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The Singapore Perspective

Strengthening social cohesion, inter-religious understanding

Knowing that fighting radicalisation cannot be just the Government's duty, Singapore community groups have come up with programmes to cement social cohesion and inter-religious understanding.

After Singapore's security agencies uncovered the Jemaah Islamiah (JI) terror group's plot to bomb several embassies in the country in 2002, a group of Islamic scholars and teachers came forward to help rehabilitate the detainees. It led to the Religious Rehabilitation Group being formed in 2003. Its primary goal is to counsel and reintegrate JI extremists.

Its scope of work has since expanded to deal with those detained for Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) links and to reach out to the broader public via talks, the Internet and a volunteer- manned helpline for people to clarify religious concepts misused by extremists. Volunteers from Malay and Muslim organisations also teamed up to form the Inter-Agency Aftercare Group, to give financial and emotional support to families of detainees, who were often the sole breadwinners.

Together, such community efforts have ensured the successful reintegration of many detainees.

To combat online ISIS propaganda aimed largely at youth, community groups like Taman Bacaan have stepped up their engagement of students and young adults. They hold forums for youth to meet experts in counter-terrorism. Similarly, other groups, like the Association of Muslim Professionals, have also held dialogues with youth to discuss topics such as xenophobia, racism and Islamophobia, or anti-Muslim feelings.

Teens too have been roped in by several Muslim organisations to become youth ambassadors of peace who monitor the online space for radical comments, and to befriend wayward youth.

Youth are also given support to launch their own ground-up initiatives to fight extremism. One such effort is a seminar in June for parents, on how to broach the topic of terrorism with their teenage children.

Religious groups, too, have played a role in encouraging interaction between different racial and religious communities, to keep bonds strong and build long-term resilience.

The use of sport to bring people of different faiths together is seen in the yearly Harmony Games organised by different religious organisations since 2008. This year's games, held yesterday by the Taoist Federation of Singapore, included a heritage trail for participants to visit churches, temples and mosques in Kovan.

Singapore's recipe for harmony is an ongoing effort, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said last year at a symposium on religious rehabilitation.

"It is the result of a conscious and sustained effort to build trust and mutual understanding, to foster accommodation and give and take, and to create extensive and strong personal links across racial and religious lines," he said.

"So should a terrorist attack ever occur, our society will hold together and people will stand united."

Lim Yan Liang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 25, 2016, with the headline 'Strengthening social cohesion, inter-religious understanding'. Print Edition | Subscribe