New helpline, manual to help counter ISIS threat in Singapore

From early next month, members of the public seeking answers to questions on extremism and advice on religious matters can turn to a new helpline set up by a group of Islamic religious scholars and teachers. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
From early next month, members of the public seeking answers to questions on extremism and advice on religious matters can turn to a new helpline set up by a group of Islamic religious scholars and teachers. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - From early next month, members of the public seeking answers to questions on extremism and advice on religious matters can turn to a new helpline set up by a group of Islamic religious scholars and teachers.

The Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG), formed in 2003 to counsel terror detainees and counter the Jemaah Islamiah threat, is hard at work extending its outreach efforts to derail radical propaganda spread by terrorist group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) as it continues to lure foreign fighters into its war.

The hotline, 1800-7747747, will be manned by RRG members. More details will be announced later.

The group is also going down to the ground, working with the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) to conduct outreach talks at mosques before Friday sermons. Its co-chair Hasbi Hassan and vice-chair Mohamed Ali started these sessions last Friday at the Al-Muttaqin Mosque in Ang Mo Kio and Darussalam Mosque in Clementi.

Meanwhile, RRG counsellors will have clear guidelines to refer to with the launch of a third counsellor's manual. This manual, produced by the RRG, focuses on refuting ISIS' extremist narrative and making clear how they are not relevant to Singapore Muslims in particular.

These measures taken by the RRG to tackle the growing terrorism threat were lauded by Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean at the group's annual retreat on Tuesday.

News broke last month of a self-radicalised Singaporean student detained in April under the Internal Security Act. He had made plans to join ISIS, and had also planned to carry out terrorist attacks in Singapore - including the assassination of President Tony Tan Keng Yam and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Another 17-year-old was arrested in May for further investigations.

These two cases highlight the urgent need to deal with the ISIS threat, said Mr Teo, who is also Home Affairs Minister. Speaking in Malay, he urged the community to work together to protect youths from radical ideology, and suggested three ways they could better tackle concerns of terrorism.

First, religious teachers must work with MUIS and groups like the RRG and Pergas to develop an ideology that counters ISIS' radical take on the religion. This should be attuned to Singapore's context - a multiracial, multireligious society - he added.

Second, the RRG and other community groups should work with young people to reach out to youths - who are most vulnerable to the spread of extremist propaganda online - through social media and the Internet.

Mr Teo said: "Just as ISIS has used social media to provide religious justifications for its various actions, our responses have to be equally, if not more, dynamic."

And third, he said, Singapore needs to go beyond countering distorted and radical ideology, and put out a positive agenda that allows the different communities to live together peacefully.

"This is a precious legacy built by our founding leaders and Pioneers. We want our youths to also appreciate the racial and religious harmony that we enjoy today," said Mr Teo.

"This peace and stability serves as the foundation for our social and economic development - allowing Singaporeans of all races and religions to receive good education, take up good jobs, and bring up children in a safe and secure environment."