SINGAPORE — While younger Singaporeans can have sensitive conversations about race and religion, they must be wary about the openness of the Internet and its imported values, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Wednesday (8 July) night.
Lee was responding to a question posed by Senior Minister of State for Transport and Communications and Information Janil Puthucheary, 47, on online comments allegedly made by the Workers’ Party (WP) Sengkang GRC candidate Raeesah Khan on race and religion, during an hour-long round-up session streamed on the People’s Action Party (PAP)’s social media platforms.
Two police reports have been lodged against Khan over the weekend for comments allegedly made by her on social media. Police investigations into the reports are ongoing.
“In the internet age, you pick up ideas from all over the world, and things which never used to be sensitive in Singapore before now have become sensitive because they’re sensitive in other countries,” the PAP secretary-general explained, ahead of the General Election (GE) on 10 July.
For instance, if Puthucheary were to wear a cheongsam and Lee were to wear a baju melayu, netizens will view it as cultural appropriation, said Lee.
“These are all angst and anxieties from other societies imported to us because we’re all on the same Internet,” he added. “I think some of it is valid – not all.”
Lee pointed out that race, language, and religion are “very live issues very close to us”, not just in Singapore but even in countries in the region.
“Can we divorce ourselves from those (issues) completely, and say, ‘Well, we just treat each other, completely colour-blind and the world outside is completely different’?”
Despite the government’s best efforts, Lee said it is key to remember that these issues are sensitive. He also noted that the older generation in Singapore has a somewhat different take on the development of the Raeesah case from the young generation, given their different life experiences and points of reference.
Lee reiterated, “We try very hard, but we must always remember that it’s sensitive. So that’s the deal we have proceeded on which has held tolerance and harmony,” he said. “(It is) not quite everything which the young people aspire to, but I think it is quite a considerable achievement.”
For Singapore to “go beyond that to do better”, it has to be done carefully with discussions between the younger and older generations, who both have different perspectives on the issues, to gradually achieve “a meeting of minds”.
Lee added, “In fact, we discuss things now about race and religion; you address your school results or differences in attitudes whether there's a trade-off between your racial identity or religious identity with a national one – things which 20 years ago, I think we'd have been very uncomfortable to talk about. But now we talk about it more openly, but still sensitively.”
Joining the round-up session along with Lee and Puthucheary were National Development Minister and COVID-19 taskforce co-chair Lawrence Wong, 47, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education and Manpower Low Yen Ling, 45, and new face Nadia Samdin, 30, who is running alongside Lee in the Ang Mo Kio group representation constituency (GRC).
Nadia, who is also the youngest of the PAP candidates in this GE, had noted that youths today want to go beyond this concept of tolerance or racial harmony, and are willing to have conversations “which may make some segment of the population feel uncomfortable”.
“They are brave enough to do so and I think it's good that this kind of new norm is being forged,” she added.
Over the years, the younger generation has become used to having Western entertainment and the Internet, and some of the ideas being spoken about on such platforms have come into Singapore culture, said Nadia.
“It’s understandable that these will come into our Singapore culture and the question is, how do we then relate this back to our Singapore core and remember really what holds us together,” she added.
In response, Lee said, “I think that's a very reasonable exposition of a young person’s point of view on a very complicated issue.”
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