With globalisation and the worldwide movement of people and religious communities, cultures and futures have become inextricably linked. The need to dialogue and connect on religious and ideological issues is necessary and increasingly urgent in the face of rising extremist tendencies and threats. Frequent, open and constructive dialogues amongst key stakeholders to address and remove religious and ideological misperceptions are critical to help root out prejudices that could serve as fault lines in multi-cultural societies.
With this in mind, the SIIA and Peace Matters jointly organized a public dialogue to examine the important role of dialogue in promoting peace, especially in multi-cultural and multi-religious settings such as Singapore.
The dialogue, part of SIIA’s series of public events featuring leading thinkers and addressing critical global and regional issues, was organized to coincide with the release ofa book published by Peace Matters called “Unlicensed to Kill: Countering Imam Samudra’s Justification for the Bali Bombing” by Muhammed Haniff Hassan, a researcher at S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.
The event delved into the role that inter- and intra-faith dialogue can and should play in preventing terrorism and conflict, and promoting better understanding and peaceful co-existence among peoples of different backgrounds, belief systems and social practices. Mr George Yeo, Minister of Foreign Affairs, who delivered the keynote address, said that it was important to find commonality among the different religions. He suggested that placing the ‘human being’ at the very starting point and the very core of the issue would help throw up commonalities that could often be overlooked if one took only a theological perspective. On a recent trip to India, where he visited a Sikh temple that opened its doors and offered food to people from any background, he said he was struck for example by the commonality of kindness, of human beings being kind to other human beings, regardless of race or religion.
Mr Yeo praised author Haniff Hassan’s book as an important element in a necessary process to counter dangerous elements, and encouraged others to also examine such issues, and support such endeavours.
In his book the author describes Islam as a peaceful religion and jihad as the struggle for what is right and just. He attempts to counter the ideology of some members of Jemaah Islamiyah that appears to justify the horrific terror bombings which shook Bali in 2003. The author believes in the importance of counter-ideological work as a key tool to defuse the threats of terrorists. In his view, this was part of the "war of ideas", considered as an effective approach to counter terrorism. Proper alternative viewpoints to Al-Qaeda's ideology should target both Muslims and non-Muslims. The fight against terrorism will be won not only by countering extreme ideologies in the Muslim community, but also by encouraging introspection, dialogue and critical study within Islam, and between Islam and other religions. Support was also needed among non-Muslims to act against negative stereotypes and prejudices, and to build better relations and mutual understanding.