Speech by DPM and Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat at the 15th Ministry of Home Affairs Appreciation Lunch for Community Volunteers on 7 September 2019.
Mr Teo Chee Hean
Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security
Mr K Shanmugam
Minister for Home Affairs and Law
Mr Amrin Amin
Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Health
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am very happy to join you for this appreciation lunch.
This is the fifteenth year that MHA has organised such a gathering for its community volunteers.
We have come a long way in this time, and you, the volunteers, have played a critical role.
We are therefore here today, to thank you for your contributions, to reaffirm our shared commitment to combating terrorism, and strengthening social cohesion in Singapore.
Global terrorism threat
This reaffirmation of our shared commitment is timely given the divisions and distrust that we see in many societies today.
Around the world, conflicts along racial and religious lines have intensified.
Individuals and political groups have fanned these fears to further their own agenda. We have witnessed the tragic consequences.
For instance, far right White-supremacists attacked mosques in New Zealand and a synagogue in the US, killing many innocent Muslims and Jews.
TIME Magazine reported that, in the last decade, white-supremacist and nationalist terrorism have caused more deaths in the US than Al Qaeda or ISIS1.
Closer to home, conflicts along racial and religious lines have also intensified.
In Myanmar, Buddhist monks have instigated violence against Muslims.
Last year, three churches in Indonesia were attacked by a Muslim family, with the youngest attacker being a 9-year old child.
These attacks show that extremist ideologies can emerge in any racial or religious group.
Singapore’s approach to strengthen religious harmony
As a small, open and very diverse country, Singapore is particularly vulnerable to the threat of terrorism.
We therefore take a very serious and comprehensive approach to uphold and strengthen our religious harmony.
First, we put in place legislation, so that we can act decisively against threats to our religious harmony.
Earlier this week, the Ministry of Home Affairs introduced amendments to the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act.
The Act was first enacted in 1992. Amendments are necessary to ensure the measures we can take are relevant in today’s globally connected and social media age.
I am glad that many religious groups, including MUIS and the Muslim community, have given their strong support for these amendments.
The amendments will allow us to restrain those who cause enmity, hatred and ill-will between our religious groups.
Second, we actively promote racial and religious harmony by bringing people of different races and religions together, and creating opportunities for meaningful exchanges.
Each constituency has an Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circle, which organises programmes at the grassroots level to bring people together, and build mutual trust and respect.
We opened the Harmony in Diversity Gallery at the MND Building, to promote an appreciation of our rich religious diversity. I am glad many students and community groups have since visited the Gallery.
Third, we also conduct regular dialogues to foster mutual understanding and respect, including with overseas partners.
One example is the inaugural International Conference on Cohesive Societies (ICCS), three months ago, where both President Halimah Yacob and King Abdullah II of Jordan spoke passionately on this.
The ICCS brought together over 1,000 participants from nearly 40 countries to learn from each other.
At the ICCS, our religious leaders launched the Commitment to Safeguard Religious Harmony.
This Commitment sets out what all Singaporeans can do on an everyday basis, to foster mutual respect and understanding.
To date, over 250 religious organisations have affirmed this Commitment, and all 71 mosques in Singapore have signed on.
Muslim Community’s commitment to social cohesion
The Muslim community’s strong support for this Commitment is a reflection of its dedication to uphold social cohesion.
In particular, MUIS and our asatizah (religious teachers) have exercised strong leadership for the community.
They show how the practice of Islam can thrive in our multicultural and multi-religious context.
They have shown that our Muslim community can live in harmony alongside others, and also be a beacon of religious harmony.
Under SMS Maliki’s leadership, MUIS has also convened the Committee on Future Asatizah to discuss the values, roles, and skills required of asatizah, as the needs of Muslims living in Singapore evolve.
The community has also strengthened its youth engagement efforts, to ensure that the next generation has strong religious grounding.
These include religious education programmes for children, such as the aLIVE programme held in mosques.
We also have the Asatizah Youth Network, which brings together young and dynamic asatizah. These young asatizah use social media to reach out to Muslim youths practising their faith, and provide counselling to youths.
The Muslim community is strong and tight-knit. The community has continued to embrace the shared Singaporean value of multiculturalism, while retaining a distinctive and vibrant identity that has enriched the fabric of our nation.
These efforts were highlighted by PM at the recent National Day Rally, where PM celebrated the community as a Masyarakat Gemilang (or Community of Success).2
Reaffirming our shared commitment to tackle extremism
Because of our collective hard work, we have managed to keep extremist ideologies and xenophobia from taking root in our society.
Nonetheless, the fight against extremism continues. It is, as it has always been, a battle for hearts and minds.
It is not enough to detect and detain radicalised individuals. We must bring those who were radicalised back on the right path. Otherwise, they will continue to pose a threat to society and themselves.
In addition, the families of the detainees also need social, financial, and emotional support to cope with the disruption of having a loved one detained.
This is not a fight that the Government can win on its own.
We need a whole-of-society effort to create an environment that supports the rehabilitation of the detainees, and help them be part of our society again.
Critical role of the RRG and ACG
Volunteers like yourselves, from the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) and Inter-Agency Aftercare Group (ACG), play a very important role in building a strong support network for the detainees and their families.
The RRG recognises that to address the fundamental causes of radicalism among the detainees, Islamic scholars and teachers had to correct their misinterpretation of Islamic concepts.
So the RRG volunteers took on the challenging task of helping the detainees, by countering their ideological misunderstanding through religious counselling sessions.
The Inter-Agency Aftercare Group (ACG) also plays a critical role. Volunteers from the ACG reach out to the detainees’ families, and provide them with social, financial and emotional support to help them get their lives back on track.
Your dedication has been vital to the rehabilitation of detainees. You have showed them and their families that the community has not given up on them. This is the encouragement that they need to reintegrate into society.
Such encouragement can only be given by the community, and by volunteers like yourselves. The Government deeply appreciates your commitment, to help tackle the threat of terrorism, and strengthen our community.
Growing role and continued relevance of RRG and ACG as threat landscape evolves
Over the years, the commitment of our volunteers has grown, even as the face of terrorism in Singapore has changed.
Today, we do not just face threats from organised cells like the JI, but also from ISIS returnees, and self-radicalised individuals
RRG and ACG volunteers have adapted to these new challenges by upgrading themselves and learning from others.
For example, asatizah volunteering with the RRG visited Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Indonesia. They sought to deepen their knowledge, explore collaborations with overseas partners, and bring home best practices in dealing with the threat of self-radicalisation.
Both the RRG and the ACG have also proactively reached out to the community to raise awareness about the threat of terrorist ideology, and to encourage participants to actively counter it.
The RRG Resource and Counselling Centre (RCC) was set up in 2014, to make it easier for the community to receive guidance on religious matters.
Visitors can also learn more about the RRG’s efforts by visiting the RCC gallery.
To date, the gallery has welcomed more than 13,000 visitors – from our schools and madrasahs, and also from all around the world.
I am very happy that Khadijah Mosque and MUIS are now working together with RRG - to expand the gallery, and reach out to even more Singaporeans.
At the same time, I am also happy to note that the ACG has also quietly expanded its work.
I was especially heartened to hear that non-Muslim groups, like the Thye Hua Kwan Moral Society and the Singapore Indian Development Association (SINDA), are also actively supporting the ACG.
By working together, regardless of race or religion, we directly combat what terrorists aim to do – which is to create divisions between communities by instilling fear and distrust.
I look forward to many more such partnerships developing over the years.
Before I conclude, there are two more important groups of people that I would like to thank – the families and employers of our volunteers. Some of you are here today.
To the family members, thank you for your unwavering support. This has enabled our volunteers to contribute their time and energy generously, to the work of countering terrorism and extremism in Singapore.
To the employers, thank you for supporting our volunteers, and giving them the flexibility to balance their work responsibilities with their volunteer commitments.
The threat of terrorism in Singapore remains high. But thanks to your efforts, we have managed to keep it at bay so far. However, our work is far from over. As part of our Singapore Together effort, let us continue working together to keep Singapore safe and secure, to preserve and strengthen the social cohesion we have built up over the years.
 From 2009 to 2018, terrorism perpetuated by white supremacists and nationalists were responsible for 73% of extremist-related deaths in the US, roughly three times that caused by Islamic terrorists. Source: TIME Magazine, 9 Aug 2019
 Speech by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, National Day Rally 2019, National Archives
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