Most Singaporeans should have read about the 1964 Race Riots which took place on 21 July 1964 when Singapore was still part of Malaysia (1963–1965). 22 people lost their lives and hundreds were severely injured. There were numerous other communal riots and incidents throughout the 50s and 60s leading to and after Singapore’s independence in August 1965.
Post-independence, the most notable one was the 1969 race riots of Singapore. The seven days of communal riots from 31 May to 6 June 1969 was a result of the spillover of the 13 May Incident in Malaysia. 4 were dead and 80 were wounded.
The hysteria that United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) itself generated over its desire to assert Malay dominance (Ketuanan Melayu) in Singapore had its effect in heightening the suspicion between Malay and Chinese in Singapore.
Many incidents of Sino-Malay clashes erupted, and the situation was brought under control following security sweeps by the Police and armed forces throughout Singapore. The vigilance of the security forces in Singapore and the persistent efforts of ISD officers in making island-wide coverage contributed to the return of normalcy in Singapore.
To this day, there is still an unease about the potential of violence which might result from racial disharmony.
Workers Party’s Raeesah Khan recently apologised for posts which have promoted enmity between different religious and racial groups. She has made serious allegations about how the Singapore law enforcement authorities discriminated against citizens depending on ‘their colours’. In the context of a news article on the City Harvest Church ruling, she has also admitted to believing that Singapore jailed minorities mercilessly, harassed mosque leaders but let corrupt church leaders go scot- free.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong who was himself a direct witness of one of the deadliest racial riots in Singapore, has emphasized again and again that internal and external developments show that Singapore cannot afford to take this religious and racial harmony for granted. To maintain harmony in Singapore’s multi-racial and multi-religious society, the Government must take a watchful, prudent and hands-on approach.
Singaporeans are becoming more religious and taking their faiths more seriously. Any religious fervour can also lead to communities becoming more insular and less accepting, leading to less mixing between the faiths. Any intentional insensitivities pertaining to race or religion could easily trigger violence especially made worsened by the surge of social media use.
Singapore must not hesitate to act firmly when necessary because if conflict erupts, it will cause great damage to our social fabric.