Countering extremism through vigilance and cooperation

Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam set out Singapore's counter-terrorism strategy in his address to the International Meeting on Counter-Terrorism in Bali on Wednesday (Aug 10).

Terrorism is a clear threat in Southeast Asia. In November 2014, ISIS declared its intention to set up wilayat (province) in Indonesia and the Philippines. About 1,000 persons have gone from this region to Syria and Iraq. They have joined the Malay Archipelago unit "Katibah Nusantara". ISIS has produced propaganda videos in Malay targeting our populations. They have started publishing a newspaper in Malay as well.

We have had attacks in Malaysia and Indonesia. Just last week, six persons were arrested in Batam. They were plotting to fire rockets into Singapore. When arrested, they had no rockets, and it was not clear they could have gotten rockets. But the intent was there, firearms were seized from them.

Some people say that as ISIS loses territory in the Middle East, it may shift its focus to Southeast Asia and increase its terrorist activities around the world. We have to take this threat seriously.

Around the world, countries are adopting measures to counter terrorism, consistent with their individual circumstances. In Singapore, our National Counter-Terrorism Strategy is based on five components:

a. Security Response - how our security forces respond to an attack;

b. Security Protection and Vigilance - including protection of premises and expansion of CCTV coverage;

c. Countering Extremist Ideology;

d. Community Vigilance; and

e. International and Intelligence Cooperation.

The first two relate to hard security measures, they are necessary but not sufficient. We have to deal with root causes. The other three are equally important.

First, countering extremist ideology. There are two groups that we are concerned about: (i) those who commit violence; and (ii) those who preach extremism and influence others to commit violence.

In our view, the latter are as dangerous, if not more dangerous, than the former.  The threat of radical and extreme influences is greater than ever before. The propaganda of ISIS is highly attractive and sophisticated, promoting hatred and violence under the guise of religion.

In countries with Muslim populations, whether majority or the minority, there is a danger that some may be misled by these radical influences. They have been in this region, including Singapore. In countries where Muslims are the minority, we may also see Islamophobia amongst non-Muslim communities. We need to be careful about that. It can lead minority Muslim communities to feel isolated, marginalized, and some may become even more vulnerable to radical influences, creating a vicious cycle, which is precisely what ISIS wants. There is a need to guard against Islamophobia.

In Singapore, while the large majority of Muslims are peace-loving and well-integrated, a small minority of Muslims may be led astray. We aim to set out in place in Singapore, overarching principles that articulate the values and underpinnings of Singapore society - multi-racial, multi-religious; one of the most uniquely diverse societies in the world. For example:

a. Mutual respect among persons of different faiths. Discrimination, harassment or violence on the basis of one's race or religion will not be condoned. 

b. Safeguard racial and religious harmony. We will not allow enclaves to form, or social segregation to take place.

c. We must try and ensure no enclave based on race in the public housing estates (80% of our population) and preserve the common space. 

All religious groups are free to practice their faith, but must do so in a way consistent with our national values and principles. If any religious group crosses the line, for example, if anyone encourages violence against others, glorifies terrorists or starts burning the Quran or Bible, we will step in and take action. A number of actions are being considered as well.

Secondly, promote Community Vigilance. This will be done through our new National Programme, SGSecure, which will be officially launched by our Prime Minister next month.  SGSecure is our national movement to unite Singaporeans against terrorism. We will actively reach out to all Singaporeans, with our key messages, to: Stay Alert, Stay United and Stay Strong. We have an ambitious program to knock on the doors of every household within the next few years.

Singapore welcomes international and regional cooperation. We have had many platforms for our officials to meet, build relations, and share best practices: For example,

a. Singapore hosted the East Asia Summit Symposium on Religious Rehabilitation and Social Integration in April 2015.  

b. Malaysia hosted the International Conference on Deradicalisation and Countering Violent Extremism 2016 in Kuala Lumpur in January 2016.

c. The Indonesian Embassy in Singapore initiated a Focus Group Discussion for government representatives and academics in May 2016.  ·

Through these meetings, there was a general consensus that ASEAN Member States like Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei should work together to draft a set of best practices in countering violent extremism. That can serve as a blueprint for our region. We are grateful to Indonesia for organising this International Meeting today.

Countries should work together on various fronts. Our intelligence agencies and intelligence officers should build close ties and build communication channels for the sharing of information. We need to establish a common understanding of the security threats facing us, i.e. the challenge of home-grown terrorists, including those who are newly radicalised, those who return after fighting in conflict zones, and those who were previously in custody, but have since been released. This would also include sharing of research and analysis of these risks and threats - best practices, best approaches; come together to fight.

We also need platforms for the exchange of views, practices and approaches, so that each country can learn from the best practices, and adapt these to their local context; have a set of agreed approaches, which will give greater impetus to the common fight.

Meetings such as this must have fruitful outcomes. I look forward to taking our cooperation and partnerships even further.