“Our internal surveys show that opinion is hardening against Muslims,” said Law and Home Affairs Minister, K Shanmugam. “This is not good,” he added.
The minister made those sobering remarks when speaking with reference to the situation in Singapore, in his reaction to the London terrorist attack over the weekend.
The minister said “[Singapore] have to guard against rising anti-Muslim sentiments”, and cited the recent graffiti incident in the Marine Parade MRT station as an illustration.
In that incident, reported on 3 June, the word “terrorist” was found scrawled over an image of a woman wearing a hijab on the hoarding at the upcoming Marine Parade MRT station.
The minister said the “Government strongly guarantees the rights of minorities, including Muslims, and will work towards ensuring that we are an integrated Singaporean community, where everyone is safe, secure and has opportunities.”
In his post on Facebook on Sunday, Mr Shanmugam made several other points, including urging family and friends to step forward to inform the authorities if they see or sense anything amiss with those around them who may be influenced by extremist ideologies.
Mr Shanmugam described this as a “serious responsibility” on the part of family and friends.
“Before someone commits a terrorist act, it is likely that his family, friends will have noticed something amiss,” the minister said. “This is the case with most radicalised persons. The family, friends have a serious responsibility to alert the security agencies. Police can’t do this alone. In past cases, we have had family alerting the police, and we have also had situations where family and friends kept quiet.”
The minister, who has been raising the alarm not only over threats within Singapore but also developments overseas which could have consequences for the country, said the authorities will be releasing more information on further arrests, and the family’s knowledge of such individuals’ inclinations.
Mr Shanmugam then turned to the influence of “extremist teaching” and the responsibilities of preachers, citing the example of Britain.
“Britain has long allowed extremist preachers who have poisoned many Muslims, and Britain did so under the framework of freedom of speech,” Mr Shanmugam told the media on Sunday.
“People become terrorists, because of the poison of extremist teaching, and the poison online,” Mr Shanmugam said in his Facebook post. “Preachers have a special responsibility – not to preach a ‘us versus them’ philosophy. Not to divide.”
He said preachers have to promote multi-racial, multi-religious identity, and encourage integration, while people keep true to their religion.
“That has been the case for many years, until recently,” the minister explained. “More recently, foreign preachers have tried to take a more divisive approach. We must reject that. Our people must come forward to greet each other, and accept each other’s festivals. Government will take further steps against approaches which seek to divide. [Background – remember the arguments as to whether Muslims can wish Merry Xmas?]”
Alluding to the attacks in the United Kingdom in recent weeks, Mr Shanmugam asks: “How do you stop someone who takes a car or van who drives along a public road and then goes on to the pavement? Or takes a knife along? You can’t turn the entire city into a garrison.
“You’ve got to make sure the conditions that create such ideas are nipped in the bud,” he said.
One of the ways to do this is for the government to intervene early, which Singapore’s laws allow, he said, unlike elsewhere.
“We prevent extremist preaching. We have laws that allow us to intervene much earlier than agencies in other societies can.”
“Even with all that, don’t assume that nothing will happen,” he stressed. “But I sympathise and I can understand the difficulties agencies face in every country, including Singapore, particularly in other countries, given the size.”
The minister, who has been warning that Singapore cannot escape the eventuality of attacks even as the authorities do its best to prevent them, urged Singaporeans to get involved in the fight against terrorism.
“Everyone out there, don’t leave it to someone else, don’t leave it to the Government,” he said. “Come forward, understand the message, understand what SG Secure is all about, understand the Run, Hide, Tell message; volunteer, get trained to save yourself, save your family and come together.”