Faith, social media and the age of misinformation, and the importance of building cohesion were among some of the topics President Halimah Yacob touched on during her speech on Sunday, Feb. 21.
The speech was made at the launch of the Roses of Peace (ROP) Ambassadors Programme 2021 and the inauguration of the "Faithfully Yours" Interfaith Dialogue Series.
Started in 2012, ROP is a youth-driven initiative that aims to "bridge the gap in interfaith discourse".
Extremist ideologies can be very pervasive
Part of Halimah's speech centred around the recent case of a 16-year-old Singaporean who was detained by the ISD after planning to carry out terrorist attacks at two mosques.
She used this case as an example of how pervasive foreign threats like extremist ideologies and self-radicalisation can be, and how they can undermine cohesion and divide communities.
She added that younger people are more vulnerable to the spread of such information, especially with social media and the internet in this day and age.
Halimah further said that with limited life experiences and the possibility that they are undergoing difficult challenges with their family and relationships, young people might be more easily influenced by extreme views which they might feel give them a sense of purpose and belonging.
Social cohesion is key
Halimah emphasised the importance of social cohesion, which is the "bedrock" of Singapore's peace and harmony.
There are concerns that Singapore's social cohesion is vulnerable to more serious threats, and as such, efforts at building cohesion should not be trivialised, she elaborated.
Misinformation spread through social media could breed distrust and hatred, and over time could erode trust and confidence in society, she said.
To properly guard against such threats, people should be discerning with whatever they come across online, and consume information from fact-based sources, Halimah added.
The amount of time spent online has only been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, as people coop up at home to work and study, she further explained.
Singapore's youth critical for social cohesion
Halimah also highlighted that efforts to build social cohesion are not easy. For instance, she said it cannot be assumed that all members from a faith agree with their leaders' approach.
However, interfaith dialogues can still be carried out deeply and meaningfully.
Nevertheless, she acknowledged that there are beliefs and principles each faith hold deeply that cannot be solely overcome through open discourse.
Halimah said that in such situations, it is key to focus on and cooperate over common interests.
Bringing up ROP's Peace Ambassadors, Halimah said they play an integral role in this by helping to build bridges between various communities.
Singapore's youths are also critical for the country's social cohesion in the future, and thus it is important for them to learn and understand why social cohesion is an existential concern, she opined.
Top photo from Halimah Yacob / FB and Public Service Division Singapore