

He said it is easy for religious events in other countries to affect Singaporeans, and the authorities need to place "circuit-breakers" to ensure they do not affect Singapore.

While Singapore does not want to shut out religious influences completely, we want to ensure they do not affect us negatively, he added.

CRI used with discretion

In her speech on the Bill, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs Sun Xueling went over the proposals outlined in the Act, and gave more details of the CRI.

She noted that it can be offered in lieu of criminal prosecution, and if the person who committed an offence refuses to undertake the remedial action proposed, the refusal will not be a criminal offence.

She said it will not be issued in every case, and the Minister will exercise their best judgement.

For example, she said, the CRI will not be issued in cases where violence was incited:

"These amendments are necessary to refresh our toolbox of legislative levers, so that we can continue to respond effectively to the growing threats to religious harmony in Singapore."

Top image from YSA's Facebook page.