To curb hate speech, preserve racial and religious harmony, and sustain Singapore’s diversity, Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam emphasized the government’s single-minded position against acts that spread, inflame, encourage or rationalise ethnic disgust and other forms of loathing based on prejudice and fanaticism.
In his Ministerial Statement speech in Parliament on April 1, the Home Affairs minister called for the government to view hate speech as unacceptable and to be prohibited, a matter that must be dealt with firmly.
“When you are clear, have firm laws prohibiting hate speech, deal fairly with all communities, then you can start building a multi-racial, multi-religious harmonious society,” he said.
According to the minister, the Singapore Government has always been stanchly dedicated in pursuing multi-racial policies, and has been unyielding in its action towards extremist dissenters.
He used as examples the Maria Hertogh riots in 1950, as well as the impact of Malaysian race riots in 1969 on Singapore. The country needs to continue that resolute standpoint, the minister underscored.
He further stressed how Singapore’s past efforts will come to waste if the government becomes lenient and sloppy in dealing with people who ferment racial and religious discord and destabilise society. “In race we come up against deep, atavistic human instincts which will take generations to overcome,” he said, referring to the speech.
“They can be whipped up, and once blood has been shed, the years of nation building we have done will come to naught.”
He likewise emphasized why it was necessary to restrict offensive speech even when it is not strictly hate speech. “If people feel their race or religion is under attack, the potential for violence increases,” he said.
Singapore’s own brand of “secularity”
“This secular Government is completely neutral, does not privilege any religious group, nor does it allow any religious group to be insulted and attacked,” he said.
He is emphatic on how the government guarantees freedom of religion, protects all, including minorities, from threats and violence, pointing out that the government also collaborates with Inter-Religious Organisations, Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circles and religious leaders, to make sure that a “common understanding” of what binds Singaporeans together is clear and well-preserved.
“That is the fundamental assurance one gets in Singapore…Doesn’t matter who you are, what religion you believe in, you are free to believe in any religion, including not to believe,” he added. This is the secularity Singapore should adopt, which is different from saying that the Government should take a hands-off approach in the name of secularity.
“What we have in Singapore is precious, hard-fought,” he said, therefore it needs to be sustained and protected at all cost.
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