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 yesterday.
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 Rehabilitation Group (RRG) for swiftly condemning acts of violence and urging people not to play into the hands of extremists, after 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.
"Those sorts of strong, clear responses were important in setting the tone for our community, and this is something that the Government welcomes," he added.
French teacher Samuel Paty had shown his students caricatures depicting Prophet Mohammad during a class on free speech and he was killed by an 18-year-old Muslim Russian refugee. The incident reignited debate in France on freedom of expression.
Mr Shanmugam's speech yesterday coincided with the Ministry of Home Affairs' announcement that 37 people have been investigated and 16 of them repatriated as part of a heightened security effort since September. They 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 Nazirudin Mohd Nasir and Islamic Religious Council of Singapore chief executive Esa Masood.
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 South-east Asia.
Sustained counter-terrorism efforts in the region have 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.
Radicals have jumped on French President Emmanuel Macron's defence of the right to republish cartoons of Prophet Mohammad, and called on followers to make retaliatory attacks against those who insult Islam, Mr Shanmugam noted.
The minister stressed these radicals do not represent Islam, and that such people who advocate violence are present in any religion.
He said the arrest of Bangladeshi construction worker Ahmed Faysal under the Internal Security Act on Nov 2 and the repatriation of 15 Bangladeshis and one Malaysian shows Singapore's "zero-tolerance approach".
But the Government alone cannot protect Singapore against extremism and terrorism. It takes a whole-of-society effort, he added.
The RRG's work is even more important now as more people are spending their time online, he said.
The group, which trains religious teachers to counsel those who have been influenced or misguided by radical teachings, has intensified its efforts to reach out to the community online, with articles and online lectures, said Mr Shanmugam.
There are also plans to expand its resource centre, he added.