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.
“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.”