SINGAPORE – Singapore will introduce a new racial harmony law to encourage moderation and tolerance among different racial groups, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Sunday (August 29th).
The new law on the maintenance of racial harmony will consolidate all existing laws dealing with racial issues, which are currently dispersed in various pieces of legislation, such as the Criminal Code.
In addition to providing penalties for racial offenses, the new law will also incorporate “softer, softer touches” focused on persuasion and rehabilitation.
For example, this will give authorities the power to order someone who has offended to stop and make amends by learning more about the other race.
This gentler approach will help heal wounds and mend racial ties, rather than leaving resentment over such incidents, Prime Minister Lee said.
The Prime Minister devoted a third of his National Day gathering to the theme of race and religion, noting that race relations have been strained during the Covid-19 pandemic.
While the real solution to racism is to change attitudes, which takes time and effort, legislation can play a role, he said.
“Laws alone cannot make people get along or love each other,” Prime Minister Lee noted. “But laws can signal what our society considers right and wrong, and over time push people to behave better.”
He highlighted the current law on the maintenance of religious harmony, on which the new law will be based.
The law has never been used since it came into force in 1992. But its very existence has helped curb intolerance and promote religious harmony, he said.
Likewise, the new law on racial harmony will signal the “paramount importance” of this issue for Singaporean society, he added.
In his speech, Prime Minister Lee referred to several recent high-profile racist incidents, noting that several of them targeted Indians.
There are two reasons for this, he supposed. One could be the large number of Indian work pass holders in Singapore, while the other could be linked to the Delta variant of Covid-19, which first appeared in India.
But it is illogical to place the blame for these issues on Indians and let these frustrations impact racial harmony, Prime Minister Lee said.
“Just as it is illogical to attribute the Alpha variant to the British, the KTV cluster to the Vietnamese or the initial epidemic in Wuhan to the Chinese,” he added.
“We need to solve the real problems – manage the numbers and concentrations of work passes and improve our health guarantees at the borders.”
While these racist incidents are reminiscent of the fragility of Singapore harmony, they do not deny the country’s multiracial approach which has worked well, he said, adding that racial harmony did not happen spontaneously. here.
He explained how Singapore has worked hard to achieve the current delicate balance, where people of different races and faiths live in peace together.
Even so, racial harmony is still a work in progress and will be for a long time to come, Premier Lee said. He noted that everyone retains racial or religious preferences, which are natural in any society.
“But sometimes it goes beyond racial and cultural preferences to become prejudices and prejudices. Then that’s a problem,” he said.
He gave the example of job vacancies that require Chinese speakers even though it is not clear that this is a real need for employment. He also cited people whose rentals are refused after real estate agents find out they are not Chinese.
People from minority groups experience these things more intensely because they are most affected by such racial discrimination, Prime Minister Lee said.
“They feel angry, hurt, disappointed that the words of our national commitment are still an aspiration, not yet fully realized,” he added.
“I know it is more difficult to belong to a minority race than to a majority. And that is true in any multiracial society, but that does not mean that we have to accept this fact in Singapore.”
This is why Singapore must continue to work on the issue, stressed Prime Minister Lee.
The majority must be more sensitive to the concerns of minorities, while individuals must also have the moral courage to take a stand against racist behavior, he said.
It means expressing clear disapproval of racist incidents, and also denouncing deliberate racist agitation masquerading as something else.
The campaign against the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement with India (Ceca), for example, claimed to put Singaporeans first, but had a strong racial overtone, Prime Minister Lee said.
The new law on maintaining racial harmony is part of Singapore’s updated policies on race and religion, Prime Minister Lee said, noting that racial and religious harmony is dynamic.
Opinions and beliefs in society change over time, with each new generation having different perspectives on racial issues.
Older Singaporeans who lived through the race riots that marked Singapore’s journey to independence generally believe that such issues are best left aside.
“They think: discussions can turn into arguments, arguments can turn into quarrels, better not to talk too much about it,” he said.
But young Singaporeans, who largely grew up in an environment of peace and harmony, think differently.
They believe that with the country now mature and stable, issues of race and religion must now be more openly discussed and existing policies and assumptions re-examined, in order to improve the status quo.
“These generational differences of views are perfectly understandable and should be taken into account,” he said.
The Prime Minister then turned his attention to how Singaporeans are influenced by external religious tendencies in a changing world.
For example, many Christians see themselves as members of a global fellowship, while Muslims see themselves as part of a global ummah, or community of believers.
“So when religious norms change elsewhere, the norms and practices in Singapore are also affected,” Prime Minister Lee said.
It’s similar to how Singapore is exposed to, and then influenced by, external political developments, he added. These include the Black Lives Matter movement in America, or the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza.
“Our own circumstances and contexts are completely different, and these are not our quarrels,” he noted. “But they affect our people.”
Such changes are the reason Singapore has to adjust its policies on race and religion from time to time. But it must do so according to its own needs, rather than simply reacting to trends abroad, Prime Minister Lee said.
And since he is making such changes, he must proceed with caution. This is because race and religion will always be very sensitive issues, he said.
“We need to take the time to respectfully discuss, make sure everyone understands and build consensus before we do anything. “
Read more: 7 Highlights of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s National Day Rally