Mufti: Credibillity Of Religious Authority Need To Be Earned, Open And Engaging Discussions Necessary

Counter-messaging must be a key weapon in the fight against terrorism, yet it can be a difficult one to wield due to the myriad of factors fuelling the rise of extremism today, said speakers at a symposium yesterday.

Speaking on the second day of the East Asia Summit Symposium on Religious Rehabilitation and Social Integration, Singapore’s mufti, Dr Fatris Bakaram, questioned if acts of terror could simply be attributed to a misinterpretation of religious texts.

He also asked if radicalisation could be caused by a sense of disenchantment with the state, a rejection of the secular culture or a political agenda.

“One could certainly add on to the list of questions, and I suspect the reasons are as multi-various as they are interlinked,” he added.

Retired General John Allen from the United States noted that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is an “offshoot” of a series of socio-economic and political circumstances.

“And unless we solve those underlying causes, Daesh (an acronym of ISIS’ Arabic name) will simply be … a symptom … ultimately, the coalition’s activity will not be cured,” said Gen Allen. He was appointed last September as the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, a term by which the ISIS is also known.

Gen Allen noted that the Internet has aided extremist operations in their global expansion, resulting in an “unprecedented generational challenge”, with young men and women able to fight for the cause from even their home countries.

To fight terrorism, he said, we must “dominate the information environment” across different platforms and languages, with messages that contest ISIS’ “propaganda machine”.

“(We must) take back the information sphere from Daesh and eliminate its pre-eminence.”

Gen Allen added that a multi-pronged approach against terrorism must also involve efforts to clamp down on the movement of foreign fighters as well as the financial resources of extremist outfits.

However, Dr Fatris stressed that messages must be crafted and conveyed by credible leaders, and noted that credibility had to be earned over time. “Our credibility as a religious authority is not a right … we (cannot) implicitly assume that people will listen to us … we are essentially partaking in a battle for the heart and soul of Islam.”

He added that religious leaders cannot shy away from addressing “dark and difficult episodes of warfare and persecution”. Educating the young today is not simply about telling them what is right or wrong, he said. “It is engaging their learning process, hearing them … engaging them on ideas and letting them speak their minds.”

Dr Rohan Gunaratna, head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said there were more than 10,000 terrorist-related Facebook accounts, 47,000 Twitter accounts and more than 9,800 websites. “We need a point-by-point rebuttal of (ISIS’) justifications for using violence … you specifically question, show me in the Koran that this is permitted,” he said.



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