Combating radical ideology

The past few weeks have seen a series of brutal terror attacks in Europe and Asia.

Whether committed by truck, knife, gun or bomb, in many cases, the attackers acted on their own.

Significantly, several of them were radicalised by extremist propaganda found online.

This means measures to stem the spread of such ideology, like Singapore's banning of a hardline newspaper linked to terror group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) last week, are critical.

ISIS has told its supporters to strike wherever they live, with whatever weapons they have at hand - and it is dangerous to let this message go unchallenged, as the recent attacks show. The group also continues to seek recruits in South-east Asia and last week, Malaysia arrested 14 would-be militants in five states.

The emergence of the Al Fatihin newspaper online in recent weeks - which Singapore declared a prohibited publication in all forms - drives home the message that ISIS poses a grave threat in our backyard too. By banning Al Fatihin, the authorities have made it clear that possessing or distributing the publication by any means is an offence that will be dealt with firmly under the law.

It also serves as a reminder to Singaporeans to be discerning when they come across material online that purports to be religious, as the newspaper does by distorting Islamic teachings to legitimise terror.

Prohibiting its distribution will hopefully also make people more alert to other hardline publications that some may try to circulate here.

ISIS has proven to be a terror outfit with a savvy track record in social media. It has radicalised young people in no time at all, and inspired and influenced attacks that threaten to disrupt social harmony.

Banning one newspaper cannot be the only response to the group's attempts to widen its reach in this region. But the move will underscore the importance of looking critically at such materials and to be wary of hardline ideology disguised as religious inspiration. It should also make people more watchful if they see such material passed around, whether online or in the real world.

Lim Yan Liang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 28, 2016, with the headline 'Combating radical ideology'. Print Edition | Subscribe