Extremism: easier to keep the man out than the message out in this social media age.

Government, Society, Narrative, Social, Singapore, Narratives, Media

The government’s decision to deny entry to Indonesian Preacher Abdul Somad torched off a bit of a storm down south, with protests outside our embassy and consulate, personal threats to Minister Shanmugam and trolls flooding the Facebook pages of various government personalities. The websites of a few random small local private businesses were also defaced.

It is gratifying to see from the comments on MSM that the majority of Singaporeans understood the government’s stand and stand behind the government on this issue. It’s also illuminating to see that some Indonesians too, showed support of our Government’s actions on MSM. Singaporeans largely understand that the Government treats all such threats to our society’s harmony equally, whether it’s Abdul Somad, right wing Christian Pastors or anyone else.

What is disconcerting?

What is disconcerting is the narrative that Abdul Samad touched on, of Singapore being part of the Tanah Melayu. This narrative has floated for many years on mainstream social media. The importation of foreign conflicts, cultural wars and prejudices, such as the middle east conflagrations, to our local context, the ideas of oppression and victimhood, the politically motivated racial chauvinism of our neighbours, are also nothing new.

Keeping the message out!

In this social media age, and for an open society like ours, it is easy to keep the man out, but it is much harder to keep his messages out.

Some of the comments seen on social media shows clearly that some Singaporeans are at least sympathetic to such narratives. Such posts can easily be found on social media. We should not stick our heads in the sand and always avoid difficult conversations.

Social Media

What does it mean for us ?

What Singapore has achieved in terms of peace and harmony, is nothing short of miraculous. There are no other equivalent or precedence for a society like ours in the world. We are unique.

And we have been too well insulated for a very long time. But we must never take this for granted, and must realised that this would always be a work-in-progress. This is a marathon with no finishing line.

In the age of the internet, there is really no way to keep contrarian narratives out of our society. The most recent MHA detainees were all self-radicalised, including the 17 yr old influenced by Abdul Somad.

Each of us thus has a duty to call out and engage such contrarian narratives wherever there are found, public or private. We cannot rely on the government alone to manage difficult conversations and be the sole arbiter of conflicts, nor should we expect the government to tackle such issues alone.

More importantly, it is important for each of us to affirm the social contract that we have in Singapore. There is a place and space for each and every one of us here. But we all must recognise that it is predicated only upon shared values, shared spaces, and mutual trust and respect for one another.

Cultural, racial or religious chauvinism has no place in Singapore.

Lastly, Singaporeans must be cognizant of our vulnerabilities as a small, open and multi-ethnic society. We must recognise that the flotsam brought in by the rising tide of intolerance and conflict around us affects all of us. We must be wary of importing cultural wars and foreign conflicts onto our shores, and be mature enough to filter out narratives that are incongruent with our social contract from our society.

This is Singapore, home, for all of us.

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