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Singapore’s racial harmony is ‘not natural’ and needs nurturing, says PM Lee

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by September 30, 2017 General

Singapore’s racial harmony is ‘not natural’ and needs nurturing, says PM Lee

The Chinese community, as the racial majority, has to make special effort to make minorities feel welcome in Singapore, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a speech last Saturday. — Picture courtesy of Ministry of Communications and InformationThe Chinese community, as the racial majority, has to make special effort to make minorities feel welcome in Singapore, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a speech last Saturday. — Picture courtesy of Ministry of Communications and InformationSINGAPORE, Sept 30 — It is because of provisions and rules that Singapore has achieved racial and religious harmony. But as the country deals with the rising terrorism threat, it has not yet arrived at an “ideal state of accepting people of a different race”, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in a talk organised by the People’s Association last week.

The Chinese community, as the racial majority, has to make special effort to make minorities feel welcome in Singapore, he said in a speech to more than 500 grassroots leaders at a closed-door dialogue organised by the People’s Association last Saturday at Ci Yuan community club. An edited transcript of his remarks on “Race, multiracialism and Singapore’s place in the world” was released yesterday (Sept 29) by the Prime Minister’s Office.

In recent weeks, Mr Lee has spoken about the issue of multiracialism, and how Singapore needs to continue to work on it, among other things, on several occasions — including at the swearing-in ceremony for President Halimah Yacob earlier this month.

Multiracialism is also needed in Singapore’s fight against terrorism, Mr Lee noted. In South-east Asia, race and religion not only affect society and politics but also terrorism and violence, which has afflicted many countries in the region, he said.

Hundreds of Indonesians and Malaysians have gone to join the Islamic State and extremist propaganda is spread online. Singapore is not insulated from terrorism and the Internal Security Department picks up one or two self-radicalised Singaporeans every month or two. Singapore has to fortify itself against a terrorist attack physically, as well as psychologically and emotionally as “one people”.

Multiracialism by itself will not stop an attack but would help society cope the day after. It would be “very easy” for an attack by terrorists professing to act in the name of Islam to cause a divide between Muslims and non-Muslims here. But after recent discussions with religious and community leaders here, Mr Lee said he felt they were in full cooperation in working towards multicultural unity.

Disagreeing with those who think the “burden” of provisions for multi-ethnic representation can be done away with, now that the country has “arrived”, Mr Lee said society is “not completely colour-blind”. The state of harmony today is the result of “very hard work, a lot of toil and sweat, and the gradual education and bringing together of people”, he added.

Policies include using English as the common working language, mixing races in public housing estates and having a group representation constituency system to ensure minority representation in Parliament. The authorities also clamp down on extremists, be they Chinese chauvinists or Malay, Indian or Hindu extremists.

“There is nothing natural about where we are — multiracial, multi-religious, tolerant and progressive. We made it happen, and we have got to protect it, nurture it, preserve it and never break it,” he said.

“It is about having the honesty to recognise that our multi-racialism is not yet perfect, but having the courage and determination to take pragmatic steps to get there, step by step,” he said.

In the inaugural reserved Presidential election held this month that saw Mdm Halimah Yacob becoming head of state, two other Malay candidates came forward, although they eventually did not qualify. Contrasting it with the hotly contested presidential election in 2011 when many felt the government needed to be checked, Mr Lee noted the absence of any Malay candidate. The four-cornered contest featured eventual winner Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam, Dr Tan Cheng Bock, Mr Tan Jee Say and Mr Tan Kin Lian.

“Was there a Malay candidate? Where were the Farid Khans and the Salleh Maricans? Why didn’t they come (forward)? It did not cross their minds? No…because they knew that in an open election – all things being equal – a non-Chinese candidate would have no chance,” he said, mentioning the two aspiring candidates this year. “It is a reality. We have to know this, we have to manage this.”

Racial issues must also be dealt with in the day-today. Minorities sometimes face discrimination in their job search, and landlords sometimes prefer not to rent out their properties to minorities, said Mr Lee.

A survey by the Institute of Policy Studies last year found that while people were comfortable working and being business partners with someone of a different race, they had more difficulty with the prospect of having a son- or daughter-in-law of a different race, he said.

The Chinese community, as the racial majority, has to make special effort to make minorities feel welcome in Singapore, he said.

“Over the last 52 years, we made significant progress in becoming one people – regardless of race, language or religion,” he said. “We have worked together, built together, mourned together and celebrated together as one people. But you must remember that what we have here is not something natural nor something which will stay there by itself… Yes we have made progress, but it is a work in progress.” — TODAY

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