Thursday, 14 May 2015

PM Lee: Religious harmony can't be taken for granted

'Unrealistic' to say religion is no longer sensitive issue
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 13 May 2015

SINGAPORE'S strong religious harmony today has led some people to declare that religion is no longer a "sensitive no-go area", Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

Those who hold this view argue that Singapore society is overly sensitive on matters of race and religion, that the Government intervenes too readily to limit personal freedoms and liberty in the name of harmony, and that there should be "unfettered discussions or even criticisms and blasphemies on matters of race and religion", he said.

These assumptions, however, are "quite unrealistic", he said.

Mr Lee was speaking at the 66th anniversary dinner of the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO), an inter-faith group that he credited with helping to forge unity and harmony among religious groups.

Citing internal and external developments, he said they show Singapore cannot afford to take its harmony for granted, and the Government must continue to be "watchful, prudent and hands-on" in its approach to matters of race and religion.

At home, three trends can affect religious harmony.

One is that Singaporeans are becoming more religious. "This is in itself positive, because religious faiths are strong anchors for good morals and caring communities," he said.

But religious fervour can also lead to communities becoming more insular and less accepting.

"So we must temper growing religiosity with greater tolerance, mutual understanding and respect."

A second trend is the rise of the Internet and social media, making it easier for people to cause offence and take offence.

One thoughtless comment, if it goes viral, "may provoke a self-righteous mob reaction and a public lynching, which is even worse than the original provocation", he said.

Third, religious topics will, on occasion, overlap with social and moral ones, like in the case of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues or income inequality.

Such contentious issues are also the subject of public or social policy and consensus on these points will be "elusive", he said.

Abroad, Mr Lee noted that race and religion remain sensitive issues for both Singapore's neighbours and countries where different groups have lived together for centuries.

He cited tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims in Malaysia over the use of the word "Allah" by Christians, and the violence resulting from the deaths of several black youths in the United States.

Singapore is the most religiously diverse country in the world, according to US-based think-tank Pew Research Centre.

This did not happen by chance, but "because we have firmly prevented conflicts from escalating and polarising society", Mr Lee said at the dinner, which was attended by leaders from 10 major religions as well as President Tony Tan Keng Yam and Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.

Singapore also has had responsible and enlightened religious leaders, said Mr Lee, who praised them for focusing on the common features across religions.

To maintain harmony, the Government also has to remain neutral, secular and pragmatic, he said.

It cannot afford to take purist positions on freedom of expression, or the right to be offensive to others, he said.

"We will not hesitate to act firmly when necessary because if conflict erupts, it will cause grave damage to our social fabric."

In a multi-religious society, from time to time religious issues overlap with social and moral questions, such as LGBT...
Posted by Lee Hsien Loong on Tuesday, May 12, 2015

One thoughtless comment can cause a mass reaction: PM Lee
The Straits Times, 13 May 2015

PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong cited developments abroad and at home to underline the importance of being sensitive and respectful, as actions can provoke and give offence.

An edited excerpt of what he said:

Race and religion remain sensitive even in countries where different groups have long lived together:
- Post-independence Sri Lanka has been riven by ethnic and religious tensions and conflicts, first between the majority Buddhist community and Hindu Tamil minorities, then between Buddhists and Muslims.
- Anti-Muslim sentiments rose in France after the Charlie Hebdo killings by a French Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) supporter. Mosques were attacked and defaced.
- After the recent deaths of several black youths in different American cities, tensions have erupted into violence, especially in Baltimore.
ISIS in the Middle East is causing people in many countries to become radicalised, and to try to join it, or carry out violent attacks in their own countries.

Race and religion are sensitive issues in neighbouring countries:
- There are tensions in Malaysia between Muslims and non-Muslims over the use of the word "Allah" by Christians, and the introduction of hudud punishments under Islamic law.
- There are tensions from time to time in Indonesia between groups like Sunni Muslims, Shi'ite Muslims, the Ahmadiyahs, and Christians.
Developments here can also affect racial and religious harmony:
- Singaporeans are becoming more religious, and taking their faiths more seriously.
"This is, in itself, positive, because religious faiths are strong anchors for good morals and caring communities.

"But religious fervour can also lead to separation and mutual exclusion between different groups.

"People's social circles can shrink down to only their own group, leading to less mixing between different faiths. And people may feel less respect and tolerance for other groups and may proselytise more aggressively, offending others."
- The Internet and social media have made it easier for people both to cause offence and to take offence.
"When someone puts up something provocative or offensive, it doesn't just affect the coffee shop in which you let off steam, it reaches the whole of cyberspace, maybe even stretches beyond Singapore if it goes viral. "And one thoughtless comment can cause a mass reaction. But instead of a judicious response, it may provoke a self-righteous mob reaction and a public lynching, which is even worse than the original provocation."
- As society develops and becomes more diverse, from time to time religious issues will overlap with social and moral questions. "For example, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) issues, or dealing with income inequality. On such issues religious groups will have their views. And yet they are not just religious issues, because they are also subjects of public policy or social policy. And also they are contentious issues, where achieving consensus will be elusive."

The Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO) celebrated its 66th Anniversary at a Dinner hosted at the Istana last evening. ...
Posted by Dr Tony Tan on Tuesday, May 12, 2015

New museum to promote religious tolerance, harmony
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 13 May 2015

A NEW museum will be set up in Singapore to encourage religious tolerance and harmony.

In announcing it yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the Harmony in Diversity Museum will display artefacts that focus on the common features across religions.

The museum, details of which have yet to be finalised, is to be established by the younger leaders of the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO).

They will also work with schools to incorporate the museum as part of the learning journeys for students, Mr Lee said at the IRO's 66th anniversary dinner which he hosted last night.

The IRO leaders are also planning to join forces with scholars - including those from the Inter-Religious Relations In Plural Societies programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies - to develop a database of information on the different religions here, he said.

This "knowledge repository" will be a focal point for the country's younger generation to learn about religious harmony and imbue in them the spirit of give-and-take, he said.

IRO president Gurmit Singh said the inter-faith group is working with the Ministry of Home Affairs to put together the museum, which will focus on how Singapore has worked towards harmony and peace.

Mr Singh said the new museum is expected to be opened in about six months' time.

One of the religious leaders behind the project is Imam Habib Hassan of the Ba-Alwie Mosque, who was given an IRO award yesterday for his inter-faith work.

Imam Habib had established Singapore's first inter-faith museum at his mosque in Lewis Road, in Bukit Timah.

It has religious artefacts such as ancient Bibles, Torahs, Arabic manuscripts and a copy of Taoism founder Lao Tse's teachings on bamboo.

Constant effort needed for harmonious society: Tharman
By Cheryl Faith Wee, The Straits Times, 20 May 2015

A HARMONIOUS society is not to be taken for granted and requires continuous effort, said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam yesterday, as he reiterated a point made by the Prime Minister last week.

Speaking as guest of honour at a gathering of the Inter-Religious Organisation Singapore (IRO), Mr Tharman, who is also Finance Minister, said even a cohesive society can break apart quickly and has to be continually strengthened.

At the 66th anniversary dinner of the IRO last week, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had said the Government would continue to be watchful, prudent and hands-on in its approach towards matters of race and religion.

Last night, about 50 people representing 10 religions were in attendance as Mr Tharman received, on behalf of the IRO, a $100,000 cheque for Nepal.

The donation, from an IRO council member who chose to remain anonymous, will help provide shelter to quake victims in Nepal, especially children.

The fact that Singaporeans are reaching outwards shows there is compassion and empathy within its own society, said Mr Tharman.

"The way in which Singaporeans have become more aware and more concerned about the problems in the rest of the world... is part and parcel of the strengthening of our society. It also goes together with people being more aware and concerned about everyone in their midst.

"That is a very positive development."

IRO president Gurmit Singh said: "We ought to extend our hearts and hands to those in need, to help cushion their pains."

The donation will help to fund relief efforts by the Corporate Citizen Foundation (CCF) in Nepal.

The Singapore-based foundation is a private-sector initiative made up of companies such as HSL Constructor, a local civil engineering and construction firm.

CCF is currently working with three Nepalese institutions to help in areas such as clean water and food distribution.

"Temporary shelters to replace tents and sanitation facilities will need to be urgently built with the impending monsoon just weeks from now," said Mr Wong Chin Sing, 57, CCF's director.

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