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Halimah Yacob: Constant dialogue and tough anti-hate speech laws recipe for S’pore success

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Speaking to youth leaders participating at the launch of a new international conference that probes into issues surrounding the building of cohesive societies, President Halimah Yacob explicitly asserted that consistent and relentless dialogues between and among Singapore’s diverse ethnic and religious groups, besides its zealous anti-hate speech laws, helps Singapore become one of the world’s most cohesive and socially-harmonious nations.
Aside from the long-established People’s Action Party (PAP) brandishing a comprehensive assortment of guidelines to keep a lid on tensions, President Halimah also made mention of rigorous laws that keep Singapore socially and politically intact.
“We have the [Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act] for instance, which ensures that you do not cross the line, to ensure you do not go on social media and call someone else all kinds of names with regard to that person’s race or religion,” the president said.
“[But] legislation alone will never be able to achieve the goal because legislation by its own nature, is something we look at only when something is transgressed.”

The “real test”, Halimah said, was the reaction of people when “a bomb goes off or [when] people get killed because of racial or religious hatred.”

“This is when you need organisations [that] are promoting [cohesion] all the time, talking to each during times of peace,” she said.

Freedom to be “different”

In a separate speech at the opening of the conference, the president underscored the need for countries to advance and cultivate space so that diverse groups have the chance to be their real selves or to be different.

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“The world would be all the poorer if it had no room for difference. If we were all the same, we would have nothing special to offer, nor anything to learn from others. The more diverse we are, the richer we become,” she said.

Speaking to an audience of some 700 officials, religious figures, youth leaders and academics, Halimah highlighted the twin threat from Islamic militants and the violence being kept alive and continuously bolstered as an aftermath of Islamophobia, as well as “acts of violence promoted by a resurgent far right.”

“Segregationist and nativist” instincts arising from global mass migration was also a challenge, the president said.

“Those belonging to one culture find comfort and a sense of belonging among their own,” she said. “But when taken to the extreme, such tendencies can invite host societies to see these immigrants as a threat to their own cultural cohesion. Worse still, such anti-immigrant rhetoric may take on racial and religious overtones.”

Halimah said that “ultimately, social cohesion is not something that can be commanded by any government” and that it can only grow from “dialogue, give and take, speaking, and listening.”

-/TISG

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