SINGAPORE - In the past five years, 29 radicalised individuals, many of whom were influenced by online extremist materials, have been dealt with under the Internal Security Act, said Second Minister for Home Affairs and Manpower Minister Josephine Teo.
Speaking on Thursday (Nov 26) at the premier of Seeking The Imam, a film on radicalisation by local non-government organisation Humanity Matters, Mrs Teo underscored the importance of interracial and religious understanding in order to keep the threats posed by terrorism and radicalisation at bay.
These threats were thrust into the spotlight earlier this week, when the Ministry of Home Affairs announced it was investigating 37 people, including 23 foreigners, for suspected radical inclinations, or for making comments that could incite violence or stroke communal unrest. 16 of the foreigners have been deported.
Singapore has been on heightened alert in the wake of recent terror attacks in France. Security activities were stepped up after French magazine Charlie Hebdo republished caricatures of Prophet Muhammad on Sept 1, resulting in a spate of terrorist attacks in France, including the beheading of French schoolteacher Samuel Paty in a Paris suburb on Oct 16.
Mrs Teo noted on Thursday that other similar attacks have occurred elsewhere in recent weeks. She mentioned the shootings in Vienna earlier this month that killed four people and injured at least 15 others, and an explosion in Jeddah targeting French interests which resulted in at least three injuries on Nov 11.
Although such attacks did not become key topics of discussion here, Mrs Teo said that the threats are closer to Singapore than they appear. She pointed out that in South-east Asia, terrorist-linked groups are still operational and remain active as they continue to spread their ideologies online.
"We in Singapore must never assume we can ever be immune to the threat of radicalisation and terrorism," she said at the film premier, held at the Furama Riverfront Hotel.
The 25-minute film, which will be screened at selected institutions and for community groups next year, was produced by terrorism expert and visiting fellow at S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies Noor Huda Ismail, and humanitarian Hassan Ahmad.
Mrs Teo said that when it comes to radicalisation, an individual might turn extremist due to weak family and community networks but added that the Internet and social media can be significantly influential.
An individual's psychological and emotional state, which may be influenced by past traumatic experiences, also plays a part. Mrs Teo said that some of the radicalised youths here were more susceptible to extremist causes due to personal issues such as domestic violence.
While there is no one single way to tackle the threat posed by radicalisation, the minister said that society must come together to counter these risks. She sketched out three ways to do so.
First, she said that Singapore needs to make every effort to deepen cross-religious and cross-cultural understanding and interactions. Mrs Teo pledged that the Government will continue to be fair to all races and religions, and that it will continue to take action against hate speech. But she added that it cannot do this alone.
"Our efforts as individuals and communities to mix with each other, understand, appreciate and defend our multicultural way of life, are essential to integration. Where we believe change to be necessary, we also need the wisdom and patience to build consensus through engagement," she said.
Second, a holistic approach needs to be taken to counter radicalisation and re-integrate those who may have fallen astray. Mrs Teo said that this includes community-led efforts by the Religious Rehabilitation Group and the Inter-agency Aftercare Group, which cover psychological, social and religious rehabilitation.
And third, Singapore needs to be vigilant against signs of radicalisation. The minister encouraged people here to report to the authorities anyone displaying signs of radicalisation. She acknowledged that this might be tough to do, but reporting them early can prevent them from causing harm.
Mrs Teo also stressed that radicalisation is not limited to any religion or ethnic group, and brought up the Christchurch shootings last year, where a terrorist who made elaborate plans to attack the Muslim community there had opened fire in two mosques, killing 51 people.
"It is absolutely important to stress, and I want to make sure this comes across clearly, that radicalisation is not limited to any religion or ethnic group," she said.
"It is so important to stress this. Radicalisation is a poison that can seep wherever there are cracks in society."