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Not flagging in fight against terror

Publication Date : 05-04-2013


The greatest threat from terrorism is to forget that it exists. In not having been attacked, since a terrorist plot was foiled in December 2001 with the arrest of members of the Jemaah Islamiah (JI), Singapore faces a dangerous paradox. The more the diligence and alertness of security agencies - and a measure of good fortune - create a climate of safety, the greater the risk of Singaporeans lowering their guard and the more tempting the city is as a target for determined terrorists biding their time.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's reminder, at a recent conference, that terrorism remains "a real and potent challenge" is a useful check against complacency that might set in with every year that passes without incident. The truth is that, although the JI's organisational capabilities have been disrupted, terrorism in Southeast Asia continues to draw strength from religious schools that brainwash their students with extremist teachings, terrorist training camps and separatist struggles that have created zones of lawlessness in which terrorist safe havens can thrive. Singapore lies at the heart of a potentially dangerous region. Cutting-edge intelligence and surveillance capacities are Singapore's first line of defence against danger. But they have their limitations.

A particular cause for concern is the emergence of self-radicalised individuals. Those affiliated to terrorist cells sooner or later attract security attention and can be neutralised. But scattered individuals hone their hard-line attitudes through no more than their access to the Internet. Given the ungovernability of the virtual world, radical websites multiply easily, spewing out not only the most egregious kinds of religious hatred but also the practical means to team up with others across the world driven by similar zealotry.

The family and peers, who are often the first to notice the behavioural changes that accompany self-radicalisation, owe it as much to the individual concerned as to the country to ensure that preventive action is taken.

On the corrective side, the sterling work of the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) reveals how other social constituencies can contribute to the ideological struggle against terror. Over the past decade, Muslim religious leaders have counselled detainees and sought to facilitate their re-integration into society. A shared faith, the credibility that comes from being respected Islamic scholars and a genuine concern for the well-being of reformed detainees and their families have enabled members of the RRG to reach out to those who have strayed.

Singapore must keep up its efforts with both hard and soft measures against terror in what will be a war fought over the long haul.


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