New York – Tolerance is the only way to fight extremism and the hatred and terrorism it can inspire, said Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Sept 22.
Mr Yeo noted that globalisation has made the world smaller and "all societies have become multi-racial and multi-religious to a greater or lesser degree".
Muslims of many backgrounds are now living in non-Islamic societies – making it necessary for everyone to accept diversity as a fact of life.
Mr Yeo said: "A greater tolerance of diversity in the world would create better conditions for peaceful cooperation between Muslims and non-Muslims and influence the debate within Islam itself."
He cited Singapore and predominantly Muslim Indonesia and Malaysia as countries which have embraced pluralism and have created their own multi-cultural societies.
In Singapore, Mr Yeo noted, its citizens have been willing to make accommodations to ensure that harmony reigns in the Republic.
For example, Christian missionaries are discouraged from targeting the conversion of Muslims; mosques no longer turn up the volume during the call for prayer; Buddhists and Taoists burn smaller joss sticks; and anyone who incites hatred is arrested.
Mr Yeo warned that the future would be bleak if non-Muslims were to regard all Muslims as terrorists and treating Muslim minorities as problem communities.
"In such a climate, Muslim extremists will gain ascendancy and terrorists will find fertile ground for recruitment everywhere."
He also urged Muslim leaders not to allow extremists to make claims on behalf of Muslims worldwide without such views being contested.
"This causes non-Muslims to suspect that all Muslims are in sympathy with them," Mr Yeo said, while acknowledging that there are genuine grievances to be addressed such as Palestine, Chechnya and the future of Iraq.
* Tolerance key in war on terror: George Yeo (The Straits Times, Sept 23)