President Tony Tan visits Religious Rehabilitation Group's resource and counselling centre

President Tony Tan Keng Yam at the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) Resource and Counselling Centre at Khadijah Mosque on Jan 18, 2017.
President Tony Tan Keng Yam at the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) Resource and Counselling Centre at Khadijah Mosque on Jan 18, 2017. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

SINGAPORE - More than two years ago, when the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was still a budding threat, President Tony Tan Keng Yam launched the Religious Rehabilitation Group's (RRG) latest effort to counter radical ideology: a resource and counselling centre in Khadijah Mosque.

When he returned on Wednesday (Jan 18) for his second visit to the centre, he found new panels had been put up to explain ISIS and its flawed ideology.

And Dr Tan learned too of the many new ways the RRG has moved to counter the evolving threat of terrorism, from a helpline introduced in 2015 to a mobile app launched last year.

The group of Islamic religious teachers and academics was set up over a decade ago to counsel Jemaah Islamiah detainees.

"Since then, the threat of ISIS has become real and RRG has progressed, and reached out in different ways over the years now, including with pamphlets, talks to mosques, and nowadays, of course, with modern technology - websites, YouTube - creating different means of reaching out to young people," said Dr Tan.

He was pleased to hear that the RRG continues to expand its methods and outreach efforts, and is aware that it needs to adapt to confront the growing threat of terrorism.

The terror threat is very serious here, said Dr Tan.

"Singapore is a legitimate target of terrorist attack. The threat is real," he said, pointing to how a plot by a Batam terror cell to launch a rocket at Singapore's Marina Bay was foiled just last year.

Youths here are being radicalised, and a small number of Singaporeans have travelled to Syria and Iraq to join the fight there.

Foreigners living and working here too have fallen prey to radical ideology, Dr Tan added, pointing to how 40 Bangladeshis were rounded up under the Internal Security Act in recent years.

"But the work of combatting radicalism cannot be left to the Government or to the RRG alone. All of us have to play a part," Dr Tan said.

He cited the nationwide SGSecure initiative launched last year, which aims to build up community vigilance, cohesion and resilience.

And when an attack happens in Singapore, society must have the means to recover, and not allow it to disrupt social cohesion and harmony.

"That's very important, because (that disruption is) what the terrorists want," said Dr Tan.

But, at the same time, "we have to be careful not to be paranoid about this and live in a constant climate of fear".

"Terrorism is like a disease, and you cannot be a hypochondriac, always worrying abt falling sick. Otherwise you cannot live your life," said Dr Tan.

"So we have to carry on with our lives as usual, take sensible precautions... work with groups like the RRG."

Singapore also has to continue to promote harmony and understanding among the different races, religions and cultures here, he added.

"It's an ongoing effort for all of us, and this will go on for many more years, so we have to make sure we are alert and that we have all these ways to combat against this menace which threatens our very existence," he said.

"Because racial and religious harmony is the cornerstone of Singapore's existence, survival and prosperity."