Title

The Singapore Government and Press : Working to Maintain Racial and Religious Harmony in the Aftermath of the JI Arrests, Fateha and the Headscarf Issues

Date of Award

2005

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Communications Honours

School

School of Communications & Multimedia

Faculty

Faculty of Communications and Creative Industries

Abstract

In January 2002, Singapore was confronted with the knowledge of a Jemaah Islamiah (JI) terrorist cell operating within its borders. The arrests had placed the local Malay/Muslim community in the spotlight and created unease among the non-Muslims, especially the Chinese. Soon after, the chief executive officer of a local Islamic web portal, Fateha.com, came out in protest against the Singapore government's close alignment with the United States and Israel, condemning their acts as anti-Islamic. A debacle over the wearing of headscarves, or tudung, by four primary school girls soon followed, raising questions of discrimination against Singaporean Muslims, some of whom had claimed to be marginalised by the Chinese-dominated government. The JI arrests plunged the tiny, multi-religious and multiracial country of four million, into a period of suspicion and distrust, and issues which had originally been discussed behind closed doors were suddenly thrust into the public sphere, forcing the opening of racial and religious discussions. This thesis employs a two part process to examine how the Singapore government and the media cooperated to preserve the country's racial and religious harmony. In the first part, interviews with one former Cabinet minister, three community leaders, three journalists - two from The Straits Times, one from Berita Harian - and one political commentator were used to explore how the government, the community and the press viewed these efforts. In the second part, articles appearing in The Straits Times and Berita Harlan between January 6 and January 31, 2002, were studied from a qualitative perspective as to how they played their part in maintaining this peace, and particular consideration was given to the size and placement of the articles. Attention was also paid to any discrepancies that arose between interview responses and what was written in the papers. In all, the cooperation between the Singapore government and the press is shown to have been an important factor in preventing racial and religious rifts among Singaporeans during the incidents. Yet, they have also provided a valuable lesson in highlighting the shortcomings inherent in the lack of open interracial and inter-religious debate.

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