The Straits Times | 19 August 2021
SINGAPORE - Singapore must continue to have mature and open dialogues to foster mutual understanding and hear different points of view, said Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Indranee Rajah on Thursday (Aug 19).
"While we can now speak about topics which we would not have been able to raise 20 years ago, we should continue to engage these topics respectfully and sensitively," she added.
She noted that Singapore is also confronted with risks of ideological and social conflicts, which manifest not only in the form of terrorism, but also growing intolerance, extremism and inter-religious strife.
Ms Indranee, who is also Second Minister for Finance and for National Development, was speaking as the guest of honour at The Majulah Assembly, organised by interfaith group Humanity Matters to celebrate social harmony in conjunction with National Day.
It is the second time the group has held the event, with the first hosted virtually last year amid the pandemic. This year, it took place at The Chamber at The Arts House.
In her speech, Ms Indranee noted that Singapore, like many other societies, is not immune to the fraying of the social compact.
"Given this, we must address any risk of polarisation early and carefully to preserve our social fabric and safeguard our racial and religious harmony," she said.
She acknowledged the efforts of local religious groups and leaders amid the pandemic, such as shifting prayers and worship services online, encouraging vaccination and mobilising volunteers to reach out to the elderly and those at risk.
She said: "It is this larger spirit of care and consideration for others, including those outside of your own community, that transcends the crisis and defines us."
But she also noted that there have been some cases of extremism or xenophobia globally, and even at home, though those who carry out such acts form a small minority.
For example, in May, a young man allegedly shouted racial slurs at an Indian woman who was not wearing a mask as she was brisk walking. When she tried to explain, he ran up and kicked her in the chest.
"We must therefore unite, get through the pandemic together, and position ourselves strongly for the future. This pandemic will not be the last crisis we face. There will be other trying times ahead," said Ms Indranee.
The biggest challenge is climate change, which poses the problem of rising sea levels and higher seawater temperatures.
The event included a panel discussion involving interfaith and intercultural leaders with the theme of "Faith and Disaster Management", moderated by Parliamentary Secretary for Culture, Community and Youth Eric Chua.
The panellists spoke about inclusivity, such as not discriminating when offering help services, and the importance of showing compassion towards everyone in trying times.
They also highlighted the importance of each person's choices in protecting and caring for the Earth, as climate change and other natural disasters threaten regular routines and way of life.