SINGAPORE: Societies must "face squarely" the reality that Islamophobia is rising, Minister for Home Affairs and Law K Shanmugam said on Saturday (Mar 16).
The minister was speaking in the wake of Friday's deadly attack in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Calling the incident a "dastardly act", Mr Shanmugam condemned the shootings which left 49 worshippers at two mosques dead and dozens injured.
"When you see the face of the person who's alleged to have committed the crime, I think you see the face of evil," he told reporters.
READ: 'It's taking too long’: Anxious families await news of missing loved ones caught in Christchurch attack
Noting previous attacks fuelled by "right-wing hate ideology" - including the attack on a synagogue in Pittsburgh last year as well as another carried out in Norway a few years ago - Mr Shanmugam spoke about the need to deal with such ideology.
"I think this is where societies have to face squarely the reality that Islamophobia is rising," he said. "Just as we come down hard on terrorists who say that they attack on behalf of Islam, you've got to come down hard equally on Islamophobic people, and also you've got to deal with the ideology.
"It's not just dealing with specific incidents."
In order to do so, said Mr Shanmugam, one must start by acknowledging that such ideology exists.
"When you do not acknowledge it, the problem just grows," he said. "I think societies which have not had to deal with Muslim minorities or which are dealing with Muslim minorities ... more recently, perhaps they need to see to what extent there is Islamophobia and deal with it."
The minister added that the main question was where to draw the boundaries of free speech, and how to separate this from hate speech.
"Really, the question is the dividing line - where do you draw the boundaries of free speech, and how do you separate it from hate speech," he said, adding that Singapore tries to draw "a fairly strict line".
The minister cited a recent statement by Australian senator Fraser Anning, who had said the Christchurch attack reflected the "growing fear" of Muslim immigration in Australia and New Zealand, and that the real cause of the bloodshed was an immigration programme that allowed "Muslim fanatics" to migrate to New Zealand.
READ: Christchurch attack: Australia politician Fraser Anning's statement is 'sickening', says Shanmugam
"A worse statement by a politician is difficult to imagine, hours after 49 people have been killed," said Mr Shanmugam.
"Attacking Islam, attacking the Prophet" - this would never have been allowed in Singapore, he said.
Allowing a "culture of attacking other religions" and races subsequently allows for a more permissive environment for violence, said Mr Shanmugam.
"I think what our people have to understand is, when you allow a culture of attacking other religions, attacking other races; over time, it spreads as hate speech as well. Because you can't then cut that out," he added.
"It's not an immediate line. But it does create that environment, a more permissive environment."
PLEASE DELETE "SICKENING" VIDEO
In addition, the minister also implored members of the public not to share a video of the Christchurch attack circulating online.
"There is a sickening video. The attacker seems to have live-streamed his attack," he said.
Social media platforms are "not doing a good enough job" of taking down content that spreads right-wing hate ideology and Islamophobia, said Mr Shanmugam.
"I would urge people who have come across the video to really not spread it and to delete it," he said. "Because you're giving the gunman and right-wing ideologists exactly what they want by spreading it."
He added that Singapore is in higher alert but did not provide further details.