Religious leaders urge Singaporeans to join forces to battle online radicalisation of young people

The trend of young people arrested under the ISA after getting radicalised through the Internet was worrying, said religious leaders.
The trend of young people arrested under the ISA after getting radicalised through the Internet was worrying, said religious leaders.ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - The threat of online radicalisation continues to loom large, and with young people especially at risk, Singapore has to step up its efforts to keep the peace in society, said religious leaders and observers.

They were responding on Wednesday (Jan 27) to news of a Singaporean Christian plotting to attack Muslims at two mosques. The 16-year-old is the youngest to be held under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for terrorism thus far, and the first detainee to be influenced by far-right extremist ideology.

He was specifically influenced by Australian Brenton Tarrant, who slaughtered 50 mosque-goers in Christchurch in 2019.

In a statement condemning all acts of terror and violence as having no place in any religion, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) warned that the pervasive nature of social media posed the risk of extremist ideologies seeping into homes.

"We are grateful that in Singapore, we have close bonds of friendship and trust among faith communities and their leaderships and will not allow any acts of terror by misguided individuals to threaten our social fabric," said Muis, as it stressed that the case was an isolated incident.

The non-profit Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) warned that the case showed how extremism and radicalisation was blind to religion, race, gender and age.

In a statement, it pointed to the increased use of online platforms during the Covid-19 pandemic, and in tandem, the rising danger of Internet falsehoods.

"Misperceptions and misunderstandings of religion that lead to radicalisation and violence must be dealt with seriously, " it said.

The onus is on religious leaders to do so, the RRG added.

The Hindu Endowments Board and Hindu Advisory Board urged vigilance against the spread of extremism, while the Sikh Advisory Board said early detection and escalation of radicalised individuals and groups was key.

Others said the trend of young people arrested under the ISA after getting radicalised through the Internet was worrying, and called for more efforts in educating and reaching out this demographic.

The Singapore Buddhist Federation urged Singaporeans to show greater care and understanding for young people, and to teach them the value of respecting those who might differ from them in faith or culture.

President of the Young Sikh Association Sarabjeet Singh spoke of the need for strong, real-life support networks for youth to turn to.

"The online space may give a false sense and perception of community," he noted. "We must continue efforts to engage and build real relationships with youth. It's hard work, there are no shortcuts or a way to fast-track this."

Young people also need to be equipped with the right digital skills, said Dr Md Badrun Nafis Saion, chairman of non-profit group AMP, as he called for the Muslim community to remain calm and rational during this time.

Community groups and politicians also highlighted the need for all of society to rally together in the fight against terrorism and extremism, and safeguard the nation's cohesion.

Said non-profit Jamiyah Singapore's president Mohd Hasbi Abu Bakar: "The work to educate and correct misguided ideas about other religions not only must continue, but must also involve all of us, irrespective of our faiths."

The Inter-Religious Organisation, Singapore said unity was "the most effective way to counter violent extremism", as it highlighted the work of its youth wing in trying to eliminate prejudice and negative views about other religions among young people here.

"Let's not pass judgement on one another," Minister-in-Charge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli wrote in a Facebook post. "Instead let us invest time and effort to build friendship, trust and confidence across our multiracial and multi-religious society."

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong said the case "should spur us to work harder to respect and understand one another".

"Let us stand strong against hatred and enmity, and continue to support one another, regardless of our different faiths or beliefs," he added in a Facebook post.