Strengthening ties through food and security drills

4 October 2017 Singapore

Ulu Pandan residents sharing desserts from different cultures. MPs such as Mr Christopher De Souza and Mr Gan Thiam Poh have noted how food can be a unifying experience across cultures.PHOTO: ULU PANDAN GRASSROOTS ORGANISATIONSUlu Pandan residents sharing desserts from different cultures. MPs such as Mr Christopher De Souza and Mr Gan Thiam Poh have noted how food can be a unifying experience across cultures.PHOTO: ULU PANDAN GRASSROOTS ORGANISATIONS

Stay vigilant and resilient

Mr Christopher De Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), one of the four MPs who raised the motion, suggested preparing posters and other paraphernalia to send messages of unity quickly and visibly in the event of a terrorist attack.

Residents in his Ulu Pandan ward have printed "day after" banners to be displayed around their estates, with messages such as "Deny terrorism a victory. Let's stay united".

These will help in the psychological battle against terror, he said.

After an attack, social media can be divisive and confusing, if there are groups that try to spread falsehoods or rumors online, said Mr Desmond Choo (Tampines GRC).

To counter this, a group of social media influencers can be trained to be "first responders" online. They can start constructive discussions in times of crises and help government agencies spread the correct messages, he said.

Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said he fully agreed with this, and the Government is engaging high-profile influencers to reach out to various segments of the community when an attack happens.

As for workplaces, Nominated MP K. Thanaletchimi said companies of all sizes should be urged to perform SGSecure drills or tabletop exercises on terror scenarios at least once a year. Employees should also be trained in first aid.

She suggested that the Government provide tax rebates or incentives to encourage firms to set up mental wellness programmes with psychologists and counselors, to intervene and prevent vulnerable individuals from being radicalized.

The Government can also further promote integration at workplaces and encourage companies to set up sustainable diversity management programmes, she said.

Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok) recommended that legislative responses to extremism and terrorism are settled before any serious act of terrorism occurs.

These could include curbing hate speech and teachings on social media, he said, citing Germany's new Network Enforcement Act - also known as its "Facebook law" - passed in June this year. It enables the authorities to require social media companies to remove hate speech from their platforms.

He also recommended setting out clearly legal protections for people such as spouses who report someone suspected of being a terrorist.

Prevent radicalized teaching

Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio GRC) proposed getting more people involved in spotting tell-tale signs of an individual at risk of being radicalized. These could include becoming reclusive, developing intense frustrations or developing sudden changes in views.

Community points of contact could, for example, be volunteers and officers in the grassroots, family service centers and social service offices, who are in frequent and direct contact with residents. If they see worrying signs, they should refer the person to the Religious Rehabilitation Group or other certified counselors.

Teachers should also be trained to notice such signs among students, and can get in touch with their families or redirect their energies to constructive activities, Dr Intan suggested. "The call has always been for families and friends to look out for such tell-tale signs, but families and friends may not always be impartial or neutral enough, or may not always be quick enough to inform the relevant authorities for follow-up help," she said.

Similarly, Mr Faisal Manap (Aljunied GRC) called for more upstream efforts, especially in schools.

The process of radicalization usually involves using religious doctrine and politics to manipulate minds so that people start to accept terrorist ideology as a way or approach that is acceptable, he said.

"The best way to counter such radical elements is by inculcating in Singaporeans authentic religious values, knowledge that strengthens one's character and also community and national values," he said.

He suggested teaching religious knowledge, psychology and community and national values in schools.

Invest in multiracialism

Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) said stories of commonalities and shared experiences between people of different races serve an important unifying purpose, and ought to be shared.

He cited an example Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang cited a few days ago. Mr Low was told by his constituents and friends of how some Chinese Singaporeans were sheltered in the homes of their Malay friends and neighbors during the violent racial riots in the 1960s.

Not all stories are comfortable to discuss but they should be shared, said Mr Singh, who added that examples of a common humanity will help Singaporeans cope and carry on in the event of a terrorist attack here.

Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh also called for special cohesion grants to fund learning trips and research projects which universities and the social sector can work together on. This can provide more knowledge to improve inter-cultural exchange and the way the various ethnic self-help groups collaborate with each other.

He also suggested teachers go for special training in multicultural pedagogy to better engage students from different backgrounds and encourage more effective cross-cultural interactions in school.

Fostering greater multiculturalism can come from building deeper bonds between neighbors, said Dr Tan Wu Meng (Jurong GRC).

But some newer HDB developments seem to have fewer shared common spaces for community activities, he said, asking the Government to study whether newer estates have enough common spaces for residents to interact informally.

Young people can also forge closer friendships with people of other races through learning their language, he said.

"Our lived experience shapes our racial harmony. It protects against wrong impressions that could arise from social media. It also ensures that a single incident if it occurs, will not color someone's perception of other communities for life," he said.

When it comes to encouraging residents of all races to take part in various grassroots activities, Ms Rahayu Mahzam (Jurong GRC) said little changes can make a difference. For example, there should be halal and vegetarian food options, and activities should not be organized during prayer times or when people are likely to be in church.

People of different races should also be invited to festive celebrations of different cultures.

Mr De Souza and Mr Gan Thiam Poh (Ang Mo Kio GRC) also noted how food can be a unifying experience across cultures.

Mr Gan cited popular grassroots events like durian parties, where residents come together and bond over a feast of fruit.

All the races have the same interest in eating durian, he said: "This has become like a common language."