This week's dramatic announcement of a second group of radicalised Bangladeshi workers here has understandably set off questions on a host of issues. Inevitably, the arrests will create some uneasiness about activities of certain groups of foreign workers, especially after news earlier this year of the arrest of 27 Bangladeshi workers under the Internal Security Act. There are questions too on how the public should react, now that the presence of radicalised foreigners cannot be viewed as the problem of other countries. The terror attacks in Belgium and France have heightened fears in Europe, while Syria has long struggled with a growing number of foreign jihadists within its borders.
The Bangladeshis currently being held here posed a risk as the evidence showed they would not have hesitated to launch a strike within the island if so instructed by their handlers and ideological masters. Unnervingly, they called their group the Islamic State in Bangladesh and harboured the intention of waging "armed jihad" against the Bangladeshi government or of joining the foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq. Indeed, the United States' director Of National Intelligence had warned in February that the expansion of transnational terrorist groups in Bangladesh might be fed by efforts of the authorities there to undermine the political opposition. Bangladeshi Muslims too have been subject to the tugs and pressures of the virulent ideologies that have gained currency on the back of the Internet.
Against these disturbing currents, it is important that Singaporeans draw a clear distinction between the misguided Bangladeshis, who are in the minority, and those who are good residents making a valuable contribution to their host nation. The 160,000 or so Bangladeshi workers here are by far a peace-loving lot, hewing to a moderate interpretation of their faith, which is mostly Sunni Muslim. Stereotyping would be not only unfair but also counterproductive. Alienation of any sort breeds resentments and heightens risk, as one can see from Europe's experience.
Such is the globalisation of terror, that Singapore is correct in not taking any chances by monitoring this threat closely and acting decisively against it. The intelligence services were commendably swift in nabbing the suspects before they could inflict any harm. But they cannot act alone, and everyone will need to stay alert if the terror threat is to be kept at bay. Just as critical will be knowing how to respond should an attack ever happen. On the part of the foreign workers, everyone has a responsibility to follow not just the rules here but also the social codes of peaceful co-existence and respect for other faiths. The recent arrests underscore once again the need to remain committed to both eternal vigilance and perpetual tolerance.