Following recent terrorist attacks in France and several other countries, the Singapore government has stepped up its security measures. As a result of the move, a total of 37 people has been investigated in connection with terrorist activities.
16 of those investigated were foreigners who had been deported to their respective countries. A 26-year-old Bangladeshi worker has been detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for terrorism-related activities. He was radicalised and found in possession of weapons for him to use in order to show his “support” for Islam.
Those investigated were found to have a radical orientation as well as made comments that encourage terrorism and could affect religious and racial harmony. Some were supporting the recent beheading of Samuel Paty in France and also encouraged act of terror against France and its President, Emmanuel Macron.
One of the most important things to pay attention to in the fight against terrorism is the realization that the threat of terrorism and radical ideologies has never subsided. It is an enduring one. There are 3 factors why it is so.
First: Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic earlier this year, terrorist attacks appear to be declining until recently. This fact should not make us complacent in our efforts to continue the fight against terrorism.
In the midst of the world tackling the COVID-19 crisis, terrorist groups took the opportunity to plan and outline their attack strategies. This is evident by the attack on the University of Kabul, Afghanistan committed by ISIS earlier this month.
Therefore, to combat terrorism effectively, we should think ahead. It is important for us to anticipate what the terrorists might have planned in the COVID-19 situation and in the post pandemic era. In other words, we should think as they think.
Second: Following the scourge of attacks in France last month, we see many voices supporting the actions. The publication of cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad published by the satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo has stoked anger of many Muslims around the world.
Situations like this are very worrying because uncontrolled feelings of anger can lead to violent acts. This was evident by the attack on Samuel Paty in France. It is not impossible if similar attacks are imitated by people and carried out elsewhere.
In fact, signs of imitating this beheading attack already exist. For example, a Bangladeshi worker who had just been detained under the ISA was found in possession of some knives that he wanted to use
Third: The prevalence of extremist and radical ideologies that continue to spread widely on the internet. The violent and radical ideology pioneered by ISIS continues to spread widely on the internet even though the group’s infrastructure has already been dismantled. ISIS has been successful in attracting the attention and influence of many young people with their ideology propagated through the internet and social media.
It is important to note that the main threat facing the world today is not the threat of terrorism. However, what is worrying is the ideology and orientation that may lead to terrorism.
Such orientations include extreme and rigid ideology, exclusivist tendencies, anti-religious and racist sentiments to name a few. All these orientations lie on a spectrum ranging from those who are rigid and uncompromising in their religious beliefs to those who are willing to commit violence and terrorism.
Our success in dealing with the threat of terrorism depends on how we deal with these dangerous tendencies and orientations. The Muslim community of Singapore must understand that the government will never allow threats that threaten the security and even religious and racial harmony here.
Minister of Home Affairs cum Law K. Shanmugam recently emphasized that although Singapore is a secular state, it will still intervene to ensure that different religions are protected from any threat and terrorism. He added that freedom of speech exists in Singapore, but that right is lost as soon as there is an insult towards any religion.
In view of this ongoing threat, efforts to straighten out radical and rigid ideologies must continue to be intensified. This is our challenge today to straighten or correct an inverted ideology and not just by fighting it militantly. Muslims, especially scholars should devote time and energy to repel the ideology of Muslim extremists by speaking up against their ideologies and try to provide alternative solutions to the means of terrorism supported by terrorists.
ROLE OF SCHOLARS
It is important in order to break the cycle of violence from continuing to haunt the Muslim community and to protect our young generation from falling into the trap of violence. This will at once close the space for terrorists to influence more young people to join their cause.
To maintain the purity of Islamic teachings that always promote peace and security, as well as ensure the safety of the public and property, we need to take constructive and proactive measures in the field of education, da’wah (propogation) and community outreach.
Comprehensive religious education is critical in curbing heresy and deviating in the long run. Similarly, the profile of educators should always be monitored so that children get a knowledge education from a certified and recognized educator.
Terrorist operations are also known to be influenced by a group of those who call themselves religious teachers. When the teaching of ideology is more important than the guidance and teaching of religious knowledge, the true teachings of Islam cannot be conveyed clearly to students.
Here, the community’s vigilance is necessary in monitoring the context of the true teachings of Islam and also its educators. Education not only includes the law of jurisprudence and the teachings of the faith only.
The face of violent extremism is dynamic and ever-changing. Hence is important for us to anticipate the actions and thinking of the terrorists. It is equally important to comprehend the radicalization process, in order to develop metrics, better identify the phenomenon when it happens and tailor the right responses.
Social media plays a significant role in the radicalization process as it creates a dynamic environment characterized by a confluence of political, religious, racial, and cultural flashpoints.
As an open, globalised society, Singapore will continue to be exposed to potential sources of radicalization through social media. As such, reducing the threat of self-radicalisation is a long-term effort and success cannot be easily claimed. It is however, crucial to sustain the fight, especially the counter-ideological battle as ideology is the lifeblood of the extremist movements. Ultimately, it is only when we challenge ideas with ideas that hearts and minds may ultimately be changed.
*Mohamed Bin Ali is Assistant Professor and Ahmad Saiful Rijal Bin Hassan is an Associate Research Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Both studies Islamic law at Al-Azhar University, Cairo and are counsellors with the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG).