Time to have deeper engagement on need for cohesion: President Halimah

Weighing in on the recent "agonising" incidents of hatred and chauvinism perpetrated by Singaporeans against each other, President Halimah Yacob said in a Facebook post yesterday: "We wonder whether these are one-off incidents or reflective of a larger problem.

"Such displays are so hurtful because we thought that we had done so much to protect our cohesion, until we are shaken from our belief. Our greatest fear is how such prejudice will affect our young and influence their minds."

Madam Halimah noted that the law would not, by itself, stop such incidents from being perpetuated. Instead, it is time to have deeper engagements about the importance of cohesion and how to achieve a truly multiracial and multi-religious society.

"In the process, we may have to confront and reassess some very painful truths about ourselves and our beliefs.

"It may be unpleasant but this is a journey that I feel every Singaporean needs to take," said Madam Halimah, adding that social media use and the Covid pandemic were contributing factors that may mask real issues.

Of late, a slew of incidents have attracted attention and sparked debate among the public as well as ministers and MPs.

One of these was a video from last weekend showing a Chinese man making racist remarks at a mixed-race couple.

More recently on Wednesday, Facebook user Livanesh Ramu posted a clip of a man performing a Hindu prayer routine at the doorway of his home, while in the background a woman who appears to be Chinese clangs a gong repeatedly in a seemingly spiteful riposte.

The Facebook post was later updated to add that the police have contacted the family.

Madam Halimah recalled how a high-level interfaith forum - an idea of hers - was held here for the first time in 2019 and drew more than 1,100 participants from some 40 countries.

She described how Jordan's King Abdullah was "clearly impressed" with Singapore's cohesion despite its diversity and had said in his keynote speech that the "dynamism" displayed here was urgently needed to tackle threats to interfaith harmony, mutual respect and trust all over the world.

Beyond cursory or civil efforts at keeping the peace, Singapore strives to prevent hatred and distrust from causing divisions. This is done by "making real effort to understand the views, concerns and fears of others" of different cultural identities, she said.

"Only if this happens, can we truly see cohesion. Tolerating each other but yet harbouring all kinds of negative thoughts arising from ignorance and biased opinions will not work."