Why the need for unity amid diversity is more important than ever  


During the Committee of Supply (COS) debate last week, plenty of moments have caught our attention. And one of the things that stood out came from the Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli, who boldly addressed the white elephant roaming about Singapore society for some time now.  

“I recognise that Singapore Muslims do have connections with the Palestinians. But we should (also) recognise that we are in a unique position and often not the same situation as many other Muslim communities,” said Mr Masagos.  

Since the start of the Israel-Hamas conflict, the world has been split into two camps, and Singapore is no exception. While Muslims are not the only people feeling heartbroken by the humanitarian tragedy in Gaza, their kinship towards Palestinians is no doubt stronger. By acknowledging that, Mr Masagos paved the way for a more open and honest discussion about the impact the conflict has had on our society and what we can do about it.  

A conflict like no other 

Call it the human predisposition towards conflict. That is because, over the last few years, there has always been one battle or another erupting somewhere around the world. Hostility between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave escalated in 2020. Closer to home, a military coup in Myanmar took place in 2021, not forgetting the plight of the Rohingya people who remain persecuted. And just as the world started seeing silver linings at the end of a global pandemic, Russia decided to invade Ukraine in 2022, an assault that continues to this day.  

But while all of the above-mentioned acts of violence are tragic in their own ways, none has evoked as much emotion as the Israel-Hamas war over here. Haunting reports of civilians trapped, injured, killed, and dying of starvation have stirred up a primordial need to help, bringing out the best of Singaporeans who have raised over $10 million for relief efforts in Gaza. So far, the flood of Palestinian solidarity has brought communities closer, driving people from different walks of life to come together for a good cause. However, the issue has also highlighted a diversity of views.  

For some, supporting a UN Resolution calling for a ceasefire is not enough. Some called for a break in bilateral relations with Israel, a move even the Opposition didn’t agree to. To others, the frustration is directed towards international law, which gave Israel a right to defend itself after October 7 as long as it complies with the Geneva Convention (but appears ineffective in stopping Israel from going too far) And finally, those who feel that Singapore should join its neighbours and align itself firmly with the Palestinians. These are just a sample of the myriad of views dominating the ground. But as difficult as it is, we must come to a consensus on how Singapore addresses the matter of Israel and Gaza. Because if left unchecked, our unity as one country and one people could become a thing of the past, broken down by a foreign conflict. 

Building unity in diversity 

In a world dominated by reality TV, here is a dose of reality check. As a tiny island whose voice is barely a squeak in the world, the ability for Singapore to affect change is practically nil. “(Singapore) may have a strong government, but we are a small country. Therefore, our foreign policy is based on our long-term interests…to safeguard our independence, our sovereignty, our territorial integrity, our security,” said Mr Masagos.  

In fact, the philosophy of ‘being a friend to all’ is not just a feel-good slogan in our foreign policy. It is a bona fide survival mechanism. Without any clout to influence decisions, not to mention the risk of being trampled by larger nations, Singapore must juggle pragmatism with allegiances. It must always take a principled stance, stay consistent and put its trust in international law. Only by not taking sides, can Singapore escape the fate of becoming a modern-day equivalent of a vassal state. As our leaders have said repeatedly, the only side we will take is Singapore’s. The last thing we want to do is to import a foreign conflict into our shores and destroy our country altogether. 

The thing is, everyone is entitled to how they view the Israel-Hamas conflict privately. That is, after all, the beauty of diversity. But as a nation, we must come together and understand why Singapore must take a middle-ground approach in the name of national interests. That means pushing for a two-state solution, keeping diplomatic channels open on both sides and leveraging our wealth to provide humanitarian aid. 

Five months into the war with no ceasefire in sight, the current conflict in Gaza is not just a setback for peace. It has perpetuated a new generation of animosity between Israel and its Muslim neighbours, pitting one religion against another. We must also understand this is not merely a religious dispute; for there is a bigger geopolitical theatre behind the conflict with major players including Iran and USA. As such, we must prevent such toxic fault lines from entrenching themselves in Singapore society. Because as Mr Masagos said, “We must always seek to unite (and) preserve the peace between ourselves…that’s the only way Singapore can survive”.