Since 2002, the authorities have released from detention 57 extremists who have been rehabilitated and were deemed no longer to pose a security threat. Of these, there was only one case of recidivism.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong revealed this at the closing of the two-day East Asia Summit on Religious Rehabilitation and Social Integration on Friday (Apr 17).
He attributed the “resounding success” to the work of the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG), formed in 2003, after a crackdown on the Jemaah Islamiyah terror network in Singapore. Mr Lee reiterated that security actions and operational capabilities are not enough to counter the terror threat. Just as important are rehabilitation and reintegration.
In Singapore’s context, the Prime Minister said the country also needs to address the religious and social dimensions, as part of a broader approach to addressing the problem.
“Muslim communities need to be guided and work has to be done to prevent perverted and dangerous ideas from catching on. We have to work to build an integrated, harmonious and multi-religious society. So that we avoid problems of marginalisation, religious enclaves, misperceptions and resentments, which can feed on themselves and generate religious extremism and terrorism,” said Mr Lee.
Mr Lee said race and religion are natural fault lines in any multi-racial country and Singapore is especially vulnerable.
He said: “In particular, in Singapore, we have a substantial minority of Muslims in our midst, living peacefully with other races and religions. So any terrorist attack invoking the name of Islam in vain will have grave consequences for us.
“Not just that there will be physical casualties, people maimed or killed, but that it will create anger and mistrust between Muslims and non-Muslims, raise social tensions and quite possibly break apart our society.”
Mr Lee said the harmony Singapore enjoys is a precious state of affairs – the result of a conscious and sustained effort to build trust and mutual understanding.
He cited the policy of requiring public housing estates to be ethnically integrated, thereby mitigating the creation of ghettos.
Another important reason the country has been able to achieve peace and harmony is because of support from Muslim leaders and the community in Singapore.
He said: “This is an absolute requirement if we are to make any headway in the fight against terrorism. But it is not easy to achieve, because it depends on trust, already been established, and where the trust is not yet strong enough, it is hard to get into a virtuous circle and to start building it, especially when under stress.”
Mr Lee thanked the Malay-Muslim community in Singapore for coming together and working hard to prevent radical ideology from taking root and spreading.
Ustaz Ali Mohamed, co-chairman of the Religious Rehabilitation Group, said: “The Singapore’s terrorist rehabilitation approach shows that partnership between the Government, religious scholars, academics and community is crucial in responding to the current operational and ideological threat of terrorism.
“Being part of this team, RRG believes religious rehabilitation does not just require religious knowledge, but it is a marriage to other great fields and knowledge such as psychology, geopolitics, sociology, and information technology and security studies.”
LEARNING FROM SINGAPORE’S RRG
Conference delegates were keen to learn from Singapore. Together with Mr Lee, they were given a tour of the RRG’s Resource and Counselling Centre.
The centre, located at Khadijah Mosque, was opened about a year ago and it is an important addition to Singapore’s overall counter-terrorism efforts, by providing a one-stop resource centre to religious teachers, researchers and the community at large.