Thursday, 5 October 2017

Singapore must stand united against terror threat: Members of Parliament

Multiracialism, strengthening bonds among communities key to prevent distrust, they say
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 4 Oct 2017

Parliament yesterday roundly vowed to keep Singapore united against the threat of terrorism, at a time when attacks have sowed discord in societies around the world.

During a 4 1/2-hour debate, 17 MPs from both sides of the House noted the Muslim community had stepped up to counter extremism, and stressed the importance of all communities standing together.

This has become more crucial as the country faces its highest terror threat in years, Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) noted. "That multiracialism can be discussed so openly by members of many different races here in Singapore's Parliament is itself a strength not many Parliaments around the world possess," he said.

Mr de Souza was part of a multiracial slate of four People's Action Party (PAP) MPs who filed a motion on staying united against terror by reaffirming multiracialism and social cohesion.



MPs who spoke - four from the Workers' Party - agreed not to point fingers at any race or religion but to condemn terror attacks in a single voice, he noted. "That agreement is not something to be belittled, especially when we see how so many countries around the world choose the fractious route of finger-pointing and ostracising," he said. "So this bipartisan support for this motion is good for Singapore and good for a united stand against terrorism."

MPs had come armed with suggestions on what more Singaporeans could do to prepare for an attack and nurture trust among the different communities, along with anecdotes illustrating how multiracialism has featured in their own lives.

Some pointed out the rich possibilities on social media, where Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio GRC) hoped to see more Islamic teachers combat radical ideology and Mr Desmond Choo (Tampines GRC) called for influencers to be trained as "first responders" to dispel falsehoods in times of crisis.

Workplaces should also get in on the action, said Nominated MP K. Thanaletchimi, who suggested having schemes for counsellors and psychologists to prevent vulnerable individuals from being radicalised.

Workplaces, like schools, are key places where multiracialism must be strengthened, said Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera.

A level playing field for all groups will help ensure harmony, said Mr Alex Yam (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC). "None will and should feel singled out," he added, recalling the casual racism he faced as an undergraduate in Britain, the first time he felt what it meant to be a minority.

"And today back here as a majority, I wonder too: How do our brother and sister Singaporeans from different races cope?" he said, urging the various communities to reach out and forge stronger bonds.



Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim highlighted several steps the Muslim community had taken to counter extremism, including developing an Islamic College here, and starting a network of religious teachers to engage youth on social media. It has been a challenging journey for the community, he noted. "But we persevered. When other faith communities stepped forward to lend support to our struggle, it gave us comfort that we are not in this alone," he said.

This spirit of multiracialism is a key defence against the terror threat, said Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam.

Responding to MPs, he urged Singaporeans to stay united, noting that attacks elsewhere have heightened suspicions among communities. "If you try to strengthen trust after an attack, it is too late. We need to strengthen our cohesiveness and our unity now," he said.

To this end, Singaporeans need to create more common spaces and guard against exclusivist tendencies as well as divisive preachers. Mr Shanmugam said the authorities have barred such preachers from coming to Singapore, and are studying how to deal with hate speech. The Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act is also being reviewed.

Terrorism, he added, poses a threat to Singapore's very existence as one of the world's most religiously diverse and harmonious societies. "We must resolve never to allow that and maintain the precious harmony that we have here," he said, as he ended his speech to chair thumps from MPs.










Multiracialism a bulwark against terror: Shanmugam
Govt is also studying whether to tighten laws against hate speech, says minister
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 4 Oct 2017

Singapore's multiracialism is a key defence against the scourge of terrorism, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday, when he also disclosed the Government was studying whether to tighten laws against hate speech.

Besides strengthening social cohesiveness, affirming multiracialism as a fundamental principle of Singapore society is vital if the country is to stay united the day after a terror attack, he added.

The experience of other countries also shows the aftermath of a terrorist attack often leads to increased suspicion among communities.

Mr Shanmugam made the point when responding to a parliamentary motion to be resolute in standing united against the terror threat. "We don't have in Singapore movements titled 'Black Lives Matter', or counter-movements 'Blue Lives Matter', because to us, all lives matter," he said, referring to activist movements in the United States.

The motion was filed by four People's Action Party MPs: Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio GRC), Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok) and Dr Tan Wu Meng (Jurong GRC).



MPs on both sides of the House agreed that multiracialism was a bulwark against terrorists who seek to tear people of different races and religions apart.

Mr de Souza calls it a "socio-weapon" while Workers' Party Non-constituency MP Leon Perera said it is the surest defence against terror.

"It is the ultimate goalkeeper," Mr Perera added.

A total of 17 MPs spoke during the 41/2-hour debate and everyone supported the motion.

Mr Shanmugam, in his 50-minute speech, dwelt on the types of threats confronting the country, Singapore's response and what the Government and the community need to do.

The terror threat is worsening in the region and further afield, he noted.

Conflicts continue to fester in Myanmar's Rakhine state and the Philippines' Marawi city.

Also, neighbouring countries have released radicalised prisoners, who are "free to plot and are capable of inflicting harm".

There has also been a steady trickle of Singaporeans being self-radicalised.

In recent years, terrorists have used vehicles for attacks, ploughing them into large crowds to inflict casualties. It happened last year in Nice, France.

"There have been several calls for Singaporeans to copy attacks using vehicles, knives, day-to-day implements. We don't say much about this but it's there," said Mr Shanmugam.

A Singaporean arrested last year, Mohamed Omar Mahadi, was a waste truck driver.

"We need to strengthen cohesiveness and our unity now, and do what we have been doing and add on to it," he said, and recalled the ideals set out by founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

The late Mr Lee had said Singapore was to be a multiracial nation, where "everybody will have his place, equal; language, culture, religion".

Mr Shanmugam also said a strong "Singaporean identity" - which will overlay separate racial and religious identities and form the framework of a vibrant society - is something Singapore can achieve.

The Government takes an activist stance in this regard with policies that foster inter-religious and inter-racial harmony, he added.

Race relations remain fraught in most places, he said, drawing MPs' attention to the situation in the US.

Pointing to surveys in 2009 and 2016 on Americans' views on race relations, Mr Shanmugam said there has been a 40 per cent drop in the number who thought race relations were good.

In Germany, where the government had assumed that new Turkish immigrants would assimilate over time, the reverse has happened, and "parallel, isolated societies" have been created.

He said: "Chancellor Angela Merkel said German attempts to create a multicultural society had 'utterly failed'. She was very frank." Germany is now taking a more interventionist approach, he added.

"We have never believed that a laissez-faire approach in creating a national identity, a multiracial society, will work. We were activists in this respect," he said.



He noted that MPs, including Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) and Ms Sun Xueling (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC), had highlighted the benefits of the Ethnic Integration Policy in housing estates in creating common spaces where Singaporeans of all races can interact. The policy mandates a quota for all communities in HDB estates, to prevent racial enclaves from forming.

Other efforts include using English as a medium of instruction in schools and national service.

He also responded to calls by MPs Desmond Choo (Tampines GRC) and Mr Murali for the Government to do more about addressing hate speech online.

He said the Government was "studying whether we need to move more quickly", and be given more options to deal with it.

Mr Shanmugan, who ended his speech to rousing chair-thumps. also stressed that terrorism was not connected to a single religion.

Rather, it is a threat that will not go away soon and threatens Singapore's existence as a religiously diverse and harmonious society.





'Be on guard against exclusivism'
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 4 Oct 2017

Across the Causeway in Johor, a launderette in Muar put up a sign last month that says it welcomes only Muslim customers.

"The incident resulted in a harsh rebuke from the Johor Sultan, who felt it was contrary to principles of harmony and solidarity in the state," said Ms Rahayu Mahzam (Jurong GRC).

She cited the case in Parliament yesterday as an example of extremism creeping into the region.

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam agreed with the point Ms Rahayu made during the debate on the parliamentary motion to strengthen Singapore's resolve to stay united against the terror threat.

Such "narrow-mindedness in the name of Islam drives a wedge between Muslims and non-Muslims", said Mr Shanmugam, adding that it cannot be allowed to take root here.

"The tendencies and the risks are there and we need to guard against them," he added.

Religious teachings that promote segregation, like those espoused by extremist Islamic preachers who say that Muslims cannot express good wishes to non-Muslims during their religious festivals or vote for non-Muslim leaders, have no place in Singapore, he said.



The Government has also banned Christian preachers who have made Islamophobic comments, including two foreign preachers last month, he added.

"This is dangerous. Divisive. Our common spaces will shrink and different segments of the community will drift apart. So we make no apologies for taking that approach," he said.

Mr Shanmugam also said that the Government is studying how it can further restrict foreign preachers who do not share Singapore's values of racial and religious harmony from coming here to preach.

He agreed with Workers' Party MP Faisal Manap (Aljunied GRC) that religious teachings must be aligned with national values.

There was also a need to guard against the mixing of religion and politics, which is happening in some countries in the region, said Mr Shanmugam.

"We do need to relook our practices... Do they promote integration or do they tend to divide? We need to draw a clear line between what is acceptable and what is not," he said.

The Government is reviewing the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act to deal with this issue, Mr Shanmugam said.

"Religion can and has been a source of strength for our society. But we must also watch for exclusivist, intolerant practices because that can deepen our fault lines and weaken our entire society," he added.





Muslim community tackling various challenges
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 4 Oct 2017

Singapore's Malay/Muslim community is concerned about the triple threats of extremist ideology, exclusivist beliefs and practices, and Islamophobia, and is taking a range of steps to tackle them, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim said yesterday.

Measures include starting a local Islamic College and a new network of young religious teachers who will counter radicalisation and reach out to youth on social media.

Dr Yaacob, who is Minister for Communications and Information, told Parliament: "All of us, regardless of race or religion, must squarely face and defeat this trifecta of disunity and not let it take root in Singapore."

The Malay/Muslim community, as a minority in a plural society, is acutely aware of the challenges, he said, noting the intense scrutiny it had been put under after the Sept 11, 2001 terror attacks and the discovery of the Jemaah Islamiah (JI) plots here. Yet community and religious leaders rallied together with others to tackle the threat of extremism.



Today, the emergence of ISIS-inspired ideologues has planted seeds of doubt and fear in non-Muslims, magnifying the challenge, he said, spelling out key community efforts.

One, it is working to develop religious leaders and teachers who can provide sound guidance to Muslims and act as a bulwark against extremist and exclusivist ideologies in a multiracial, multireligious society.

The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) and Singapore Islamic Scholars and Religious Teachers Association (Pergas) have decided to make it a must for all religious teachers to register under the Asatizah Recognition Scheme. More than 3,000 have done so.

Central to this, the minister noted, is the need for all asatizah, or religious teachers, to abide by a code of ethics, which includes not denigrating any racial or religious group.

"Anyone who crosses the line will be dealt with decisively," he said, citing Singaporean preacher Rasul Dahri, who has been barred from teaching Islam here and whose books - containing "extremist views under the guise of religious guidance" - have been banned.

In a bid to develop future teachers who can provide Islamic knowledge appropriate for Singapore's unique context, Muis has started looking into the development of a Singapore Islamic College.

Two, the community is working to engage members effectively.

Hence, Muis has strengthened its part-time religious programmes to include elements to inoculate young people against extremist influences, and started seminars to advise parents on issues like authenticating online Islamic content.

The Religious Rehabilitation Group, set up in 2003 to rehabilitate radicalised individuals and terror detainees, has also expanded its role to organise dialogues and educate people about Islamic concepts that have been distorted by extremists. To complement its work, Muis has started an asatizah youth network that can be a "first line of response" for those seeking answers.



Dr Yaacob noted that recent years have been "a difficult and challenging journey" for the community.

"Sometimes the majority does not know what it feels to be a minority community. And for the Malay/Muslim community, this sense of being misunderstood is deeply felt, having been in the spotlight for quite some time," he said.

"It is not a pleasant experience when your religion and your religious orientation is under constant scrutiny. But we persevered.

"When other faith communities stepped forward to lend support to our struggle, it gave us comfort that we are not in this alone."

Dr Yaacob said Singaporeans recognise the battle against extremism is not just for the Muslim community, but for all Singaporeans. Strong bonds must therefore be built between the different groups to nurture understanding and respect, he said.

Several members have lauded the Muslim community for its efforts.

Singapore's Muslim leaders are in sync with the larger good of the community, said Mr Alex Yam (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC), who pointed out that their progressive approach to issues such as organ donation and the human milk bank "only serves to strengthen our social fabric".

Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok) said as the Malay/Muslim community fights extremism, members of the other communities have a responsibility to ensure radicalisation does not set in. "We have a duty to strengthen bonds and preservation of common space," he said.

Dr Yaacob said there must also be more individuals who step forward, online and outside of social media, to reach out to as many as possible.

"New media and the anonymity it lends have led to individuals denigrating other religions or sowing discord between communities over the Internet, inadvertently or otherwise," he said.

"We need netizens to speak up with moral clarity against injustice and stereotypes, and those who promote hatred and intolerance."





Strengthening ties through food and security drills
15 backbenchers yesterday spoke in support of staying united against the terror threat. Joanna Seow highlights some key suggestions.
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 4 Oct 2017

STAY VIGILANT AND RESILIENT

Mr Christopher De Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), one of the four MPs who raised the motion, suggested preparing posters and other paraphernalia to send messages of unity quickly and visibly in the event of a terrorist attack.

Residents in his Ulu Pandan ward have printed "day after" banners to be displayed around their estates, with messages such as "Deny terrorism a victory. Let's stay united".

These will help in the psychological battle against terror, he said.

After an attack, social media can be divisive and confusing, if there are groups that try to spread falsehoods or rumours online, said Mr Desmond Choo (Tampines GRC).

To counter this, a group of social media influencers can be trained to be "first responders" online. They can start constructive discussions in times of crises and help government agencies spread the correct messages, he said.

Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said he fully agreed with this, and the Government is engaging high-profile influencers to reach out to various segments of the community when an attack happens.

As for workplaces, Nominated MP K. Thanaletchimi said companies of all sizes should be urged to perform SGSecure drills or tabletop exercises on terror scenarios at least once a year. Employees should also be trained in first aid.

She suggested that the Government provide tax rebates or incentives to encourage firms to set up mental wellness programmes with psychologists and counsellors, to intervene and prevent vulnerable individuals from being radicalised.

The Government can also further promote integration at workplaces and encourage companies to set up sustainable diversity management programmes, she said.

Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok) recommended that legislative responses to extremism and terrorism are settled before any serious act of terrorism occurs.

These could include curbing hate speech and teachings on social media, he said, citing Germany's new Network Enforcement Act - also known as its "Facebook law" - passed in June this year. It enables the authorities to require social media companies to remove hate speech from their platforms.

He also recommended setting out clearly legal protections for people such as spouses who report someone suspected of being a terrorist.

PREVENT RADICALISED TEACHINGS

Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio GRC) proposed getting more people involved in spotting tell-tale signs of an individual at risk of being radicalised. These could include becoming reclusive, developing intense frustrations or developing sudden changes in views.

Community points of contact could, for example, be volunteers and officers in the grassroots, family service centres and social service offices, who are in frequent and direct contact with residents. If they see worrying signs, they should refer the person to the Religious Rehabilitation Group or other certified counsellors.

Teachers should also be trained to notice such signs among students, and can get in touch with their families or redirect their energies to constructive activities, Dr Intan suggested. "The call has always been for families and friends to look out for such tell-tale signs, but families and friends may not always be impartial or neutral enough, or may not always be quick enough to inform the relevant authorities for follow-up help," she said.

Similarly, Mr Faisal Manap (Aljunied GRC) called for more upstream efforts, especially in schools.

The process of radicalisation usually involves using religious doctrine and politics to manipulate minds so that people start to accept terrorist ideology as a way or approach that is acceptable, he said.

"The best way to counter such radical elements is by inculcating in Singaporeans authentic religious values, knowledge that strengthens one's character and also community and national values," he said.

He suggested teaching religious knowledge, psychology and community and national values in schools.

INVEST IN MULTIRACIALISM

Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) said stories of commonalities and shared experiences between people of different races serve an important unifying purpose, and ought to be shared.

He cited an example Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang cited a few days ago. Mr Low was told by his constituents and friends of how some Chinese Singaporeans were sheltered in the homes of their Malay friends and neighbours during the violent racial riots in the 1960s.



Not all stories are comfortable to discuss but they should be shared, said Mr Singh, who added that examples of a common humanity will help Singaporeans cope and carry on in the event of a terrorist attack here.

Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh also called for special cohesion grants to fund learning trips and research projects which universities and the social sector can work together on. This can provide more knowledge to improve inter-cultural exchange and the way the various ethnic self-help groups collaborate with each other.

He also suggested teachers go for special training in multicultural pedagogy to better engage students from different backgrounds and encourage more effective cross-cultural interactions in school.

Fostering greater multiculturalism can come from building deeper bonds between neighbours, said Dr Tan Wu Meng (Jurong GRC).

But some newer HDB developments seem to have fewer shared common spaces for community activities, he said, asking the Government to study whether newer estates have enough common spaces for residents to interact informally.

Young people can also forge closer friendships with people of other races through learning their language, he said.

"Our lived experience shapes our racial harmony. It protects against wrong impressions that could arise from social media. It also ensures that a single incident if it occurs, will not colour someone's perception of other communities for life," he said.

When it comes to encouraging residents of all races to take part in various grassroots activities, Ms Rahayu Mahzam (Jurong GRC) said little changes can make a difference. For example, there should be halal and vegetarian food options, and activities should not be organised during prayer times or when people are likely to be in church.

People of different races should also be invited to festive celebrations of different cultures.

Mr De Souza and Mr Gan Thiam Poh (Ang Mo Kio GRC) also noted how food can be a unifying experience across cultures.

Mr Gan cited popular grassroots events like durian parties, where residents come together and bond over a feast of fruit.

All the races have the same interest in eating durian, he said: "This has become like a common language."





Communities must unite to combat extremism: DPM Teo
By Zhaki Abdullah, The Straits Times, 4 Oct 2017

Different racial and religious communities must unite to counter extremism and violence in all forms, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said yesterday.

"Inter-communal tensions and distrust can be easily exploited by those seeking to divide society and advance their radical ideology," Mr Teo said at the 17th general assembly of the Regional Islamic Da'wah Council of South-east Asia and the Pacific (RISEAP) at the Grand Hyatt Hotel.

Formed in 1980, RISEAP is an organisation for Muslim-minority communities in South-east Asia and the Pacific region to cooperate and share best practices.

Mr Teo, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security, pointed to the conflict in the Rakhine state in Myanmar as an example of a "longstanding and complex inter-communal issue with deep historical roots".

"Such conflicts, if unresolved, can breed extremism and terrorism that could spread to threaten the region," he said as he called on all parties to stop the violence, restore stability and allow humanitarian aid to reach those who need it.



To counter extremism and terrorism, a close watch must be kept on teachings or statements that exclude and divide, he said.

Because of this, Singapore recently banned two foreign Christian preachers who had made denigrating and inflammatory comments on other religions.

Mr Teo said attacks by those claiming to act in the name of Islam had led to a rise in Islamophobia - a prejudice against believers of Islam - in some countries.

Echoing his comments, RISEAP deputy president Ridzuan Wu said the acts of extremist groups such as Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria had caused some non-Muslims to paint all Muslims with a broad brush.

Bodies such as RISEAP have the responsibility of building bridges between different communities instead.

A strong foundation of mutual understanding and mutual respect between communities is needed to encourage integration and enlarge the common space, said Mr Teo.

"Many religious organisations in Singapore adopt inclusive practices and partner each other in their activities," he said.

"Our mosques welcome non-Muslims to visit. And it is now common for non-Muslims in Singapore to join their Muslim friends at iftar or breaking fast during Ramadan, and learn more about Islam." Building "open, inclusive and integrated" societies can help build bridges of trust and mutual understanding between different communities, he said.

"This will provide a strong reservoir of trust as we counter extremism in all its forms together, and promote social progress for all."











Making multiracialism a 'lived reality' in Singapore
By Elgin Toh, Insight Editor, The Straits Times, 4 Oct 2017

A Eurasian MP, a Malay MP, an Indian MP and a Chinese MP walk into a House.

But unlike the proverbial coffee shop joke this might bring to mind, the four MPs from each of Singapore's races tabled a motion in Parliament yesterday that triggered a serious and substantive debate on reaffirming multiracialism in the face of the terrorist threat.

Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio GRC), Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok) and Dr Tan Wu Meng (Jurong GRC) were joined by 13 other MPs, in a debate that also covered the need to promote vigilance and to prevent the spread of violent extremism.

It was a debate marked by much common ground - uniting MPs across not just racial lines but also party lines, with four Workers' Party MPs speaking in support of the motion.

The most compelling moments in the 4 1/2 hour debate came when MPs told personal stories, some of which were deeply moving.

Mr Alex Yam (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC) recounted his university days in Britain - when he first understood what it meant to be part of a minority. Some shop owners would call him "Ching, Chang and Chong" - "regardless of my actual surname", he recalled. "They never did it with any sort of malice. It was always with a smile. It almost seemed normal to them."

Others referred to him as "a communist from the mainland or a boat boy from Saigon".

His encounters with casual chauvinism taught him to be more mindful of what Singaporeans who are minorities here might be experiencing.

Mr Leon Perera spoke of growing up in a three-room flat and playing with children of other races along the common corridor.

"We would run into one another's flats and spend time there playing, and then come out and run into someone else's flat," he said.

He remembers fondly playing with lanterns in his pyjamas with other children during the Mid-Autumn Festival, and a Chinese neighbour giving him free hair cuts. Children today do play with children of other races along common corridors, but "in truth not as much as I did back in the 1970s".

Mr Perera also recalled an instance of job discrimination, with the caveat that it was a rare incident: "Once, early on in my career, I wanted to hire someone of a particular race and a colleague told me that they had had bad experiences with employees of that race. I went ahead to hire this person anyway. That employee turned out to be outstanding and got promoted twice."

Mr de Souza spoke of Cik Zainap, a Malay woman who helped his mother look after him and his sister as they were growing up .

She became a part of the family, and, till today, Mr de Souza keeps in touch with her. His three children call her "Nenek", or granny, and she considers them her "cucu", or grandchildren.

His experience and that of others indicate a "big reservoir of trust... among the races", he said.

These stories form part of the "lived reality" - a phrase used by Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam - of multiracialism at work in Singapore.

"What is the experience? Your experience, my experience, the experience of our people. You know the answer. We can agree on the whole that we are going in the right direction, but it is always a work in progress," said Mr Shanmugam.

Not all the stories paint a rosy picture, such as Mr Perera's story about job discrimination - and this is where the work is still in progress.

But MPs yesterday said it is important to allow - within limits - some of these stories about race or religion to be shared, because it fosters resilience. "If in our conversations, we speak only politely or in a politically correct way, it will not help us build and strengthen trust," said Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC).

Stories of lived experiences are also a reminder that multiracialism is not a lofty concept. It is what happens every day in the life of each Singaporean, and individuals can therefore make a real difference to it - an empowering yet terrifying thought.

The concrete actions Singaporeans can take range from encouraging their children to mix with other races, to celebrating the festivals of each community together, to refusing to engage in chauvinist banter (including coffee shop jokes, if they are offensive).

If the bonds between Singaporeans of different races and religions are strong, then society will stay united when a terrorist attack happens. Singapore can avoid finger pointing or placing one community under the spotlight.

But this has to be worked on consistently, because, as Mr Shanmugam noted, "if you try to strengthen trust after an attack, it is too late".

Terrorists seek to strike fear within societies by convincing them that they are helpless in the face of the threat. Yesterday's sitting offered a forceful rebuttal with the message: Singaporeans are not helpless. Each can contribute to the fight against terrorism by helping to build a truly multiracial Singapore.












Fight against extremism uncomfortable, but bearing fruit: Shanmugam
More Singaporeans saying no to divisive practices, say Shanmugam and community leaders
By Charissa Yong, The Sunday Times, 8 Oct 2017

Saying no to extremism in Singapore has paid off, even though the campaign has been uncomfortable at times, said Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam and community leaders yesterday.

More Singaporeans are rejecting practices that divide communities, they added, at a seminar on helping the Muslim community to stand even firmer against radicalism.

"If you go today and talk to the average Muslim on the streets... they will tell you what is and what is not acceptable," said Mr Shanmugam.

"It is sinking in, it is accepted and the small groups of people who advocate a more extreme view are also keeping quiet," he told 270 religious teachers and community leaders.

These are signs that Singapore has achieved a certain level of psychological resilience, he added.

Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) director of religious policy and development Nazirudin Mohd Nasir said people now better understand what is not acceptable.

As a result, when they or their families read radical messages spread on social media, "they are able to respond to them in the right way and be that first line of protection for their family members", he said. But he also noted that on hearing sermons by Muis on extremism, Muslims sometimes get the "uncomfortable sense that they are associated with these acts".

Mr Shanmugam also acknowledged the discomfort of this spotlight, saying: "Most of our Muslims are peaceful and moderate, so sometimes there is the thinking... we are not extremists, we do not support any of this ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) ideology, why do you keep talking about terrorism?"

The reason: to help broader society understand that extremism has no place in Singapore, he said.

Yesterday's event sought to equip religious teachers to guide the community at a time when extremist messages are being spread online. It was organised by three Muslim groups: Muis, the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) and the Singapore Islamic Scholars and Religious Teachers Association (Pergas).

Singapore's top Islamic leader, Mufti Fatris Bakaram, urged leaders to promote an understanding of Islam within the context of Singapore's diverse society.

For example, they should challenge the idea of the caliphate as the only ideal and legitimate political system that Muslims can live and take part in. Concepts like the caliphate must be understood in the context and socio-political environment of the time, he said.

He urged leaders to make sound Islamic knowledge easily accessible.

To this end, the RRG and Khadijah Mosque published a book of 15 essays debunking extremist teachings like those that promote slave-taking and emigrating to the caliphate. The 92-page book will be distributed to all 70 mosques and via the RRG's website and Facebook page.

RRG vice-chairman Mohamed Ali said: "With this publication, we hope the community will better understand the need for us to reject extremism and ensure their loved ones will not be easily swayed by the ideas of the extremists."

Muis also published a parenting handbook on how to identify signs that family members have been radicalised, and how to help them.

Leaders also said it was time for a broader approach to building social cohesion that applies to all religions, instead of only Islam.

This includes encouraging inclusivity, and making sure people have friendships across communities, said Dr Fatris and Mr Shanmugam.

From next year, said the minster,"we can spotlight a little bit less on terrorism and a little bit more on values and a Singaporean identity".

He added: "I think this is more comfortable for everybody as well."


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