Culture

Singapore, an exemplary bastion for Islamophobia?

With a near-perfect record of terror-free shores since 9/11, the multicultural island-state is listed at the bottom of the 2017 Global Terror Index.

Photo by Igor Ovsyannykov on Unsplash

Rising anti-Muslim sentiments from the West that first bubbled, seethed and came to a boil within the last few years have peaked too violently to ignore.

We may not even have to look too far. For Singaporeans, where Malay-Muslims represent a minority, the fear of radicalism on their shores is imminent since the country metastasized into a heightened state of alert.

“A matter of ‘when’, and not ‘if’”, reiterated K. Shanmugam, Law and Home Affairs Minister amidst the threat of terrorism and extremism. Reeling from the terror attack in Brussels back in 2016, this statement was a precursor to the beefing up of the counter-terrorism front in Singapore.

With a near-perfect record of terror-free shores since 9/11, the multicultural island-state is listed at the bottom of the 2017 Global Terror Index.

However, a poll by a local newspaper, Sunday Times reveals three in four Singaporeans believe that the country will experience a terror attack in only a matter of time.

Perhaps let us rephrase, are Southeast Asian countries like Singapore still immune to Islamophobia?

A Dent in Trust

Photo by Jean-Philippe Delberghe

This is not the first assault on the social harmony and inter-ethnic cohesion between Singapore’s multiracial citizens on a religious dais, nor will it be the last.

Last September, the detention of two young Singaporeans for radicalism added fuel to the fire. Igniting concerns that the seeds of anti-Muslim sentiments that weren’t already on the rise have been sown.

“Attacks around the world have made dents in that trust,” noted Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam, referring to the trust Singaporeans feel towards one another, regardless of race and religion.

Where do Singaporeans stand by their Muslim community?

The fear from recent attacks worldwide has sparked inflammatory sentiments that may very well jeopardize the multicultural cohesion that the country has worked steadfastly to foster and strengthen into the very fabric of its society.

Sensitivity should be a first instinct for the community. The lack of prudence in pressuring the Muslim community to reiterate their stance may very well disclose an underlying distrust.

With isolated incidences aside, these cutting unpleasantries, albeit only verbal on social or mass media, may very well be detrimental to the community as a whole.

This also begs the question: is it fair to pressure any member of the Muslim community to explain themselves or outwardly condemn these acts to the satisfaction of any non-Muslim who happens to doubt their stance against terrorism?

Rise amidst the Tides

Photo by Asim Sadiq

To disable the trifecta of disunity— threats of extremist ideology, exclusivist beliefs and Islamophobia, it is important to derive a distinction between the cool reality on the ground and the sultry image propagated through the airwaves that are gaining popularity.

For the general public in the West who have viewed the religion of Islam through the tunnel vision of the mass media, the global climate that begets the daily herald of Islamic extremists and terror attacks has distorted the image of Islam across the world.

Evident from the alleged anti-Islam statements made by invited US preacher, Lou Engle at an event in Singapore. The incident was counter-measured by a swift investigation by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and a ban from re-entering the country.

This is not the first assault on the social harmony and inter-ethnic cohesion between Singapore’s multiracial citizens on a religious dais, nor will it be the last.

The fight against terrorism and extremism does not rest solely on militancy, but to some degree, Islamophobia. Reach out and come forward, for the answers you seek or engage in community events.

“When other faith communities stepped forward to lend support to our struggle, it gave us comfort that we are not in this alone.”

– Dr. Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for Communications and Information

AskMeAnything is hosting an open-dialogue on Islam on the 5th of May followed by a Breaking of Fast event on the 26th of May. These sessions are aimed to have your deepest queries answered, and provide a safe space for honest conversations— Chatham house rules apply.

A platform for open-ended questions supported by Singapore’s Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, difficult and provocative questions are welcomed, if not encouraged.

As Singaporeans, it is crucial to rise and not merely stay afloat amidst the tides of hatred and misunderstanding. Harmony in a multi-cultural society starts with better understanding of one another’s faith and beliefs.

Head on over to Ask Me Anything on Islam happening on the 5th of May, registrations are now open

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