Calm, credible voices needed to drown out hate speech: Shanmugam

Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam held up the Religious Rehabilitation Group for swiftly condemning acts of violence, following the beheading of a teacher in Paris. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) may have lost its physical territory, but its violent ideology continues to spread and its supporters are quick to capitalise on current events to further their agenda, Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam said on Tuesday (Nov 24).

To protect Singapore against extremism and terrorism, calm and credible voices are needed to lower temperatures and drown out hate speech, he added.

He held up the Religious Rahabilitation Group (RRG) for swiftly condemning acts of violence and urged people not to play into the hands of extremists, following the beheading of a French teacher in a Paris suburb on Oct 16.

Some, in their capacities as asatizah (religious teachers), also posted on their personal social media accounts, reminding the community of the need to practise mutual respect, love and compassion, said Mr Shanmugam in his speech at an RRG seminar at Khadijah Mosque in Geylang.

"Such strong and clear responses are important in setting the tone for our community," he added.

French teacher Samuel Paty had shown his teenage students caricatures depicting Prophet Muhammad during a class on free speech and and he was killed by an 18-year-old Muslim Russian refugee. The incident re-ignited debate in France on freedom of expression.

Mr Shanmugam's speech on Tuesday coincides with the Ministry of Home Affairs' announcement that 37 people had been investigated and 16 of them repatriated as part of a heightened security effort since September.

The 37 Singaporeans and foreigners had caught the attention of the authorities for suspected radical inclinations, or for making comments which incite violence or stoke communal unrest.

A virtual tour of the RRG's Resource and Counselling Centre was launched by the minister during the event, which was also attended by Minister of State for Home Affairs Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, Mufti Ustaz Dr Nazirudin Mohd Nasir, and Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) chief executive Esa Masood.

Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam (second from right) launching the RRG's Resource and Counselling Centre 360° Virtual Tour, together with (from left) Minister of State for Home Affairs Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, Ustaz Mohd Hasbi Hassan and RRG vice-chairman Ustaz Mohamed Ali. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

In his speech, Mr Shanmugam said ISIS remains a threat, and its propaganda on social media continues to radicalise individuals and inspire attacks around the world, including in South-east Asia.

Sustained counter-terrorism efforts in the region has led to a dip in the number of attacks, but regional terrorists are adapting, he added.

For instance, they have diversified the way they carry out their attacks, favouring the use of crude weaponry such as knives and lesser-known explosives, as well as tapping alternative funding sources for their operations.

Extremists have jumped on French President Emmanuel Macron's defence of the right to re-publish cartoons of Prophet Muhammad, and called on followers to make retaliatory attacks against those who insult Islam, Mr Shanmugam noted.

"As a result, there were then follow-up attacks. There were attacks in Nice, Lyon, Vienna, which show that when jihadists make such calls, there are people who will follow."

The minister stressed that such people do not represent Islam, and those who advocate violence are present in any religion.

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While freedom of speech is quite absolute in France, including the so-called "right to blaspheme", Singapore adopts the position that the right to speak freely and the duty to act responsibly must go together, he said.

The Government is neutral in the treatment of all religions, he added. It also does not allow any religion to be attacked or insulted, he said, and the Charlie Hebdo-type of cartoons are not allowed in Singapore.

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