“He urged Singaporeans of all faiths to continue showing tolerance and understanding, as well as adopt a live-and-let-live approach to life” (Speak Up Against Extremists, SM Goh: Ethnic Communities Sensitive To Others’ Feelings, Mr. Kenny Chee).
I read with tremendous interest the report “Speak Up Against Extremists: SM Goh” (July 15, 2010) by Mr. Kenny Chee, especially with the assortment of faith and race-based controversies erupting over the past year. Issues revolving around religion and convictions have always been sensitive notions for Singaporeans; with many expressing disappointment when religious leaders were called out for their irresponsible remarks towards other cultures and beliefs. More recently, the changing global landscape and the proliferation of extremist ideals have generated great worry and fear; particularly because of its influence, and the public’s misguided perception of its supposed association to racial and religious backgrounds.
Rising religious fervour in Singapore and around the world would only generate more instances for the manifestation of unprecedented conflicts and tensions. Technology and the Internet have been perfect complements for the aforementioned; providing the outreach and desired accessibility for individuals to make unjustified, religion-based accusations or assertions that may be grossly tactless or unfounded. The eventual challenge would be to empower Singaporeans to suss out the facts, and make critical judgements on counterparts and groups premised upon accurate information.
Our way of addressing these misperceptions should not cease at mere tolerance and comprehension; rather, to be comfortable with sharing our perspectives and beliefs openly. The reason why the incidents in Singapore have not blown out of proportion is because of the swift damage-control measures, yet prevention is better than cure. In a way, integration efforts have been less than satisfactory because the methodologies are often pedantic, and we have become so accustomed to defining boundaries and divides instead of positively highlighting commonalities. In terms of race, we are perpetually obsessed with the CMIO labelling that we have almost forgotten our primary roles as fellow Singaporeans. We are severely insulated from one another’s religions, not informed about the differences, not prepared to sit down and learn more.
The current efforts of inter-faith dialogues are worthy beginnings. Beyond the outreach to religious leaders and grassroots volunteers, we must not be afraid of exposing our youths and students to a variety of religious and racial beliefs. Instead of superficial engagements in the form of dainty Racial Harmony celebrations and meaningless programmes, teachers must work more closely with parents to enlighten their kids on the diversity of faiths in Singapore. Rather than being obsessed with divides, fault-lines and believing that different races and religions have to be pitted against one another, they should adopt an open mindset, perceiving groups working cohesively all the time.
Let us not be afraid to stretch boundaries, while striking equilibrium between realism and idealism, pragmatism and aspiration. Even though it is impossible for an entirely race-blind and religion-blind Singapore, we should never cease the process of active exchanges and dialogues to reduce future occurrences of insensitivity.
A version of this article was published in My Paper.