The threat of terrorism has grown with the emergence of the Islamic State (ISIS) group and lone-wolfs who can be self-radicalised over the Internet, and no one country can guarantee that it will not fall prey to an attack. Should an attack ever take place in Singapore, the country’s reservoir of goodwill and trust among all communities will help the nation rally together to reject the premises and actions of the terrorists and to support the victims and rebuild, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.
But trust must never be taken granted and is something Singapore has to work on constantly, added Mr Teo, who is Coordinating Minister for National Security, in an interview with Channel News Asia last week. Below is an excerpt from the interview, in which Mr Teo also touched on non-traditional security threats such as cyberattacks and transboundary haze, as well as four key issues Singapore faces in the medium term.
What sets Singapore apart from other countries in terms of countering radicalism and extremism?
I commend our Muslim community and its leadership for their commitment to promote and practise Islam in the context of our multi-racial, multi-religious society. In fact, all our communities and faiths understand, and are committed to, working together for multi-racial, multi-religious harmony. This requires mutual understanding and tolerance from all communities.
In contrast, in some European countries, Muslim communities continue to practise Islam in a way that is based on the countries that they came from, usually countries where Muslims are a majority.
The preachers … tend to preach and practise Islam in a way that is appropriate for their original countries, and not contextualised to the countries in which they have now settled and become citizens. This creates a possible dilemma for some Muslims who may not be quite sure how to place themselves in the context of the countries they now live in, and still be observant to their faith and their beliefs, based on practices from a different context.
We also have another situation in a number of Muslim-majority countries, where Islam has now become a major part of politics, and enters into the political competition. This provides an opportunity for those who are more radical to find a platform in this competition.
In Singapore, we are fortunate that the vast majority of Muslims in Singapore and the Muslim leadership are united with all Singaporeans to fight extremism, terrorism and violence, no matter what the source is.
What are some specific things we are doing to counter extremist ideology?
The Muslim community in Singapore has taken a number of very important proactive steps to counter extremist ideology, radicalism and violence. These measures were reviewed and enhanced since about two years ago with the emergence of ISIS.
First, the Friday messages and sermons in our mosques deliver messages of peace and social harmony, and call on Singaporeans to reject extremism, radicalism and violence. This is quite different from some countries where radical preachers preach quite the opposite, putting poison into the micro-ecosystem.
Second, our Muslim religious leaders have developed a counter-ideology to refute the tenets on which ISIS bases itself. This helps to inoculate individuals, especially the young, who might be uncertain or confused by the messages which emanate from ISIS, including over the Internet. Our religious leaders also use such counter-ideology to help bring those who have been radicalised back to the correct path.
Third, we found ways for Singaporeans to help the refugees in Syria and Iraq. It was not just the Muslim community, but also non-Muslim groups in Singapore, who wanted to contribute. This shows that we are united in a common humanity, and united in wanting to live in peace and harmony together in a multi-racial, multi-religious society in Singapore.
Are the social bonds between our races and religions robust enough to bounce back from an attack, and perhaps become a stronger society, should it happen?
Since independence, we have invested a lot to build up trust between communities, community leaders and individuals. But trust is a very fragile thing, which we must never take for granted. It is something which we have to work on all the time, every day.
The target of terrorists is actually our social cohesion. In Singapore, we have a better chance than most countries to withstand an attack, because we have a great reservoir of goodwill and trust among all communities in Singapore. This will help us to draw together in the event of an attack, rejecting the premises and actions of those who carried out the attack, and rallying together to support the victims and to rebuild.
Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from an interview with DPM Teo Chee Hean.