Fear and overreaction can fan radicalisation

It is reassuring to know the measures being taken to counter terrorism ("Major ramp-up in security in face of mounting ISIS threat"; March 19, and "Fast-response police unit to counter terror rolls out in June"; last Saturday).

More importantly, we must also strive to prevent people from getting radicalised and committing acts of terror in the first place ("Bangladeshis plotting terror attacks held under ISA"; yesterday).

Social psychologists have pointed out that most terrorists do not possess any inherent personality defect but are, in fact, ordinary people shaped by group dynamics in the name of a cause that is misconstrued as being noble and just.

Fear and overreaction from society can then beget greater extremism, fuelling what has been termed as "co-radicalisation".

Social scientists are learning that radicalisation does not just depend upon indoctrination by an extremist leader, but is also driven in part by the divisions among groups that extremists seek to create and exploit.

If non-Muslims are provoked to treat Muslims with fear and hostility, then Muslims who previously eschewed conflict may feel marginalised and be susceptible to more radical voices, which perpetuates a vicious circle of suspicion and mistrust among the different groups.

Crucially, society plays a big part in whether radical views are nipped in the bud or further fanned.

Solutions to the menace of terrorism lie as much with the reaction and behaviour of society towards Muslims as with combating extremist views.

Maria Loh Mun Foong (Ms)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 05, 2016, with the headline 'Fear and overreaction can fan radicalisation'. Print Edition | Subscribe