19 June 2019
Opening Address by President Halimah Yacob at the International Conference on Cohesive Societies
Wednesday, 19 June 2019, 8.10 pm,
Raffles City Convention Centre
Mr Teo Chee Hean, Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security
Mr Goh Chok Tong, Emeritus Senior Minister
Ambassador Ong Keng Yong, Executive Deputy Chairman of RSIS
- Thank you for participating in the International Conference on Cohesive Societies, and a very warm welcome to our friends who have joined us from all over the world. I am deeply heartened to see many participants from all parts of the world, and I hope the message will continue to reverberate way beyond this conference.
- We are here because we believe in a common ideal – that diversity in all forms, within and across societies, is a source of strength that can enrich our lives, our countries and our world.
- Individuals with more diverse social networks are more likely to encounter new ideas, new opportunities, new horizons. Understanding different perspectives promotes curiosity, openness and humility.
- Societies that are diverse enjoy a rich variety of cultures, each with its own style, grace, customs, cuisine, music and manners. Each community contributes to a more interesting and vibrant national life.
- The world would be all the poorer if it had no room for difference. If we were all the same, we would have nothing special to offer, nor anything to learn from others. Each of us has something precious that only we can give. The more diverse we are, the richer we become.
- Nonetheless, engaging meaningfully with diversity is not easy. Globalisation and technology have closed the distance between people and places, allowing people, goods and ideas to move across borders more freely than ever before. This in turn has enabled economies to prosper and changed the lives of many for the better. But people do still instinctively bond and connect with those who are like them. The colour of one’s skin, the beliefs one holds, the customs one cherishes, are markers of identity, and can sometimes also become the fault-lines of mistrust and conflict. Indeed, there is growing urgency to our work in our respective countries and communities, to build bridges across such divides.
- The ease in flow of ideas with modernisation has inadvertently accelerated the spread of extremist ideologies. In the past 10 years alone, there have been nearly 20,000 terror-related fatalities worldwide annually. Religions have been hijacked by terrorists and radical preachers to justify murder and destruction. Since its proclamation as the Islamic State in 2014, the terrorist group known as ISIS has directed or inspired terrorist attacks around the world, from Bandung to Berlin to San Bernardino, resulting in thousands of deaths and injuries. The direct human cost has no doubt been devastating. But just as extreme and deadly and fuelled by the same irrational fears and ignorance, is the menace and rapid rise of Islamophobia and acts of violence promoted by a resurgent Far Right.
- Global mass migration of peoples has also created its own challenges, by fuelling both segregationist and nativist instincts. Quite understandably, immigrants seek out their countrymen upon arriving in an unfamiliar land, and adherents of a faith find fellowship with their co-religionists. Those belonging to one culture find comfort and a sense of belonging among their own. But when taken to the extreme, such tendencies can invite host societies to see these immigrants as threats to their own cultural cohesion. Worse still, such anti-immigrant rhetoric may take on racial and religious overtones.
- This weakens society. A society is fragile if its members view each other in mutual incomprehension. It is vulnerable when its communities live parallel lives and inhabit separate worlds.
- A nation cannot prosper if its people are divided. A society cannot be proud if its people distrust each other. Only a cohesive society built upon mutual trust can harness the strength of its diversity, so that its people can build a better future. And this trust has to begin with a discourse anchored on cohesion, not division; on unity, not discord; on respect, not distrust; and on building bridges and common spaces, not walls and watchtowers.
- Strong leadership and deep social mobilisation are vital elements to achieving cultural change. Leaders play an important role in promoting peace and social cohesion at both the national and international levels. But often, we see political leaders articulate division and conflict for their own personal agenda. Hence, all societal actors must play a part in managing diversity – from government leaders to individuals, from the media to educational institutions. We need to take ownership of our social harmony. We need to be role models for one another.
- Over the next two days, I hope we can find new perspectives and insights among ourselves, about how we manage diversity in our different countries, with our different histories and contexts. Many in this room are global leaders and thinkers in this important area, so I do not profess to be able to guide you in the discussions. But if you allow me, I would like to share what I believe are the foundations of social harmony in any society.
- First, there must be accommodation, which includes creating space to celebrate our own distinctive cultures, whilst accepting differences, and not imposing our practices or requirements on others. We should enable this by emphasising shared values such as empathy, kindness and respect, which are universal to all religions and cultures.
- Second, there must be dialogue and interaction to foster familiarity and friendships with one another. Contact through informal interactions can go a long way to improve relations among diverse groups. This can be done in many ways, from eating and working together on a day-to-day basis, to sharing interests and passions in sports, music and the arts.
- Third, social cohesion has to be cemented by a shared conception of the common good, and a felt reality of collective belonging. Without this, communal, ethnic and religious institutions can become pressure groups, representing sectional interests, and not the common good. Upholding the common good means holding our differences not in opposition to one another, but bringing our differences together to build a future that we all share. What makes us different is what we are; what unites us is what we do. However different we all are, we rely on one another for security, stability and prosperity. Ultimately, our victories – and our failures – are shared.
- How these three principles manifest themselves will differ from place to place. There are many paths to social harmony. Our national journeys are unique, and we see great value for lessons and experiences to be shared, and better understood in our own countries. Tomorrow, His Majesty King Abdullah II Ibn Al Hussein of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan will be delivering the keynote address. Located at the crossroads of the beginnings of two major faiths, Christianity and Islam, Jordan has made great efforts in the past 20 years to strengthen social harmony within the country and internationally, by advocating for and supporting inter-faith initiatives. For example, King Abdullah II advocated for and funded an interfaith initiative called “A Common Word Between Us and You” in 2006, which promotes peace and cooperation between Muslims and Christians. Jordan has also embraced the conservation of historical and religious sites, which has contributed to a greater appreciation of our shared human heritage.
- For Singapore, this Conference is important because social cohesion is of existential importance to us. We are a small city-state, with no natural resources save our people. We mark Singapore’s Bicentennial this year, a key turning point of our history. Forging unity and drawing strength from diversity has always been, and will continue to be, part of the Singapore story.
- Singapore has come a long way from the days our immigrant forefathers formed ethnic enclaves, which were further entrenched by the colonial administration. When Singapore became independent in 1965, we were deliberate in moving away from that approach, and instead focused on growing national unity from diversity through legislation, policies and programmes. We expanded common spaces so that all Singaporeans can live, study and work together. No one is discriminated or disadvantaged on the basis of race, language or religion. That is also entrenched in our national pledge, recited by all the children in schools every day. Everyone progresses based on their abilities and talents.
- Today in Singapore, we have a sense of confidence and belief in a shared future, one in which all Singaporeans can be a part of, as neighbours, friends and colleagues. We are not doing too badly – a recent survey showed that 94% of respondents feel Singaporeans are able to stay united even when events threaten the racial and religious harmony in Singapore.
- But ultimately, social cohesion is not something that can be commanded by any government. It can only be nurtured and inspired by each of us, and what we do every day. Friendships and connections will have to be built, face to face. Social trust has to be forged, one positive encounter at a time. Strength from diversity can only grow from dialogue, give and take, speaking and listening. I am thus glad that in conjunction with this Conference, the religious leaders in Singapore have come together to affirm a Commitment to Safeguard Religious Harmony, in which they encourage day-to-day positive interactions so that people continue to talk with one another, work together, and live together as one united people.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
- Singapore, along with all countries, face a common challenge of overcoming the forces of division. We can do better with more ideas, inspiration and partnerships. There is much we can learn from each other’s beliefs, practices and experiences, in our effort to build cohesive societies from many communities, and move together towards a brighter shared future for all. So let me thank all of you once again for contributing to this meaningful and important discourse. I encourage everyone to use this Conference as a global dialogue, where we can learn from one another in a safe and trusted space.
- I wish you a fruitful and meaningful Conference ahead. Thank you.
- 30 June 2019
- Unwinding the Biggest Enemies of Religion: A Conversation with Karen Armstrong, Channel NewsAsia, 30 June 2019
- 25 June 2019
- Working to Expand Space for Cohesion, The Straits Times, 25 June 2019
- 24 June 2019
- From Catholic Nun to Respected Author on the World’s Religions, The Straits Times, 24 June 2019
- Heng Swee Keat Mentioned Rajaratnam’s “Democracy of Deeds” in 2 Different Speeches in a Week, Mothership, 24 June 2019
- 23 June 2019
- 18 Years and Counting: A Family’s Hari Raya Welcome for All, The Straits Times, 23 June 2019
- Non-Sikhs Get Crash Course on Community’s Culture and Religion, The Straits Times, 23 June 2019
- From a Neo-Nazi to an Advocate for Peace: The Story of a Former White Supremacist, TODAY, 23 June 2019
- What More could be Done for Social Cohesion, Singapore Tonight (CNA), 23 June 2019
- 22 June 2019
- Need to Nurture, Expand Our Common Spaces: DPM Heng Swee Keat, The Straits Times, 22 June 2019
- Inter-faith Studies can Boost Cohesion, Say Experts, The Straits Times, 22 June 2019
- Ex-white Supremacist and Anti-terror Activist Share Tales of Extremism, The Straits Times, 22 June 2019
- Learning Journeys to Places of Worship for Singaporeans to Know More about Religion and Culture, The Straits Times, 22 June 2019
- 王瑞杰：应对全球性挑战 社会应建立互信尊重, Lianhe Zaobao, 22 June 2019
- 王瑞杰：抗衡极端主义搭建互信桥梁 打造和谐社会年轻人扮演关键角色, Lianhe Zaobao, 22 June 2019
- 分享国家繁荣果实有助促进社会凝聚力, Lianhe Zaobao, 22 June 2019
- Tangani Cabaran Bersama Dengan Saling Percaya, Hormat, Berita Harian, 22 June 2019
- Masyarakat Islam Komited Lindungi Masyarakat Kohesif: Masagos, Berita Harian, 22 June 2019
- Soal Keimanan, Kemanusiaan Tema Ceramah Muis, Berita Harian, 22 June 2019
- Presiden Halimah: Negara Kecil Perlu Terus Sedia Tangani Cabaran Luar, Berita Harian, 22 June 2019
- 21 June 2019
- Countries Must Tackle Common Challenges with Mutual Trust and Respect: Heng Swee Keat, The Straits Times, 21 June 2019
- Religious and Worldview Studies in Schools can Help Strengthen Social Cohesion, Say Experts, The Straits Times, 21 June 2019
- Issues Affecting Inter-Religious Ties Can No Longer be Dealt with in Isolation, The Straits Times, 21 June 2019
- President Hopes Pledge on Religious Harmony will have Multiplier Effect, The Straits Times, 21 June 2019
- Draw on Religious Teachings to Help Promote Peace: Panel, The Straits Times, 21 June 2019
- Singapore, Jordan Look Forward to Deepening Cooperation in New Fields, The Straits Times, 21 June 2019
- Jordan’s King Calls for Joint Effort to Tackle Attack on Harmony, The Straits Times, 21 June 2019
- 王瑞杰：建立和谐社会 寻共性更为重要, Lianhe Zaobao, 21 June 2019
- 认同约旦国王观点 哈莉玛总统吁国人 团结抗衡网络极端言论, Lianhe Zaobao, 21 June 2019
- Cohesive Society Calls for Everyone to Build a “Democracy of Deeds”: Heng Swee Keat, TODAY, 21 June 2019
- Growing Diversity Means Common Spaces Must be Deliberately Nurtured: Heng Swee Keat, Channel NewsAsia, 21 June 2019
- Building Cohesiveness is a Work in Progress and Everyone has a Part to Play (2:10 to 3:37), News Tonight (Channel 8), 21 June 2019
- Anti-fake News Law Needed to Help Preserve Social Cohesion: Heng Swee Keat, Yahoo News, 21 June 2019
- Religious Leaders in S’pore Prayed for Heng Swee Keat’s Recovery After His May 2016 Stroke, Mothership, 21 June 2019
- Heng Swee Keat: S’pore Learnt to Built Cohesiveness & Diversity the Hard Way But still a Work in Progress, Mothership, 21 June 2019
- Raja Abdullah: Konflik Israel-Palestina Kobarkan Radikalisme, Republika, 21 June 2019
- 20 June 2019
- Religion Should be Part of the Solution for Peace, And Not the Problem: Interfaith Conference, The Straits Times, 20 June 2019
- Commitment to Safeguard Religious Harmony Can be Applied in Schools, Workplaces: President Halimah, The Straits Times, 20 June 2019
- President Halimah Stresses Key Ingredients for Social Harmony, The Straits Times, 20 June 2019
- International Conference on Cohesive Societies: Making Sure Nobody is Left Out of the Dialogue, The Straits Times, 20 June 2019
- King Abdullah of Jordan on Two-Day State Visit to S’pore, The Straits Times, 20 June 2019
- Attack on Interfaith Harmony, Mutual Respect and Trust is Single Biggest Threat, Says Jordan’s King Abdullah II, The Straits Times, 20 June 2019
- Photo from President Halimah’s Fireside Chat with YLP Participants, Today in Pictures, June 20, 2019 (The Straits Times), 20 June 2019
- 逾250组织加入《承诺》 誓维护宗教和谐, Lianhe Zaobao, 20 June 2019
- Nilai Saling Percaya Perkukuh Perpaduan: Presiden Halimah, Berita Harian, 20 June 2019
- British Religious Thinker at Singapore Forum Challenges People to Embrace the “Discomfort of Religion”, TODAY, 20 June 2019
- Risk to Inter-Faith Harmony “Single Most Important Threat” to the World Now: Jordan King, Channel NewsAsia, 20 June 2019
- Draw from Diversity as Source of Strength: President Halimah, The New Paper, 20 June 2019
- Palestinian State Living in Peace with Israel Crucial to Addressing Radicalism: King Abdullah II of Jordan, Mothership, 20 June 2019
- Attack on Inter-Faith Harmony is Greatest Threat in the World Today: King Abdullah of Jordan, Malaysia Today, 20 June 2019
- Singapore’s Strict Laws Alone Cannot Ensure Racial Cohesion: President Halimah Yacob, South China Morning Post, 20 June 2019
- Religious Leaders Make Commitment to Safeguard Harmony in Singapore, Yahoo News, 20 June 2019
- Attack on Inter-Faith Harmony is Greatest Threat in the World Today: King Abdullah of Jordan, Yahoo News, 20 June 2019
- President Halimah Underlines Need to Engage with Diversity, Strengthen Social Cohesion in Singapore, Asia News Network, 20 June 2019
- King Visits Singapore Armed Forces Commandos, The Jordan Times, 20 June 2019
- Singapore Meeting Calls for Defense of Social Cohesion, Anadolu Agency, 20 June 2019
- “Palestinian-Israeli Conflict Inflames Global Extremism”: Jordan’s King Abdullah, The New Arab, 20 June 2019
- Attack on Interfaith Harmony, Mutual Respect, and Trust Single Biggest Threat, Says Jordan’s King Abdullah II, The World News, 20 June 2019
- King Abdullah of Jordan Slams “Hate-filled Outlaws of Islam”, Arab News, 20 June 2019
- King Delivers Keynote Address at International Conference on Cohesive Societies in Singapore, Roya News, 20 June 2019
- “The Palestinian-Israeli Conflict Has Fuelled Global Discord and Radicalism”— King, The Jordan Times, 20 June 2019
- Jordan King: Palestinians Must Have Their State, Al-Bawaba, 20 June 2019
- King Delivers Keynote Address at International Conference on Cohesive Societies in Singapore, MENAFN, 20 June 2019
- 19 June 2019
- International Conference on Cohesive Societies to Discuss Issues Surrounding Faith, Identity and Cohesion, The Straits Times, 19 June 2019
- President Halimah Underlines Need to Engage with Diversity, Strengthen Social Cohesion, The Straits Times, 19 June 2019
- “Everyone Has a Role”: President Halimah Meets Young Leaders to Discuss Social Cohesion, The Straits Times, 19 June 2019
- More than 250 Religious Organisations Commit to Safeguard Religious Harmony, The Straits Times, 19 June 2019
- Free Art Exhibition Showcases Singapore’s Religious Harmony, The Straits Times, 19 June 2019
- Jordanian King Abdullah II in Singapore for His Third State Visit, The Straits Times, 19 June 2019
- 约旦国王到我国进行两天国事访问, Lianhe Zaobao, 19 June 2019
- Singapore’s Key Religious Organisations Affirm Commitment to Religious Harmony, Channel NewsAsia, 19 June 2019
- 100 Pemimpin Muda Antarabangsa Bincang Isu-Isu Perpaduan, Keagamaan, Berita Mediacorp, 19 June 2019
- King to Address Singapore Int’l Conference on Cohesive Societies, The Jordan Times, 19 June 2019
- King Visits Singapore Armed Forces Commandos, MENAFN, 19 June 2019
- King Departs on Singapore Visit, Roya News, 19 June 2019
- Jordanian King Abdullah II in Singapore for His Third State Visit, World Times News, 19 June 2019
- 18 June 2019
- From Debate to Dialogue: Two Religions, One Friendship and a Common Interfaith Cause, TODAY, 18 June 2019
- Amb Ong Keng Yong on the Importance of Interfaith Harmony and Dialogue (19:01 to 25:53), Singapore Tonight (CNA), 18 June 2019
- Amb Mohammad Alami Musa on the Ground-up Efforts by Muslims to Strengthen Interreligious Understanding (7:40 to 10:20), Berita (Suria), 18 June 2019
- 13 June 2019
- Minister Grace Fu on the Reason Singapore is Hosting the ICCS (23:00 to 35:00), Hello Singapore (Channel 8), 13 June 2019
Speeches and News Releases
- Closing Remarks by Mr Heng Swee Keat, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, at ICCS, 21 June 2019
- Keynote Speech by His Majesty King Abdullah II Ibn Al Hussein of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan at ICCS, 20 June 2019
- Opening Remarks by Ambassador Ong Keng Yong, Executive Deputy Chairman of RSIS, at ICCS, 20 June 2019
- Welcome Remarks By Ambassador Ong Keng Yong, Executive Deputy Chairman of RSIS, at the Opening Dinner of ICCS, 19 June 2019
- News Release on Global Leaders in Interfaith Harmony and Social Cohesion Gather in Singapore for International Conference on Cohesive Societies
- News Release on International Conference on Cohesive Societies Announces Line-up of Speakers
- News Release on Singapore Hosting the International Conference on Cohesive Societies
- Speakers’ Biographies
- After the ICCS – Building Social Cohesion: Committing to a Participatory Approach, RSIS Commentary, 24 July 2019
- Let’s Talk Openly about Religion – Yours and Mine, The Straits Times, 7 July 2019
- Forging Community Ties, One Friendly Gesture At a Time, The Straits Times, 30 June 2019
- International Conference on Cohesive Societies – Appreciating Diversity: What Has The ICCS Achieved?, RSIS Commentary, 28 June 2019
- The Challenge is How We Make the Most of Diversity, The Straits Times, 27 June 2019
- International Conference on Cohesive Societies – Tolerance and its Enemies: Three Observations, RSIS Commentary, 27 June 2019
- The International Conference on Cohesive Societies – How to Build Cohesive Societies, RSIS Commentary, 25 June 2019
- What’s Needed to Harness the Strengths of Social Diversity, The Straits Times, 20 June 2019
- Forging Cohesive Societies – Living With Religious Diversity, RSIS Commentary, 14 June 2019
- This Hari Raya Puasa and Dragon Boat Festival, Open Homes to Friends of Other Religions and Cultures, Channel NewsAsia, 5 June 2019
- Terror Attacks and the Confusing Role of Religion, The Straits Times, 23 May 2019
- Forging Cohesive Societies – Harmonious Co-Existence: What Can Governments Do?, RSIS Commentary, 17 May 2019
- Singapore is Ready to Facilitate Universal Dialogue to Promote Religious Harmony, Berita Harian, 13 May 2019
- Sri Lankan Attacks and Inter-Communal Relations, RSIS Commentary, 13 May 2019
- Interreligious Dialogue in a World of Conflict and Violence: A Critical Exploration of Confucianism, Interreligious Relations, 1 May 2019
- Forging Cohesive Societies – Singapore’s Multiracialism: A Matter of Identity, RSIS Commentary, 24 April 2019
- Islam and Secularism in Singapore: Between Embracement and Belief, Interreligious Relations, 1 April 2019
- Living in a Religiously Plural Society: A Muslim Perspective on Being Inclusive Today, Interreligious Relations, 1 March 2019
- Interreligious Marriage: Perspectives from the Singaporean Context in Relation to Interreligious Dialogue, Interreligious Relations, 1 February 2019
- Plural Traditions in Plural Societies: Inclusivity in Inter-Religious Dialogue, RSIS Commentary, 2 January 2019
Last updated on 01/08/2019