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Speech by DPM Teo Chee Hean at the National CEP Dialogue 2012
Date : 28 April 2012
SPEECH BY MR TEO CHEE HEAN, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER, COORDINATING MINISTER FOR NATIONAL SECURITY AND MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS AT THE NATIONAL CEP DIALOGUE ON 28 APRIL 2012 (SATURDAY) AT 1030H AT THE REGENT SINGAPORE, ROYAL PAVILION BALLROOM
The Community Engagement Programme (CEP) is into its seventh year. Launched on February 2006 by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the CEP seeks to build social cohesion and communal harmony in Singapore.
About 600 CEP community leaders attended the National CEP Dialogue on 28 April 2012. The Guest-of-Honour was DPM Teo Chee Hean. Community leaders had the opportunity of discussing CEP-related issues during the townhall sessions with DPM Teo and the Ministers leading the CEP clusters.
Please see below for DPM Teo’s speech delivered at the National CEP Dialogue 2012.
Minister Lim Swee Say
Minister Yaacob Ibrahim
Acting Minister Chan Chun Sing
Minister of State Tan Chuan Jin
Ladies and gentlemen
Good morning. It gives me great pleasure to join all of you here today, for our annual National Community Engagement Programme Dialogue. The Community Engagement Programme (or CEP for short) is now into its seventh year. Every year, community leaders, youth leaders, and members of the five CEP clusters come together to take stock of what we have done, as well as to exchange views and share new ideas in this important area of work.
Celebrating Diversity, Strengthening Cohesion
Since our early days as a British trading port, Singapore succeeded because it was more open, more accepting of people from many lands, and more able to reconcile the different cultures, languages and religious beliefs harmoniously. This has enabled us to distinguish ourselves from others in our region.
In addition to our own indigenous population, others from the archipelago and from China and India came to make a living, and to find a better life, if not necessarily, their future here. As the region grew to supply the spices, tin, rubber, and other materials wanted and needed by the world, our forefathers came as planters, miners, traders, and workers. They settled in different enclaves, split along racial lines. The British divided and ruled, on the premise that keeping the different groups apart was the best way to minimise frictions and keep the peace. This served the British well and was also aligned with the thinking of the migrant workers who largely saw their stay as temporary. Their goal was to return to their original homeland after earning enough, to spend the remainder of their days there.
The Second World War changed all that. The colonial era was over. The new political landscape both in our region and the lands from where our migrants had come, meant they had to choose – to leave to return to an uncertain future, or to stay and sink roots and build a future here together.
Our road to independence was filled with twists and turns, but it was also the shared experience which bound our people together, forging our values as a nation. Instead of living apart in enclaves, we moved to live together, inter-mingling in new towns all across our island. Living together was the path to building understanding and enduring peace and harmony, rather than the temporary truce of living apart.
From the start, we have drawn in people, from the region and further afield to live and work in Singapore. Our diversity and immigrant roots have always meant that we struggle with national identity, and need to work harder to build social cohesion and national solidarity, compared to other countries which have relatively homogeneous populations.
Homogeneity can be a great strength, in particular when a nation has to endure a deep crisis together. But homogeneity and difficulty in accepting others can also be a weakness when the nation struggles to adapt to life in a globalised and multi-cultural world in order to thrive.
Singapore has come a long way since the days of racial strife in the 1950s and 1960s. And building unity out of diversity is a continuing challenge, even as our country becomes more cosmopolitan. It requires effort, give and take, and sacrifice from everyone. Diversity can be a weakness if the different communities see their differences as getting in the way of forging a common future. But successfully overcoming the challenges of diversity is a huge strength allowing us to easily cross cultures, be comfortable with people who may look and sound different from us, and connect with the great growing centres in a more cosmopolitan world. This is a key characteristic of a successful city of the future.
This rich diversity coupled with strong social cohesion is something that we should cherish. We have put in decades of hard work to weave this social fabric, but it will not take very much to tear apart the trust and mutual respect that we have developed over the years. This challenge has become greater as we socialise a new wave of migrants who have come to our shores.
Let me talk about three driving forces whose impact on the cohesion of our society can be double-edged. These are: globalisation, technology, and extremism. On one hand, they can help us to find common ground; on the other, they may accentuate differences and drive us apart.
Key Driving Forces
Let me start with globalisation. While globalisation is not an entirely new phenomenon, we are seeing new and increased flows of people and ideas across the world, and in interesting new ways.
More international travel, as well as more opportunities to live, study or work abroad, mean that more Singaporeans live overseas, for at least a part of their lives. We have some 280 Singapore Clubs in over 120 cities, a network of little red dots all around the world. This helps to improve cross-cultural understanding, connects Singapore and Singaporeans to the world, and increases our global footprint as a nation.
But maintaining and strengthening the bonds of Singaporeans overseas to Singapore is not easy. I was happy to meet close to 5,000 Singaporeans who came to the Singapore Day in New York two weekends ago. Authentic hawker food was of course the main draw, but they also got to see some of the latest developments ranging from Marina Bay to Punggol. There was a mini-job fair as well as information on the new education landscape and National Service today. The most moving moment for me was everyone singing “Home” together, waving their mini-Singapore flags. I am sure the sights, sounds and smells brought back many fond memories for the Singaporeans who attended the event, but we also want to make sure that Singapore is not just their home from the past, but also a place in their hearts and where they want to build their future.
The corollary to more Singaporeans going abroad is that Singapore, like every other thriving city, is also becoming more cosmopolitan, with people from many different countries rubbing shoulders with one another here. Singapore is a vibrant attractive city to many. However, having a confluence of many different races and religions within a small, dense city like Singapore can also result in greater consciousness of the differences in behaviour and norms. When we live close together on a sustained basis, it is so much easier to dwell on the differences, rather than build upon the commonalities. And differences when accentuated can quite easily develop into fissures in our society, and weaken our unity as a country.
Therefore, while we continue to welcome people who can contribute to Singapore, we need to pay extra attention to facilitating the new immigrants who are ready to sink roots here, so that they integrate into society more quickly. We expect that over time, they and their children, will pick up Singaporean ways, and become more like us. After all, many have come here, because they value what we value - the well-integrated, harmonious, multi-racial society in Singapore. However, Singaporeans can also do our part to make them feel more welcome, and to help them imbibe the values that we hold dear as a people, which have made us strong as a society.
Next, technology. The Internet and social media have been useful in facilitating more efficient transfer of knowledge, information and contacts across physical distances and geographical borders. The Internet can help to bring people together. Singaporeans can easily keep in touch with family and friends living overseas, while those abroad can follow developments daily here, and share in ‘live’ webcasts of the National Day Parade and Budget Speech. However, these same technologies can also reinforce physical isolation. For instance, a person who chooses to spend most of his time in front of the computer screen may have many Facebook ‘friends’, but end up not knowing or speaking with his neighbour, who lives right next door.
Used in the right ways, technology can be an enabler of active citizenry and positive change, by mobilising people to do good. However, reckless or malicious use of technology can disrupt social order and harmony. Anonymity on the Internet emboldens people, encouraging them to take on more extreme views than they might otherwise. The Internet also amplifies the extreme views even though they might be in the minority; and virtual “mobs” form to cheer or jeer, which only help to accentuate differences, polarise and inflame emotions further. As we saw in the UK riots, the cyber-world can quite quickly spill over to conflicts in the real world, as people were mobilised to take to the streets or loot stores in their own neighbourhoods through the use of social media.
The last driving force I wanted to talk about, is extremism. International terrorism and violent extremism continue to be threats to the world. Not far from our doorstep, we saw the failed bomb attack in Bangkok, only a day after the 13th February targeted bomb attacks in New Delhi and Tbilisi by associated groups. In the past year in Indonesia and East Malaysia, there have been arrests of terrorists, some of whom have links to the Jemaah Islamiyah or the Jemaah Anshorut Tauhid. They had planned attacks on targets such as the police, government and minority religious groups.
And Singapore remains a target for terrorists. For example, in July 2011, Indonesian authorities discovered a potential plot to attack the Singapore embassy in Jakarta, targeting Singaporeans leaving the compound. A year earlier, in May 2010, a map of Orchard MRT station and the Orchard Road vicinity was discovered in the house of a suspected terrorist in East Jakarta.
With the Internet and social media, it has become much easier for the ideological messages of Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organisations to spread more quickly and further. The radical preacher Anwar Al-Awlaki, a US citizen, had made effective use of YouTube, Facebook and Twitter to get his extremist propaganda out to the Western hemisphere in English, from what he thought was the safety of Yemen. Though he has been dealt with, there are many others who will readily take his place to perpetuate such messages. This has given rise to the emerging concern of more ‘lone wolf’ terrorists, who are indoctrinated by radical ideologies through the internet and social media. It is very difficult to pre-empt and prevent such attacks; and trying to deal with the perpetrator only after he has taken many lives, can at best only provide cold comfort and will not be enough to deter someone, especially if he intends to die in the attack. Commonly cited examples of “lone wolf” attacks include Stockholm suicide bomber Taimour Abdulwahab who set off two bombs within 15 minutes in December 2010, and Norwegian gunman Anders Breivik who killed 77 people in twin attacks in July 2011.
Extremism, by its nature, thrives on divisiveness. But as we have seen in the case of the Jemaah Islamiyah arrests in 2001, the threat of extremism can also help to rally people together, when they unite to reject extremism, and come together to fight for the common cause of peace and harmony. Strong community partnerships can help us to reduce the opportunities for extremism to take hold of groups or individuals, and to deal with and withstand the divisive effects that violent extremism can wreak on a multi-racial and multi-religious society. For example, our local Muslim religious leaders set up a rehabilitation group to counsel the JI detainees, and help them to eventually integrate back into society. This enabled other Singaporeans to appreciate the fact that the extremists were a very small minority, and did not reflect the beliefs of the larger Muslim community in Singapore.
Continued Relevance of CEP
In view of these three driving forces that could have a profound impact on our national solidarity and social cohesion, our community engagement efforts are even more important today, and in the future.
I am very happy to see the good work done under the Community Engagement Programme since it was launched by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in 2006. In the grassroots cluster, all constituencies are now CEP Ready and able to meet a minimum standard of operational readiness during emergencies. Some constituencies have achieved the Unity Awards by developing their Constituency Emergency Preparedness Plans in additional areas. I hope our grassroots leaders will go one step further, to communicate these plans more widely to residents so that they too know what to do in an emergency. Regardless of the plans or the structures we have in place, it is ultimately the people who will make the difference when the time comes to act.
This is also why we must engage Singaporeans from a young age. Our young have not lived through the early days of racial strife in Singapore, and may not all be fully aware of the dangers and what needs to be done to maintain the social stability that we have today. The People’s Association has thus been increasing its outreach to youths by bringing its Youth Executive Committee members into the CEP effort. About 120 youths attended the inaugural dialogue on the CEP for Youth Executive Committees two Saturdays ago, and I am happy to see some of you here today as well. The Ministry of Education is also piloting the Community Engagement Leadership Programme at Innova Junior College, and some of these students are also present today.
Over the years, our community engagement programmes have served as a key resource in our fight against extremism and terrorism. The efforts of our vigilant and cohesive community of volunteers, leaders and residents complement the information gathering and sharing, tight border control, and the hard work of the Home Team and SAF officers, to keep Singapore safe and secure.
Today, I am happy to launch the 3rd National Security Monograph titled “Close Watch – A Nation’s Resolve to Secure Singapore”. This book provides a stocktake of the national security efforts that have kept Singapore safe and secure in the past ten years. It salutes the many men and women who have worked hard behind the scenes to protect our families, community and society from the terrorist menace. We thank them, and all of you here today for your good work over the years.
CEP is an ongoing journey. As circumstances change and new challenges emerge, we must review and adjust our strategies and approaches to ensure that they remain relevant and ready. We also need to secure buy-in from all Singaporeans, to maintain a high level of emergency preparedness, and to bounce back stronger, if an incident were to take place.
Dialogues like today’s provide a useful platform for us to understand different perspectives and share new ideas. They help us to strengthen the common ground and mutual trust across different racial and religious communities, as we face new challenges such as increasing globalisation, more widespread use of technology and the persistent threat of extremism.
My colleagues and I look forward to the dialogue sessions with you later this morning. And I also hope that you will find new friends and partners to help build a more inclusive and cohesive Singapore.
I wish you all a fruitful session. Thank you.
Please click here for the National CEP Dialogue 2012 factsheet which highlights some of the CEP initiatives from the cluster leads in the year leading up to the National CEP Dialogue.