Taman Bacaan Online Engagement for Youths "Strengthening Social Cohesion Post Pandemic" - Speech by Assoc Prof Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, Minister of State, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of National Development

Published: 27 August 2021

Mr Abdul Halim Kader, President TAMAN BACAAN,

Pastor Andrew Khoo, Executive Director of New Hope Community Services

Dr Badron Nafis, Chairman of AMP & Chairman ACG

Mdm Zuraidah Abdullah, CEO of MENDAKI

Ustaz Dr Mohamed Ali, Vice-Chairman, RRG

RRG and ACG members

Students from the NIE Malay Specialisation Unit

Youths from APY

Ladies and gentlemen

1.   I am very happy to be able to join you today for the Taman Bacaan hybrid seminar for youth.

2.   I thank Taman Bacaan, the ACG, and the RRG for inviting me to this seminar. I remember I came here a few months ago where we also spoke something about how women can play a part in counter-terrorism, as part of the rehab process. And I am happy today we are able to continue this journey. It is very important, and I have worked with all of them for various events throughout the pandemic period, and it is not an easy task to organise any event while we are still in the pandemic. You not only organise, you think of avenues, how to engage. You have used online platforms and making sure that while during the pandemic there are others outlets or avenues where people look at. But you also want to bring out that positive message which I think I am very inspired and like what I said, I am very encouraged to see not only you are here and also at Masjid Khadijah as well as those of you out there who are following us via online. I hope the presentations today will provide you with insights on how we can strengthen Singapore's social cohesion post-pandemic.

3.   It is very important. Because many Singaporeans and everyone across the world, around the world have been significantly impacted during the pandemic, including losing loved ones to covid, people who have lost their loved ones, and it really goes deep into my heart, and I feel for their family. Someone I know and someone whom I used to see at community events lost to Covid-19 and there are some among us who lost their jobs, and missing our family members and friends overseas. Some still waiting for their family members to come back. Some waiting to go back. Many of us will be affected. And in particular, the social restrictions and lockdowns have affected Singapore's social dynamics and could generate anxiety and distrust within the social fabric. This is something that we observe, and something that we must together address it and manage it as a society. Indeed, we will face many obstacles on the road to recovery from the pandemic. It will also test our ability to safeguard our social cohesion. Hence, we must face this unprecedented crisis together and walk the road to recovery hand-in-hand, regardless of our background. This is the Singapore spirit. We want to make sure we walk hand-in-hand regardless of the background of people, and this Singapore spirit will bring us further along so that we can progress together. 

4.   As youths, all of you play a very critical role in ensuring that our social cohesion and resilience are not impacted during the pandemic. It is in time of stress like this that racial fault lines can rear its ugly head when we forget to be gracious and respectful to one another. I call upon each of you to play your part and contribute in your own ways, whether big or small in your "ways and means," whatever you can do, whether through volunteerism or otherwise, to safeguard our communal harmony and social cohesion. Play your part. Start in the family, in the community, and beyond. See how you can play your part, every single way is very important.

5.   In addition to our fight against Covid-19, our threat landscape has also evolved. The world has to grapple with the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, which is becoming a security concern for Singapore and the region. I have received quite a fair bit of feedback from Singaporeans.They are concerned about what’s happening. The situation in Afghanistan could provide fertile conditions for transnational terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria to regroup and establish safe havens. Radicals from Southeast Asia may also be inspired to travel to Afghanistan to take up arms with militant groups there, just as Jemaah Islamiyah members had done so in the past. This is something that we must also reflect upon and realise there are such possibilities. And I am happy that when such developments happen, when I went to the ground to speak to people, because of our efforts that we have been doing all these years, Singaporeans begin to recognise such possibilities. That means they are aware, they are also the so-called show the outcome of what we have done all these years. And our society have been able to understand how such developments will impact a country like Singapore.

6.   So the developments in Afghanistan have also galvanised some violent extremist groups in the region, who see the Taliban takeover as a clear propaganda victory that can be used to draw recruits to their causes. To this end, some have disseminated ideological narratives on social media portraying the Taliban’s return to power as a victory for the establishment of an Islamic state. Singaporeans must be on guard against falling prey to distorted narratives, particularly those which capitalise on world events to promote a violent agenda or an extremist cause. Similarly, we must draw the line against engaging in any action, including making online postings, that support, or promote the use of violence, or that threaten our communal harmony and social fabric. This is what I hope that as future educators, something that we want to promote harmony, being compassionate to one another, taking care of one another, and making sure every single moment we focus on building our homeland Singapore.

7.   Social cohesion did not come naturally for the multi-racial and multi-religious Singapore. We all know that. Race and religion are natural fault lines, and our political leaders and forefathers have worked hard at it over the decades. We speak to our parents, grandparents. They would share with us how hard they have worked, how they have been able to look at Singapore as a multi-racial society and is always a work-in-progress, and how we have arrived here. The peace and harmony that you and I enjoy today is the hard work of our Pioneer and Merdeka generation.  We should value and protect this for future generations to benefit. They in turn, will say, we together with the Merdeka generation and the Pioneer generation have built what they are benefiting. So, we have a role to play.

8.   Singapore is fortunate to have organisations such as Taman Bacaan, the ACG, and the RRG, which have spared no effort in partnering with the community and the Singapore government to safeguard our communal harmony. When I opened up my speech earlier, I shared with you how they have worked very hard, behind the scenes, a few groups of good men and women having the thought for the community and Singapore society. And trying to pre-empt what negative elements may be out there and they provide the alternative options of positive elements in our nation building. I sincerely admire them and am inspired by what they do. I would also like to commend the efforts of the New Hope Community Services for its enduring efforts to preserve our race and religious harmony through its various community initiatives.

9.   Pastor is not new to me. Pastor has been working very hard on the ground. He walks the talk. He is someone who really helps many people regardless of race, language or religion. I am very happy to see Pastor today and he is a good friend of mine as well. Lastly, let me thank again, Pastor Andrew Khoo for collaborating with Taman Bacaan, the ACG, and the RRG to organise such an important and insightful seminar that addresses the important issues on safeguarding our beloved Singapore's social cohesion and resilience. This is very important. I heard that you had a great sharing session with our speakers. I think we can continue the discussion and I look forward to a nice dialogue and session with you.

10.   Thank you very much and let’s continue what we have started.