The Straits Times says

Counter siren call of terror groups

The detention of the first woman for radicalisation in Singapore underscores the borderless psychology of terrorism, which cuts across boundaries of geography, class and gender. The 22-year-old woman, who had planned to travel with her child to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), could hardly be said to be a product of dysfunctional circumstances. Her parents, both Quranic teachers, tried to dissuade her from veering towards the spurious religiosity of ISIS, by employing their own knowledge of the religion. As an infant care assistant, the woman worked in a nurturing environment that raises the next generation of Singaporeans on the values inherited and developed by the present one.

None of this succeeded in stopping her because family and societal ties proved incapable of countering the deft propaganda through which ISIS "narrowcasts" its devious appeal to different kinds of individuals. Adept at turning personal longings to extremist advantage, ISIS employs a sophisticated array of emotional and religious strategies to brainwash the unwary. In the woman's case, as with others before her, ISIS merged the pseudo-romantic radicalism of marrying a "warrior" with expectations of reward if he were to be "martyred". Impressionable people are seduced by the pathological distortion of the reality of life under ISIS, in which women are shown as proud partners of men, instead of the sexual menials that they really are within ISIS.

Fighting back the scourge will require a concerted and open-ended effort by families, friends, the religious authorities, civil society and government. The first two play a front-line role in alerting the law-and-order authorities should they notice behavioural changes among people that point to radicalisation. It is human nature to try and protect one's own, but it is precisely that instinct which should make them turn to the law to protect the vulnerable from themselves, and society from them. That did not occur in the woman's case, leading to questions about whether it should be mandatory for families to consult the religious authorities in cases involving the suspected radicalisation of a member. That would help in the anti-terror effort, but it is best if families and friends cooperate with community leaders voluntarily. The State, on its part, must continue to respond to the evolving demography of terror through appeals to reason and good conscience while keeping legal deterrents handy.

Members of civil society, whether religious or secular, need to keep serving as a bridge among faith communities. Admirably, the National Council of Churches of Singapore has warned against Islamophobia in the wake of the woman's arrest. Civil society must remind even conflicted individuals that Singapore is their true home and that there are family and friends to turn to.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 16, 2017, with the headline 'Counter siren call of terror groups'. Print Edition | Subscribe