S’pore needs to work harder to resist divisive pressures, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

S’pore needs to work harder to resist divisive pressures

Finding one’s identity in a particular group can instil a sense of belonging and affirmation, but at its extreme, such tribalism can lead to beliefs based on falsehoods or an uncompromising ideology, said Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong.

With the world a more dangerous and violent place than before, Singapore needs to work harder to resist the negative effects of tribalism, which can stoke hostility between groups and divide society, DPM Wong said at the Religious Rehabilitation Group’s (RRG) annual iftar on April 1.

Speaking at the break-fast event, DPM Wong cited some “tribes” which present real threats to countries everywhere. They include groups that propagate a false and extremist version of their religions, anti-vaxxers during the Covid-19 pandemic, and the rise of the far-right and neo-nazis in the West.

The challenge they pose is accentuated by a world where the major powers are competing with an increasingly zero-sum mindset, and where there is a growing number of armed conflicts that cannot be easily resolved by the global community, DPM Wong added.

“What does this mean for us as Singaporeans? Naturally, our first instincts are to look after our own community and the more vulnerable in our midst. But we should also look beyond our shores and do our part as a responsible member of the international community,” he told an audience at Khadijah Mosque in Geylang, which included RRG members, leaders of the Inter-Agency Aftercare Group, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore’s senior leadership, and religious leaders.

This is why the Republic had stepped up efforts to support the Palestinian people, including through the provision of three rounds of aid, and the deployment of a Singapore Armed Forces medical team to a French navy ship in January 2024, he said.

“Our community groups all over the island have also stepped forward in concrete ways to provide assistance,” he noted. “Singapore will continue to work with like-minded countries to help the innocent civilians in Gaza.”

At home, organisations such as the RRG play an important role to strengthen the sense of cohesion in Singapore, said DPM Wong.

For more than 20 years, the RRG has provided counselling and guidance to rehabilitate Singaporeans swayed by radical ideologies. They include a 17-year-old who was issued a restriction order by the Internal Security Department (ISD) in 2016. The youth received religious counselling, and his order was allowed to lapse in 2020.

DPM Wong noted that, beyond religious counselling, the RRG has in recent years taken on the additional roles of mentoring and tutoring young ISD detainees and supervisees, providing them with guidance and useful life skills.

These efforts have helped the youngsters to turn their lives around, he said.

They include a 16-year-old radicalised by far-right extremism who was detained in December 2020. He was released in January 2024, assigned RRG mentors who worked with him to improve his interpersonal skills and self-esteem, and is now pursuing further studies, said DPM Wong.

The RRG also contributes to community cohesion through its social media presence and outreach. DPM Wong cited the Majulah Gallery at the mosque, which he toured before the iftar, and its role in raising vigilance against extremist ideologies.

At the event, DPM Wong also launched the Ustaz Ali Haji Mohamed Auditorium, which commemorates the late founder and former co-chairman of the RRG and former chairman of Khadijah Mosque. Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean, Minister for Law and Home Affairs K. Shanmugam, and Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli were also present.

Ustaz Ali played a crucial role in building trust between Muslims and non-Muslims in Singapore, and his death in 2023 was a great loss for Singapore, said DPM Wong.

DPM Wong said Singapore can expect more pressures that threaten to pull its society apart in the coming years.

Despite being more connected than ever through technology, people around the world are reporting more emotional stress and isolation – one of the great ironies of modern life, he said.

“When this happens – when people feel lonely, isolated, when our human connections are eroded – it is natural that we tend to revert to our tribal instincts,” he said.

Singapore experiences the same pressures that can stoke grievance and divide society, but is fortunate to have been able to resist them so far by finding common ground, said DPM Wong.

“But looking ahead, we must work even harder to do so, especially in an era of rapid changes taking place globally and also within our own society,” he said.

He added: “This is not just my responsibility. In fact, this is our collective mission as Singaporeans. So I look forward to working with all of you on this important, shared endeavour to ensure that Singapore will always remain a peaceful and harmonious oasis.”