TL;DR – The show must go on.
There’s this quote from the movie Rocky that I really like: “The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place… and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it… But ain’t about how hard you hit… It’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward… how much you can take, and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done.”
Watch from 1:38
The quote was talking about the world as a very harsh, very hard place. Indeed it is. Perhas even more so now with radical extremists who commit atrocities in the name of their perverted understanding of religion. And if we allow them to, they will disrupt our way of life, tear our society asunder, and beat us to our knees and keep us there permanently.
Terrorism was one of the difficult topics that PM Lee spoke about in this year’s National Day Rally (NDR). And the threat is more real and much closer at home than we might imagine.
PM Lee said,
“Sometimes we have shifted and rescheduled events because of these threats. So when you see a patrol in the city, or some extra security in some areas. It may be we are just taking precautions, or doing a show of force as deterrence. But it could also be in response to a real threat we know about “
We are extremely fortunate that we haven’t been attacked so far. But if we have been or perhaps if we are, how will we react? How will we respond as a nation? What if the perpetrators were foreigners? And, what if the perpetrators were fellow Singaporeans. What then? Will we pull together, help one another, defy the terrorists by resolving to carry on with normal life, and not be cowed? Or will we react with distrust and suspicion?
Thankfully, as PM Lee pointed out, our religious and community leaders have taken a courageous stands.
“They condemn terrorists. They refute extremist views… They lead by example, and guide their communities to stand together. They also understand that ours is a multi-racial society”
The different religions don’t take an exclusivist approach, nor do we discourage interaction and contact with others. As such, our fault lines don’t run deep, and all religions in Singapore practise their faith in our multi-racial and multi-religious context.
PM Lee also spoke about the Asatizah Recognition Scheme (ARS), and how our Malay-Muslim community leaders support the move to make ARS compulsory for all local Islamic religious teachers. The ARS recognises Islamic teachers and scholars who meet minimum standards to teach the religion in Singapore, an important move as asatizah may come from different institutions and universities, so we have to ensure that their teaching is adapted to our local ways.
Having lived overseas for a period of time, I can attest that this isn’t so in many countries. I was in UK just after 9/11. My Muslim friends there were in real fear for their lives. They were often viewed with intense suspicion by many, and even with hatred by some.
Our Racial Harmony is Something Precious
And when my British friends came to Singapore to visit me, and saw that a mosque, a church, and a Hindu temple can all exist peacefully in close proximity to one another, they were completely shocked.
“How is that possible?!”
Yes, it’s possible to co-exist peacefully.
“Don’t they quarrel?”
Nope. Not in Singapore.
Yes. We certainly can do much better than the racial and religious tolerance that we have now. There is still racism in Singapore. But compared to earlier years, we HAVE come a long way. And compared to many other countries, we are MUCH better. Even USA, often hailed as a shining example of the ‘free world’. One of their presidential candidates earned his party’s nomination through divisive racial politics!
Our racial and religious harmony is something that we should be proud of, something we should guard fiercely with all our might. That is the surest defence against terrorism.
Because the deadliest thing about a terrorist attack is not the bomb blasts. It’s not the resultant carnage. It’s not the ensuing chaos. It’s the destruction of the trust amongst people of different races and religions. It’s the division of society into ‘us’ and ‘them’.
Get it Right, First Time Every Time, All the Time
In other words, counter-terrorism isn’t just about preventing the bombs from going off or thwarting an attack. That we must do. And we will. As Minister Chan Chun Sing said after the group that were plotting to shoot rockets at MBS was arrested:
“We must always remember that we have to get it right, first time every time, all the time; while the attackers only need to get it right one time, anytime. Our safeguard is eternal vigilance by our security agencies and every Singaporean.”
But should the terrorists get it right that one time, any time in the future, then what’s more important is what we do, as a people, immediately after the attack.
If we withdraw into our own racial or religious groups in distrust, then the terrorists win. If we turn against one another in hatred, then the terrorists win. If we stop living lives normally out of fear, then the terrorists win.
But if we close ranks, come together, unite as one people, regardless of race, language or religion, then we win. If we continue to live our lives normally even amidst the threats, the death and destruction, chaos and carnage, then we win.
The Show Must Go On
And PM Lee, at his National Day Rally speech, showed us that it can be done. Towards the end of his English speech, he was taken ill. He lost balance. He fell. But he dusted himself off and went back on stage to finish his speech.
As a good leader, PM Lee led by example, showing us that the show MUST go on.
And so it is, that when a terrorist attack hits Singapore, let’s remember PM Lee’s example. Singapore MUST go on. No matter how many times we may stumble, no matter how many people may want to trip us up, we will get up, we will soldier on. And, together, we will make sure that Singapore, and our way of life, persists and endures.