Religious harmony a multi-faceted effort: Shanmugam
Govt and community must work together in battle against bigotry and terror
Interfaith respect and harmony are keys to tackling terrorism and bigotry, but this cannot be done through laws alone.
Rather, said Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam yesterday, there is a need to go "beyond" - citing Singapore's interventionist efforts that he said have helped bolster religious coexistence here.
Speaking at the opening of a two-day international forum organised by Muslim welfare organisation Jamiyah Singapore and the Morocco-based Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, Mr Shanmugam said laws "cannot create positive feelings".
"They can prevent negative actions, but to create a positive community, you need to go beyond," he told the audience in his opening address, who included representatives from 19 different countries.
Mr Shanmugam followed up with a list of initiatives that he credited to helping maintain interfaith harmony, such as the racial quota for public housing, the mandatory minority representation in Parliament and the recent presidential election.
But he said the Government's role is limited as well, calling on community members and groups to work in tandem.
"The Government has a very active role, but it is also something that non-governmental organisations, community leaders, religious leaders, everyone, has got to come together," he said.
"It cannot just be done by the Government. It cannot be done without the Government, but it has to be done by all of us in partnership."
Mr Shanmugam warned that gaps in societies will be "widened" if the problems of religious bigotry and Islamophobia are not tackled.
He cited the Finsbury Park attack in June, where a man drove a van into people outside a mosque in retaliation for the London bridge attacks a few weeks before that.
The minister said: "Incidents like these play into the hands of terrorists. Acts of fear and hatred will only increase. The cycle of violence will increase if we do not break it and if we do not actively work to break it."
Mr Shanmugam reiterated how there is a need to "get away" from the idea that one religion is to be blamed for extremist behaviour and terrorism.
Noting the attacks in recent years that link Islam with these terrorists, Mr Shanmugam said that it was the aim of terrorists to draw "deep divisions" and spread Islamophobia.
Speaking before him, Jamiyah president Mohd Hasbi Abu Bakar said it was important to combat the "menace of misunderstanding the faith of Islam and Muslims", which he said was a goal of the conference.
He added: "As Muslims, it is also religiously incumbent upon us to stand up for justice and to do so by telling others - including to our own fellow Muslims - the unambiguous message that to resort to violence in the pursuance of one's goals is to cross the 'red line' of Islam."