SINGAPORE: Racial and religious conflicts abroad can affect the perceptions and attitudes of people in Singapore, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong warned on Monday (Jul 24), calling on community and religious leaders to continue their efforts in strengthening trust between the different faiths.
Mr Lee made his comments at a dialogue with more than 300 participants from various faith and community groups on the subject of terrorism.
Speaking at the start of the closed-door session, Mr Lee highlighted key concerns with the increasingly frequent attacks in the West, as well as the continued threat of the Islamic State (IS) militant group in the Middle East as well as in Southeast Asia.
He noted how Singaporeans who have become self-radicalised were motivated by conflicts in the Middle East, and the extremist ideologies of the Islamic State (IS) militant group.
In June, AETOS auxiliary police officer Muhammad Khairul Mohamed was detained under the Internal Security Act for planning to fight in Syria. His colleague, Mohamad Rizal Wahid, was put under a restriction order for supporting Khairul.
Earlier that month, infant-care assistant Syaikhah Izzah Zahrah Al Ansari was detained for planning to join IS.
Commenting that the recent arrests were not the first, Mr Lee added that they would not be the last.
An attack in Singapore by foreign terrorists would be one thing, he said. "But if we are attacked by Singaporean terrorists - our own citizens attack our own country - I think the psychological impact will be much worse."
Mr Lee also drew attention to extremist and exclusivist religious teachings entering the mainstream in countries elsewhere. These include teachings that reject accommodation with other faiths, he said.
"These are interpretations of Islam which are intolerant not just of non-Muslims, but also of Muslims who do not subscribe to these teachings," he said.
"If these exclusivist views take root in Singapore, it will weaken our racial harmony, and make us more vulnerable to a terrorist threat.
"It will also encourage a backlash, Islamophobia. Non-Muslims will begin to see Muslims in a negative light, and I think that would be very bad and equally unacceptable."
Noting that he had met Malay-Muslim leaders for a dialogue last week, Mr Lee said that he was following up with the present dialogue with all the community and religious leaders as well.
"The racial and religious harmony we have is very precious," he said.
"What we have didn't happen by chance. It's happened through many years of patient accommodation, adjustments. Some hard spots along the way, but finally everybody coming together and understanding (that) in Singapore, this is the way we have to live; to accommodate one another, exercise give-and-take."
The purpose of the closed-door session, he said, was to discuss the issue "honestly and candidly", and tackle the challenges together.
"It is not their fight alone," Mr Lee said. "Because we are all in this together."