Family can play a key role to counter extremist inclination

One of the two individuals placed under a Restriction Order this month supported her husband's intention to take up arms in Syria, and was helping him make plans to relocate their family there.

The other among the two had also wanted to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terror group, but was dissuaded by a close relative from doing so.

That relative admonished him, saying it was forbidden for him to go as the fighting in Syria did not concern him and would place his family in harm's way, the Ministry of Home Affairs said yesterday.

Both cases show the pivotal role that family members play in either leading a misguided person further down or away from the path of radicalisation, security experts and community leaders said.

The two placed under Restriction Orders are Dian Faezah Ismail, 34, and Mohamad Reiney Noor Mohd, 26. Both have moderated their views about ISIS and will undergo religious counselling.

Dian's husband, Mohamed Omar Mahadi, has been detained for two years under the Internal Security Act.

"Family members can lead you astray, or they can steer you back in the right direction," said Mr Jasminder Singh of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research. He noted that many wives and children of fighters from Malaysia and Indonesia, who have gone to Syria, followed willingly as they looked up to the men.

This shows that family members hold a powerful and unique sway over one another, he said.

Agreeing, Mr Muhammad Faizal Othman, chairman of Taman Jurong Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circle (IRCC), pointed out that it was a close relative who managed to bring Reiney back from the brink. Family members are best placed to detect extreme viewpoints developing in an individual, and have a duty to be on the lookout. "These things can come up during family gatherings. The authorities can't know everything all the time," he said.

But he acknowledged that, just like in the case of Omar and Dian, family influence can have a negative effect too if two people reinforce each other's radical thinking.

"We see both sides of the coin when it comes to the impact of family ties," he said.

For Mr Alla'udin Mohamed, vice-chairman of Geylang Serai IRCC, the arrests are a lesson that relatives must remain involved in one another's lives so they can step in if they spot troubling behaviour: "After all, family is about looking out for one another. But to do that, we have to know what our children, siblings and other relatives are up to and stay close to them."

Dr Mohamed Ali, vice-chairman of the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG), said family members may find it hard to notify the authorities out of familial loyalty.

But, for a start, they can monitor the misguided individual, give advice and explain why he or she is going down the wrong path.

Should they refuse to budge on their beliefs, there should be no hesitation to seek help from religious leaders, the RRG and the authorities as the family member would ultimately be acting in the relative's best interest, he added.

"You are not betraying your family. You are protecting and saving your loved one's life, and the lives of others," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 20, 2016, with the headline 'Family can play a key role to counter extremist inclination'. Print Edition | Subscribe