SPEECH BY ER DR LEE BEE WAH, MP FOR NEE SOON GRC, ON PARLIAMENT MOTION ON RESTRICTING HATE SPEECH TO MAINTAIN RACIAL AND RELIGIOUS HARMONY IN SINGAPORE
Mr Speaker Sir
I thank the Minister for this important debate and I support the Motion. As I’ve shared in this house before, I grew up in the turbulent 1960s in Malaysia. Those years were marred with several racial conflicts that saw many lives lost. There was curfew and even as a kid I could sense that something was wrong. Sometimes adults would talk to each other in low voices, their brows furrowed. I would later learn that someone they knew had been killed in the riots.
These racial conflicts were fuelled by hate speech between races and religions. And they happened in Singapore too. It’s only because of our efforts to build racial and religious harmony that they have become much rarer today.
It’s easy to take harmony for granted. But in fact we face new challenges to maintaining harmony. Over the world, there are people pursuing extremist ideologies. And because of our open society and the internet, we hear of them through many sources.
Hate speech is linked to radicalisation. When you are influenced to hate a certain group, it is not a big jump to then take violent actions against that group. And once that happens, it will set off a cycle of hate and even more violence. We need to remember, Singapore is one of the only developed countries, and one of the only countries in our diverse region, that hasn’t had a major terrorist attack. We need to continue keeping our people safe.
To preserve harmony, we need to take a firm stand against hate speech. Words can move emotion and give rise to hate, distrust and destruction. It takes weeks to create distrust and to sow the seeds of discontent. But it takes years to heal the wounds thereafter.
When restricting hate speech, we must apply the law impartially to protect all racial and religious groups. If there is any suspicion that the law is not applied impartially, it will sow discord between groups. Certain groups might even start to suspect the government, which will undermine our society and security.
I urge anyone who hears of hate speech against your community, to make a report. Do not spread in your community that the rules are not applied fairly. That is a very dangerous perception and will spread faster than you think. When the information is clarified, it will not spread as far as the original rumour. Especially if you are a public figure or an influencer, be very careful on such matters.
I feel some senior Singaporeans, who have been through the mayhem of riots, can put their experience to good use. Government should tap on this group to be ambassadors of goodwill on the ground.
In Chinese please. 我们不能容忍任何人对于任何种族或宗教散播仇恨言论。仇恨言论可能影响某人对于其他种族宗教展开攻击，这会严重伤害我们的种族宗教和谐，甚至带来一连串的复仇行为。全球发达国家以及本区域，大多数都受过恐怖袭击，我国是少数至今幸免的国家。除了内政团队的努力外，我们不容忍仇恨言论，也是一大因素。
In the end, we need to remember just one thing. Hate speech goes against the founding principles of Singapore – to be one united people, regardless of race, language, or religion. We need to take a firm stand against it.
Watch the speech here