“Thus he said: ‘As for the fourth beast, there shall be a fourth kingdom on earth, which shall be different from all the kingdoms, and it shall devour the whole earth, and trample it down, and break it to pieces.” – Daniel 7:23
Perhaps, there is a new religion in town; a religion that we are a part of unknowingly.
Bred as a part of our national narrative, this religion has led the Singapore society into believing that we live in peaceful coexistence with one another in spite of the diversity in our cultures, values, and traditions. Just like it is a fact that we have colleagues of different cultural backgrounds and faiths, we are also not able to genuinely accept and appreciate these differences.
Believe it or not, are all Tolerants. We tolerate.
At our workplaces, we tolerate our colleagues of different races and religions because we would be seen as a racist otherwise. We tolerate them because we were brought up to do so in order to preserve the stability, harmony, and peace that the Singapore government has painstakingly built over the past 50 years. We tolerate because we do not want to relive the horrors of the Maria Hertogh riot, among many other tumultuous events in our early years. We tolerate because we do not have the time (or simply, we do not care) to find out more about the needs and concerns of our friends of different races and religions.
Granted, it may not actually be all that bad. After all, we have come so far as a nation just by tolerating one another. In 2008, then Senior Minister Goh Chock Tong credited our ‘underlying tenet of tolerance and respect’ for Singapore’s admirable racial and religious harmony.
The problem with it is its lazy convenience. Our strong devotion and constant worship of this god called Tolerance have led us to become a society of fleeting love, dripping with false hopes and misguided trust.
Putting things into perspective, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon encourages societies to look beyond the literal meaning of ‘tolerance’ by not settling for a modest peaceful coexistence, but to strive for ‘active understanding fostered through dialogue and positive engagement with others.’
Unfortunately, it is this dialogue and positive engagement that the Singapore society is lacking as we religiously adhere to the literal interpretation of being tolerant; neither indulgence nor indifference. At this point, we should realise the inadequacy of being our tolerant selves.
In light of the atrocities in Beirut, Paris, and California, as well as the frightening thought of having Nazi-like leaders in the US and France, more should be done on our parts to really understand one other. We should look beyond our tolerance to begin conversing with with one another and build up our social capital beyond the superficial. There is in fact no other opportune time—especially in the midst of Islamophobia, bigotry, and paranoia—than to start asking your friends and colleagues about their faiths and cultures.
Conversations begin at the workplace. Ask your friends and colleagues of different faiths out for lunch and observe their cultural quirks. Spend your mini breaks at work to learn about different religions and cultures, and check googled knowledge with your friends. Ask inconvenient questions in pursuit of awareness and appreciation. We cannot allow our fear of taboo topics to be swept under the rug, only to find out later that we are trapped in our little space of tolerance, which makes us vulnerable to manipulative forces and extreme ideologies. It is only through conversations and dialogue with the people we spend the most time with that we gain a better understanding of one another.
The religion of tolerance is merely a stepping stone and there is no more room for tolerance in a world plagued by violence, hatred, and resentment.
In fact, how can we call ourselves tolerant when we called for a ban of animal sacrifice during Hari Raya Haji?
How can we be adherents of a religion we don’t even have faith in?