Speak with one moderate voice against extremism: Yaacob

Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim calls on Muslim community to be vigilant to keep Singapore safe and secure.
Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim calls on Muslim community to be vigilant to keep Singapore safe and secure.PHOTO: BERITA HARIAN

Minister calls on Muslims to step up vigilance and not let actions of a few affect social trust

When the Jemaah Islamiah terror network was uncovered 15 years ago, the Malay/Muslim community rose strongly to counter the threat.

As terrorism poses a renewed threat today, the community must likewise be vigilant to keep Singapore safe and secure, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim told Parliament.

"We must press on to reach out to every segment of the community, and speak with one rational, moderate voice against exclusivist and extremist doctrines," he said in his first speech on the subject this year.

Extra vigilance is also needed, "whether against radical ideologies, errant preachers, or of any suspicious activities around us".

"We must stand as one united people and not let the radical actions of a few spread fear and suspicion among the different communities in Singapore," Dr Yaacob said yesterday, the second day of debate on the President's Address.

 

Dr Yaacob, who is also the Minister for Communications and Information, said the Government has been able to work with a proactive community, led by organisations such as Muis, Pergas and the Religious Rehabilitation Group, to build resilience against extremist forces.

 
 
 
 
 

"But the risk of radicalisation remains because of the sheer accessibility and spread of information on the Internet," he added.

Last year, four radicalised Singaporeans were detained for planning to fight alongside terror group ISIS and, last week, the Government announced the arrests of a group of 27 radicalised Bangladeshi workers planning armed violence abroad.

On Monday, several MPs spoke about the need to strengthen bonds between Muslim and non-Muslim Singaporeans at a time when terror attacks have divided other societies.

It was a theme Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman picked up on yesterday, saying non-Muslims had to understand that terrorism is based on radical ideologies and teachings that are "completely" against Islam.

"To believe that violent extremism is Islamic and that terrorists are religious Muslims, our society will fall into the terrorists' trap to sow discord," he said.

"All non-Muslims in Singapore can help preserve social harmony by doing small but important things such as correcting misconceptions or stereotypical and anti-Muslim remarks or actions by family members and friends, and also in social media."

Dr Maliki added that the Muslim community must also "act decisively - give the clear message and assurance that we denounce violence".

Ms Joan Pereira (Tanjong Pagar GRC) called on all Singaporeans "not to get involved in foreign politics or religious movements which could disrupt our delicate social balance and erode the goodwill which has taken years to build".

Several MPs also spoke on the need to strengthen national identity, as well as on what could be done to prepare citizens for a rapidly changing economic landscape.

Dr Yaacob said the Singapore Muslim community has been shaped by such values as moderation, respect for differences, inclusiveness, and openness to diversity.

But in recent times, some quarters in society have been holding stronger, if not intractable, views.

"Online media trends, migration, and regional and global influences threaten to accentuate our differences and bring culture wars that are taking place half the world away to our doorstep," he said.

"Our community needs to continue to stand together to foster an environment of mutual respect and understanding," he added.

While the Government will continue to serve as a community arbiter, this will be an increasingly difficult job "as we try to balance competing views and interests, and as our usual approach of negotiating sensitive matters carefully and discreetly is being challenged".

"If we should be intolerant of anything at all, it would be against the intolerant, particularly those who sow discord, spark disunity and incite hatred," he said.

The debate resumes today.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 27, 2016, with the headline 'Speak with one moderate voice against extremism: Yaacob'. Print Edition | Subscribe