The Straits Times says

Fending off threat by lone wolves

The tragedy of the mass shooting at an Orlando club is manifold. The worst of its kind in the history of the United States, the murder and mayhem at the hands of a lone wolf ought to be condemned by all, whatever their views of gay communities, religious radicals, home-grown terrorists or mad men with caliphate dreams.

At a human level, innocent lives were lost and grievous injuries inflicted all because of one man's senseless rage. Socially, the malignant effects have divided Americans at a time when collective mourning and resolve ought to predominate. Politically, the carnage has spawned a debate there that does not help to focus the public mind on the key issues raised in Orlando, San Bernardino last year, and other places where radicalised individuals have shed blood.

At the heart of the matter lies the capacity of societies to resist the hate that such killers seek to plant - a cancer advancing cell by cell in order to claim the body politic over time. Presidential hopeful Donald Trump has predictably and regrettably seized on the Orlando killings to make political capital out of it. By renewing his misguided call to ban Muslims from immigrating to the United States, he feeds the very cancer that must be targeted in order to both hold society together and tackle the social alienation that is part of the pathology of lone radicals.

Singaporeans have good reason to fear the rise of such toxic ideas here whenever a particular religion or community is wrongly associated with the beliefs and actions of dangerous individuals. Fast and loose comments can do damage, especially when these are not countered by moderate views put forth by community leaders and others from all walks of life. In the US and elsewhere, demagogues have been said to stoke fears and prejudices that have contributed to extreme views. In a Reuters poll from May 17 to June 6, for example, as many as 42 per cent of Americans said they agreed with the outrageous proposal to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the country, while 50 per cent said they disagreed.

It is precisely because a lone wolf can prove elusive - as was the case of the Orlando killer who had been interviewed by the authorities but was allowed to go free to inflict harm - that one must not take security efforts and the need for preventive detentions lightly. Quite apart from the cases of self-radicalised Bangladeshi workers that emerged this year, there have also been Singaporean youths arrested earlier who had been indoctrinated by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and other online extremists. These point to the need for untiring vigilance and preparedness to act and deal with contingencies. Additionally, one must do all that is possible to strengthen social solidarity rather than open fire cavalierly at the faith of culprits via social media.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 16, 2016, with the headline 'Fending off threat by lone wolves'. Print Edition | Subscribe