SINGAPORE, July 9 — Different generations of Singaporeans have to understand each other's points of view when it comes to race and religion, and while conversations about such issues have become more open, they remain sensitive.
This point was made by Lee Hsien Loong, who is prime minister and chief of the People’s Action Party (PAP) at an e-rally, which closed off nine days of campaigning for the July 10 General Election.
The online event last night included a discussion with other PAP candidates and incumbent Members of Parliament (MPs) Janil Puthucheary, Lawrence Wong and Low Yen Ling, as well as new face Nadia Ahmad Samdin.
It touched on Raeesah Khan, a new candidate from the Workers' Party (WP), and her social media posts that are the subject of police investigations.
She had allegedly said that Singapore's law enforcement authorities discriminated against citizens and that compared to other groups, “rich Chinese and white people” were treated differently under the law.
PM Lee said that older Singaporeans have a “somewhat different take” from young people on the development of this case.
“It's because we have different life experiences and different points of reference and therefore, we look at it differently. I think we have to understand each other's points of view,” he said.
“The world has changed, attitudes have changed, younger people have a different perspective which we have to take into account because young people will one day inherit Singapore.”
He added that race, religion and language in Singapore are “sensitive matters which can cause grave umbrage” and discussions have to be held “very delicately” and with “great care.”
“It doesn't mean that there's never a change. In fact we discuss things now about race and religion things that, 20 years ago, I think we'd have been very uncomfortable talking about. But now we talk about it more openly, but still sensitively.”
PM Lee said that more of these conversations can be held going forward and people will be able to “accept it better.”
However, he said that in the digital age, ideas from all over the world are picked up and things that never used to be sensitive in Singapore before have now become sensitive, because they are sensitive in other countries. Cultural appropriation is one example.
“These are all angst and anxieties from other societies imported to us because we're all on the same internet. And I think some of it is valid, but not all,” Lee said.
He noted that issues regarding race, language and religion are still “very live issues” in regions very close to Singapore.
“Can we divorce ourselves from those completely and say, well, we just treat each other completely colour-blind and the world outside is completely different? We try very hard. But we must always remember it's sensitive.
“So that's the view we have proceeded on that has held tolerance and harmony. Not quite everything the young people aspire to, but I think (it’s) quite a considerable achievement.”
Lee added that if Singapore hopes to “to do better,” both generations should have careful discussions to gradually reach “a meeting of minds.”
However, he does not think that both groups will have a “complete identity of views” and “we have to accept (it and) go forward together.”
Nadia, 30, who is the youngest PAP candidate to be fielded this year, gave her take on the situation, saying that youth today want to go beyond “this concept of tolerance, or racial harmony.”
“They are willing to have uncomfortable conversations, or conversations that may make some segment of the population feel uncomfortable, and they're brave enough to do so and I think it's good that this kind of new norm is being forged,” she said.
Nadia also agreed that some of these ideas being talked about now have surfaced because of the time that young people are spending online consuming entertainment from western countries.
“It's understandable that this will come into our Singapore culture and the question is, how do we then relate this back to our Singapore core and remember what holds us together,” she asked.
Criticising race and religion
In a separate e-rally for Tamil speakers that took place on Wednesday night, Mr K Shanmugam, the incumbent MP for Nee Soon Group Representation Constituency, was asked about the “controversial incidents taking place online” that revolve around the issues of race and religion.
He noted that “everybody knows these are sensitive issues” and that Singapore’s approach to these matters is different from other countries.
“We can talk about our own religion, we can talk about our own race but we have to avoid criticising others. We have laws and legislation to reduce such incidents.
“We can speak about these issues factually but to date, we have said that people cannot criticise. That’s why for the last 50, 53 years, we’ve had racial and religious harmony,” the law and home affairs minister said.
He added that the younger generation has a different approach, one where they “feel they should be able to talk more, criticise more, speak more” about other races and religions.
“It’s difficult to say that it’s wrong. If that’s what society believes, then the situation has to change according to that.
“We need to discuss this, and include the younger generation in consultations. We have to fully understand their views. I think after this election, we will have to seriously talk about this.” — TODAY