Updated: 04/14/2013 07:27

Careful not to bend to external influences indiscriminately : DPM Teo Chee Hean

Careful not to bend to external influences indiscriminately : DPM Teo Chee Hean

by Saifulbahri Ismail

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean says Singapore needs to be careful not to bend to external influences indiscriminately.

Speaking at the National Community Engagement Programme Dialogue today, Mr Teo cautioned against absorbing teachings or practices which may not be appropriate for Singapore.

He said these will threaten the country's social cohesion.

Some 600 grassroots and community leaders took part in the annual dialogue.

As an open society, Singapore is subjected to external influences.

Mr Teo noted with the widespread use of the Internet, many people are increasingly forming online groups.

They are finding common ground with others who may live in different countries with different social contexts.

He said with an increasing trend of greater religiosity, there's also an increasing tendency towards asserting beliefs in public.

So he stressed the importance of respecting the beliefs and views of others.

The focus should be on the commonalities that unite, rather than accentuating differences, said Mr Teo:

"It is when we focus on what is common, that we complement one another, and make us stronger as one people. We must not be tempted by the cloak of anonymity offered by the Internet to denigrate the faiths of others, otherwise social relations will deteriorate rapidly."

Mr Teo added that even as Singapore maintains an open environment, foreigners working here must respect Singaporean values and norms.

Singaporeans should also treat these workers with respect, and appreciate them.

He also reiterated key principles and values that have allowed Singapore to grow and prosper as a multi-racial and multi-religious society.

These include ensuring a common space where Singaporeans of all creeds and races can interact together, keeping religion separate from politics, and taking a proactive and practical approach, when handling sensitive issues.

The role youths play in building social cohesion was discussed at the dialogue.

Farisah Ishak is a student from Innova Junior College:

"As teenagers frequent the online portal, I believe we should be more sensitive in making remarks, and not only making them because it's already accepted in our own cliques. We should always think on a larger context when we make comments online we should know that insensitive remarks would affect a larger community online."

To deepen understanding of different faiths, many platforms have been created.

Woo Sui Kee, Co-Chairman of Kampong Glam's Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circle elaborates:

"We take turns to host meetings in various organisations. Maybe this month, we have the meeting in the mosque, the next month we have it in the church, and another month we have it in the Indian temple. So from there, we will create the friendship, the relationship and bonding together."

In addition, Harmony Games have also been organised to encourage interaction through sports.

This year the Games will be organised by the Sikh community.

Malminderjit Singh is the Secretary of the Sikh Advisory Board:

"The structure of the games is organised such that it's not competitive, it's played in a very fun nature. Secondly, we mix the teams up. So, each team consists and comprises members of different religious groups. We think that helps to foster closer bonds and greater understanding."

Participants at the dialogue came up with ideas to help strengthen social harmony.

Some believe that the first step is to build trust.

Others suggested moving away from talking about tolerance, and to start talking about acceptance.

Input from the Community Engagement Programme discussions will be further taken up at the Our Singapore Conversation sessions.

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