The Straits Times says

Battling terrorism before it strikes

Concerns raised in Parliament about terrorism's threat to Singapore reiterate the case for making multiracialism a bulwark against the divisiveness produced by terror. The ultimate objective of terror is not to kill or maim alone: these are but its tactical goals. Its strategic objective lies in driving such a deep wedge into society that it is doomed to self-destruct. When one group blames another for tragedies, retaliatory acts might follow which in turn will spawn more violence. Terrorists seek such widespread chaos so they can step in to practise forms of dividing and ruling and to eventually rise to power. Seized by anger and resentment, people might not even realise that they've been manipulated to do terrorists' dirty work.

Terrorism can destroy the ability of people to think of themselves as a single, integral whole which is more than the sum of its constituent religious or racial parts. The result would be a fractured society where different communities begin to think of their future as if other communities do not matter. Singapore, an island city-state, would be devastated, politically if not materially, were such dire times come to pass.

Thus it's vital for pre-emptive action to buttress the national importance of multiracialism in the face of terror - and not in its wake. Any action taken after an attack, which is a matter of when and not if, can be at best a difficult exercise in curbing further damage. What is done before an attack is damage limitation, if not prevention.

Social cohesion is like a critical service: it has to be maintained constantly so that it never breaks down. It also is an effort from the ground up. Reminders from the top, no matter how well-intentioned and timely, will not work unless there are receptive ears on the ground. Schools, places of work and arenas of leisure are all places where multiracialism establishes the everyday rules that terrorism wishes to subvert. Essentially, the rules establish the simple fact that while religion can help to bring people together, no religion can seek to establish an exclusive monopoly on the character and direction of society. Instead, it falls on the secular state, which is not partial to any religion, to hold the balance of temporal power among followers of all faiths or none.

Faith institutions can help by showing that the demands of the here and the hereafter can be reconciled, without injury to either in a secular state. It is harmful to Singapore's multi-religious fabric when foreign preachers, who possess little understanding of and no stake in the preservation of its harmony, interfere in the internal workings of this country. The Government's strict insistence on foreigners keeping out of its politics is important particularly in the matter of religion. More than in old ideological battles between capitalism and communism, vigilance is required to ensure exclusive religious views do not tear people apart.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 10, 2017, with the headline 'Battling terrorism before it strikes'. Print Edition | Subscribe