Mr Speaker, Sir, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name. The Motion reads as follows:
"That this House, (a) acknowledges that the terrorist threat to Singapore is real and serious; (b) supports the firm actions the Government has taken against the threat to the security of Singapore, posed by the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) group and other militant and extremist groups in the region; and (c) endorses the recommendations put forth in the White Paper to counter the terrorist threat by:
i enhancing security measures;Why the White Paper
ii policing the spread of terrorist and extremist ideology; and
iii strengthening our social cohesion and religious harmony."
2 Some people wonder why the Government wants to issue a White Paper on the Jemaah Islamiyah or JI and on terrorism. They felt that so much has already been shared and discussed publicly. Leaders from the Muslim and non-Muslim groups have openly declared their rejection of terrorism and their commitment to preserve Singapore's social cohesion. What else is there to say and how many more times do we have to say it before the issue can be laid to rest. Some believe that if we talk about the issue so often publicly, and now debating it in Parliament, we will provoke more anxieties and fears especially among non-Muslims and this will undermine social cohesion instead of strengthening it. Foreign investors may also be frightened away. There are also those who feel that we should put the whole JI episode behind us and move on and not start the brand new year on such a sober and serious note.
3 These are all natural concerns. Right from the start of the JI episode, the Government had to grapple with the issue of how much to say and make public. We had to decide whether to give as much details as possible to the public or to keep it to a minimum to avoid possibly creating alarm and panic among our citizens. We chose to share as much as we can without compromising investigations because the Government realised that the JI episode was not an isolated, once-off phenomenon but, in fact, symptomatic of the terrorist wave that is confronting the world today. To say little is to live in denial of this reality.
4 So, in January 2002, we decided that we must engage our people openly but sensitively on the issue. We needed to ensure that the public revelations of the case did not lead to knee-jerk reactions by Muslims or non-Muslims which would impair our social cohesion and at the same time, squarely confront the issue and not skirt around it.
5 Senior officers from the Internal Security Department (ISD) met and briefed Muslim community leaders about the case before it went public. This was to alert them about the case. They were even told some aspects of the case which at that time could not be made public yet. We wanted to assure these leaders that the ISD investigation and security operation were focused against a group of extremists who had turned to terrorism and were not investigations against Islam or our Muslim community. The Prime Minister himself chaired two sessions attended by over 1,700 community and religious leaders each time in January and October 2002 to discuss the issues and to address some anxieties and concerns which quite naturally surfaced after the two groups of arrests.
6 Our religious and community leaders subsequently played a major part in addressing anxieties and concerns on the ground and ensuring that there was no mischievous or speculative misreading of the case. I believe the fact that we have so far weathered this threat as a society fairly well is due to a significant extent, to their efforts in holding the ground, helping to maintain calm and facilitating rational responses and not emotional or irrational reactions among our people.
7 But we are not out of the woods yet. The threat of terrorism is the single most dangerous security threat Singapore has faced since the threat of communism. All countries in the world face this terrorist threat today; no country is immune. Singapore is no exception.
8 As a Government and as a people, we have always taken the approach of facing our problems, be it economic recession or terrorism, squarely and soberly. We need to de-sensitise the awkward and difficult issues and talk about them openly and dispassionately so that we may be better able then to grapple with and manage them. So, although the JI and terrorism subject remains a difficult one even now, we must continue to be able to discuss rationally with our different communities in Singapore, the threat posed and its implications.
9 Therefore, while I understand the concerns of those who feel we should not discuss the JI issue in this House, I also strongly believe that there is no avoiding us taking this road of public discussion because the threat is far from over. To believe otherwise is to deceive ourselves at our own peril. For these reasons, the Government decided to release a White Paper.
10 We hope that the White Paper will not only give all Singaporeans a comprehensive account of our experience so far in dealing with terrorism but also establish, across our various communities, a common appreciation of the complex nature of this threat. It is complex because it rides on an ideological agenda which exploit and manipulate Islam. It is not about Islam but about those terrorist groups and individuals who distort it to justify their cause and terrorist acts. It is complex because its sources are not inside but outside Singapore. Against the backdrop of a fuller understanding of the threat, the White Paper also seeks to explore practical, even if difficult, directions we should consider in order to deal with this threat as a society and as a people.
The Nature of & Response to the Threat
11 Let me now spell out briefly the nature of this threat we are facing and how we are addressing it. As detailed in the White Paper, we believe that we have to deal with the threat from groups like JI on three levels.
Threat to National Security
12 The first level of threat is one of national security. Since the discovery of JI in Singapore, ISD's priority has been to prevent bombs from going off here. The actions since December 2001 have significantly neutralised the terrorist threat locally. By crippling the local JI network, we have disrupted their operations and dismantled their local infrastructure. Nevertheless, the investigation continues to focus on ferreting out all those who are linked to the JI network and preventing them from re-grouping. The investigation into the second group of arrests in August 2002 revealed significant links between the JI network and other terrorist and militant groups in the region. These have to be pursued systematically and tenaciously.
13 We have stepped up the level of security protection throughout Singapore. We have increased defensive security measures at key installations and buildings like the Changi Airport, our border checkpoints, important Government and commercial buildings, and oil and water installations. By April this year, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority will be set up to ensure comprehensive and effective checks at sea, air and land checkpoints under one integrated command. Over the next few months, we will begin to deploy air marshals on board Singapore Airlines and SilkAir flights.
14 Stringent measures are necessary to prevent the entry of foreign terrorist elements and those who want to help them. Singaporeans and tourists and other visitors have had to deal with some inconvenience at the checkpoints but I believe that Singaporeans understand the need for these measures and are prepared to put up with some inconvenience in return for better security. As far as possible, we want to ensure that Singaporeans do not have to change their lifestyles drastically for fear of their safety.
15 The Government has done and will continue to do whatever it can to secure Singapore and to protect Singaporeans. However, Singapore alone cannot eliminate terrorism or even the JI network in the region. The JI's regional character and the Al-Qaeda's international character and its links to a web of militant organisations world-wide mean that countries must work together to defeat terrorism. ISD has readily shared its intelligence on the JI and its investigation findings with all its liaison partners in the region and beyond. This included early leads on JI networks in the various mantiqis (districts) covering Malaysia/Singapore, Indonesia, Mindanao/Sabah and Australia. Our early detection of the identities used by "Mike", the JI bomb-maker and "Sammy", the Al-Qaeda operative, in the plot to mount truck-bomb attacks against targets in Singapore led to the arrests of these terrorists in the Philippines and in Oman. We have given access to investigators from Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Australia and the United States to question relevant JI detainees in Singapore. We are committed to continue to assist and co-operate as best as we can with all foreign partners who are serious in wanting to deal with this common threat.
Threat to Muslim Community
16 The second level of threat of terrorism is one directed at our Muslim Singaporeans. The actions of the few in the JI have the potential of sowing mistrust among non-Muslims towards Muslims. We must zealously guard against this. Many of the JI detainees regretted that their actions have not only distressed their families but have also "disgraced" their fellow Muslims and their religion.
17 More fundamentally, the threat which the JI poses to Muslim Singaporeans lies in the JI members portraying themselves as having arrived at the "true Islam" as opposed, in their view, to the religious instruction given in mainstream Muslim society in Singapore. A consistent finding by the teams of psychologists who interviewed the JI detainees was that most of them joined the JI organisation through religious classes in search of deeper religious knowledge. Through such religious classes, the JI was able to talent-spot and recruit its followers. These potential members were then taught a doctrine of violent jihad (holy struggle) which persuaded them to dedicate their lives to the cause of God in support of or in direct participation in violent and terrorist activities against the enemies of Islam.
18 At first, the "enemies of Islam", according to the JI was the Indonesian Government as the JI's concept of a Daulah Islamiyah was confined to Indonesia. Subsequently, with exposure to the Afghan War and Al-Qaeda terrorist training both in ideological and material terms, the JI leaders expanded their vision to a regional one which included Malaysia and Singapore, Indonesia and Mindanao. If the aim of achieving such an agenda was by dakwah (missionary work), there would be no terrorist problem today. However, their means to achieve this vision was by force of arms or violence rationalised as a jihad which they claim Muslims are duty-bound to undertake. This led groups like the JI to also subscribe to the globalised religious war which the Al-Qaeda preached against the US and its Western allies. That was why the local JI was willing to be Al-Qaeda proxies in October 2001 to prepare to mount an attack against American and other foreign targets in Singapore.
19 The Singapore JI leader, Ibrahim Maidin, told a senior ISD officer that he regretted agreeing to assist in the Al-Qaeda plan to mount truck bomb attacks in Singapore in 2001. The fact that the JI network was exposed and the plot thwarted, he felt, reflected that God was not in favour of it. However, the second group of arrests in August 2002, showed that the threat posed by the JI was not solely in its being a willing proxy of the Al-Qaeda. The JI's plan for a regional Daulah Islamiyah to be achieved by force and terror was quietly and systematically pursued. Dakwah units were converted into operation units. Male members were sent for military training; preparatory training was conducted in Malaysia and armed training was conducted with Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and with the MILF in Mindanao. Secret operational cells were formed and were tasked by the JI leadership in Johor to conduct reconnaissance of targets suitable for attack in the future. This was not in some distant future; they were supposed to execute their plans in 2004.
20 The JI's strategic blue-print for action is contained in a secret document called the Pedoman Umum Perjuangan Jemaah Islamiyah or "General Guidelines on the Struggle of the Jemaah Islamiyah". Like its mentor, the Al-Qaeda, the JI is a determined and highly organised body which systematically collected and documented information and knowledge like how to make bombs, how to conduct training and assess suitability of candidates, how to avoid detection by the authorities and so on. The JI is in fact a knowledge-based, learning organisation. Among the documents we have obtained so far are several training manuals, including a 35-page bomb-making manual written in Malay. Some of the other documents are written in Malay, Bahasa Indonesia, Arabic and even English.
21 The degree of radicalisation of the JI organisation, and the sophistication of its tradecraft derived from the Al-Qaeda, was a surprise to many. Indeed, no country was aware of the JI as a terrorist organisation until the exposure of the network in Singapore following the first group of arrests by ISD in December 2001. However, what was the most shocking and saddest discovery for all Singaporeans must be the fact that the JI was able to recruit some Singaporeans who were prepared to stage terrorist actions inside Singapore which would injure and kill other Singaporeans, Muslims as well as non-Muslims.
22 How did such Singaporeans who were by no means marginalised or ignorant wind up this way? Many of the detainees now regretted their actions and attributed it to their blind loyalty to their leaders and their teachings. They were in search of religious knowledge but got sucked into a militant ideology and were infected by its hatred and radical and violent values. A few had some doubts but they felt they were too deeply involved to withdraw. Moreover, they had taken oaths of allegiance to their leaders which were sworn in the name of God and feared retribution if they should betray their vows.
23 Like the rest of Southeast Asia, Singapore has also been touched by the religious revivalism, including Islamic revivalism, seen in the world since the 1970s. In the Islamic world, a few events have been key in defining the contours of political activism. While most of its manifestations were non-violent even if assertive, in some cases, political extremism led to terrorism. The Middle East conflict (1948-present) has spawned many radical militant and terrorist groups and is likely to continue to sustain them so long as the political conflict remains unchanged there. The Iranian Revolution (1979) saw the successful establishment of a purist Islamic theocracy and was a source of inspiration to many Muslim communities in the world. However, it also inspired a resurgence of competition by Saudi-based groups which promoted an Arab-based culture and its interpretation of Islam. The Soviet-Afghan War (1979-1989) was another watershed event which saw a superior Soviet military succumbing to the Muslim mujahidin (warriors) who had come from all parts of the world. The outcome gave hope that they could stand up to the superpowers. However, an aftermath of that war was the growth and development of the Al-Qaeda and its links through the Afghan veterans into an international network which unified and radicalised militant groups broadly under its globalised agenda of religious war against the US and its Western allies while at the same time, significantly developing their operational terrorist capacities. Our Singaporean JI members belonged to an organisation which was part of this broader network and which made it a ready operational instrument for the Al-Qaeda.
24 This is a backdrop which we cannot ignore. Our Muslim Singaporeans cannot hope to be insulated from developments in the Muslim world any more than Christian or Buddhist or Hindu Singaporeans can be completely untouched by developments among their religious brethren elsewhere. However, while it is natural for us to feel empathy for the plight or suffering of fellow Muslims, Christians, Buddhists or Hindus, it is another thing altogether to do so by crossing the line to support extremist violence or terrorism.
25 Let me state clearly and without ambiguity for the record that this Government has no problems with religious piety, whichever the religion. But we will not tolerate the use of violence to perpetrate any cause - be it religious or political or whatever. While Muslim Singaporeans know where to draw the line and know that their empathy should not translate into support for or participation in violence, the JI episode tells us not only that a few have strayed across the line, it also points to the vulnerability of others like them.
26 The core of the JI and current terrorist threat is ideological because its ability to recruit members and get them to participate in its terrorist agenda resides in its leaders' ability to manipulate Islamic doctrines to rationalise such action. The first real target of the JI and the current terrorist threat is therefore actually our Muslim community because this is the constituency which is being targeted by the JI for its recruitment. There is need for our Muslim religious and community leaders to explore how they can protect the community against such a threat. The White Paper recommends that rather than Government intervening in this arena, it is best that the community devise ways and means to police the threat and prevent radical and extremist teachings from subverting our mainstream religious order or bodies. This must be pursued in a manner which does not impair the legitimate religious pursuits of the community. The approach should seek to consult and involve as many of our religious and community leaders as possible to develop structures or schemes which are practical, realistic and robust. I believe we have good and reputable religious scholars among our own people. They should be encouraged to give clear and firm guidance to the community on the issue of terrorism. While we may disagree on some issues, we cannot afford to be divided on the issue of terrorism.
27 Of course, all these measures, no matter how comprehensive, may not be fool-proof. Nevertheless, we need to make the effort. For instance, we embrace the knowledge that the Internet can provide but we also have to tolerate the smut and trivia that it contains. So one way we guard ourselves and our children is with filters. Similarly, while our Muslims absorb all that is good and right in their faith, they will also have to find a way to filter out the dangerous.
28 Our Muslim Singaporeans should not feel defensive. Indeed, they have nothing to be defensive about. I know this is sometimes easier said than done; but we must persevere. In fact, this is a sentiment which our older Chinese-educated Singaporeans can well identify with. Many of our Chinese-educated Singaporeans did feel themselves suspect and under scrutiny when the threat of communism was rife and communists were nearly all Chinese-educated. To combat the communist threat at the time, the Government took tough measures. But we were able to show that we were not against the Chinese-educated that we wanted to win over from the radicalised politics of revolution by violence. And we eventually succeeded in winning the overwhelming majority of the Chinese-educated. Most Singaporeans would recall that until just about 10 years ago, Singaporeans faced severe restrictions in their travels to the People's Republic of China (PRC). It was only from 1972 that group tours to the PRC were allowed but, even then, Singaporeans under the age of 30 were not allowed to join these tours. It was not until 1984 that Singaporeans were allowed to individually visit the PRC for business or to visit relatives without having to produce documentary proof. It was not until 1987 that Singaporeans could pursue academic studies in the PRC. Endorsements of Singaporean passports for visits to the PRC were discontinued only in 1992.
29 We learn from the past. In the same way we will win over the overwhelming majority of our Singapore Muslims to be an active part of tolerant multi-racial Singapore, by demonstrating that our policies are directed against the deviant few who are distorting the tenets of Islam for their aims of converting Singapore to become a part of "Daulah Islam" an Islamic state in Southeast Asia. In confronting this terrorist threat, the Government would rather not intervene with measures directly but instead prefer that the community's leadership together with MUIS (Islamic Religious Council of Singapore) be given the opportunity to take the lead. The Government has assured the community that it will give whatever support is required to facilitate their efforts in this endeavour.
Threat to National Cohesion
30 The third level of threat which terrorism poses is a challenge to our national cohesion. One of the most critical issues that the White Paper wants to impress upon everyone is that terrorism is a national problem, not just something which involves the Muslim community. For the non-Muslims, we have to convince them that Islam is not the problem and that they should continue to work with and befriend Muslims as they have previously. They must also guard against irrational prejudices arising from anxieties related to the JI episode.
31 The JI's aim is to cause ethnic strife in Singapore and divide us as a nation. Hambali, the Al-Qaeda point-man and JI operations commander, was certainly aware of the likely strains to ethnic relations if a bomb goes off. He understood well that race and religion are our natural fault-lines and he thought he could exploit this for his purposes. He was planning to attack targets in Singapore and make these attacks look like they were carried out by Muslims in Malaysia. He hoped to create hostility not just between Singapore and Malaysia but also between Muslims and non-Muslims in Singapore. He wanted to create an environment of hate and suspicion so that Muslim and non-Muslim Singaporeans would turn against each other. If he had succeeded, Singapore would have imploded with communal violence.
32 Even without bombs going off, if we allow the JI episode to create discord, suspicion and distrust among ourselves, we would have played right into the terrorists' hands. Although there has been some awkwardness between Muslims and non-Muslims in Singapore since the recent terrorist incidents, especially in the initial periods, Singaporeans have generally reacted to the JI arrests rationally. In fact, after the JI arrests, many individual Singaporeans instinctively sympathised with Muslim Singaporeans whom they knew would be subjected to even more stress and scrutiny through no fault of their own. On their own and quietly with no publicity or fanfare, some Singaporeans have tried to do their part. This has not been revealed before but the very first few Singaporeans who contributed money to help the families of the JI detainees were four Chinese businessmen. When approached, they immediately donated a total of $20,000 to help the families.
33 The Government has since 11 September 2001 and the JI arrests intensified efforts to increase common understanding between the different ethnic and religious groups. One of the first concrete plans the Government put in place was the establishment of Inter-Racial Confidence Circles (IRCCs) to bring together religious and community leaders to help build trust and understanding among different groups. Harmony Circles (HCs) are being formed in schools, workplaces and local organisations to reach out to more people. All these are on top of what the grassroot bodies have been doing on a regular basis to promote inter-cultural activities.
34 The PM has suggested that religious groups in Singapore adopt a Code of Religious Harmony. This code is not meant to bind individuals or groups to its strict prescriptions in an iron clad fashion. It is more a code to remind ourselves that we are relatively free to practise our religions and beliefs in a safe environment. This precious freedom, however, is not absolute; there are limits, and necessarily so in a secular multi-ethnic state like Singapore. If every community pushes for the maximum, then inevitably the majority will overwhelm and subjugate the minorities. It is mutual restraint and tolerance and the strength of the bonds which unify the races in the common space which will determine the extent of relative freedom for each ethnic community which our society as a whole can accommodate.
35 Some critics have said that the activities of the IRCCs and HCs are superficial and that these are artificial constructs which cannot be expected to really foster understanding among Singaporeans. It is true that these are conscious and deliberately developed structures. These are vehicles which hopefully will steer and mobilise participation over a sensitive social area in an awkward time. I agree that it will all be ineffective if these efforts begin and end with the Government. What we hope to do is to set the tone and to create opportunities for Singaporeans to think about and to promote interaction. Ultimately, however, Singaporeans themselves must individually make the effort to build meaningful relationships with each other.
36 Since the terrorist attacks on the United States in September 2001, the world has intensified its scrutiny of Islam because Osama Bin Laden and the Al-Qaeda professed themselves to be good Muslims who perpetrated terrorism for the good of Islam. As a result, Muslims all over the world have found themselves in the spotlight. They find themselves in the position of having to demonstrate their non-support of terrorist actions and, at the same time, defend against prejudices which may see Islam as a faith of the violent rather than of the peaceful. Our Muslim Singaporeans have not been spared from this trauma.
37 Fortunately for us, our Muslim community leaders have dealt with the unwelcome attention firmly and courageously. After 11 September 2001, our Muslim leaders, including Members of Parliament, religious leaders, and other community leaders, stood up quickly to issue strong statements condemning the acts of violence. When the detention of the JI members were made public, they again stood up to denounce the JI group's actions. They clarified that Islam had nothing to do with terrorism. In a strong show of solidarity and conviction, more than 120 Muslim organisations led by Habib Syed Hassan of Ba'alwie Mosque issued in October 2002 a joint statement to condemn terrorism unequivocally. Our Muslim leaders' declaration, as well as our Malay Members of Parliament's quick response, that Islam and terrorism should not be linked in any way is critical. We have seen how, in some parts of the world, the acts of terrorism, whether by Osama or by other groups, were not condemned but celebrated. The JI episode could have caused tensions which would undermine ethnic trust. Underlying all the reactions of Singaporeans, whatever they have been, is a sense that we must strive to handle the problem rationally and calmly and not rupture the peace that we have invested so much over time in building up.
38 We recognise that Muslim Singaporeans, like Muslims elsewhere, face the difficult task of debunking stereo-types and prejudices arising from emotional and ill-informed reactions to terrorism. I know that it must sometimes be a bit tiresome for our Muslims to repeat their stand against terrorism. Likewise, we know also that there are non-Muslim leaders who feel the same way about having to reiterate the call for open-mindedness, tolerance and trust. Some may ask how many times must we do this? The answer, I believe, is for as long as there is a need for a counter-bailing voice to ensure that the last word heard is not that of the extremist or the terrorist; for as long as there are anxieties still festering and prejudices still likely to brew and congeal if not checked and countered. The alternative is to keep silent and pretend there are no problems by looking the other way. What our community leaders think and what is percolating at the emotional level on the ground must not be automatically assumed to be the same; we must work at ensuring that what is subscribed intellectually must also be supported by an emotional commitment to act accordingly. The Government on its part will and must continue to be vigilant against signs of misperceptions of mistrust manifested on the ground.
39 Let me summarise what I just said. The Government decided to issue a White Paper on JI and terrorism because we cannot afford to live in denial and delude ourselves that the problem is over. As Bali has shown, the fight against terrorism is far from over and promises to be a long one. This is largely because its primary sources and causes lie not in Singapore but elsewhere. Eradicating them once and for all is not something we ourselves can do alone. The Government has done whatever it can to secure our borders and to enhance the security of our people but there are no guarantees. Nevertheless, in a more dangerous world, Singapore still remains one of the safest places.
40 The White Paper describes the nature of the threat in detail as we want Singaporeans to appreciate that global terrorism in its current form is a layered and complex one, and is, at its heart, an ideological challenge. This is a much more difficult challenge to confront than the task of trying to stop the terrorist acts themselves. We are heartened that many of our Muslim leaders have already issued statements to express their understanding and support of the White Paper. A key strategy to overcome this challenge is to entrust our Muslim community leaders with the role to protect and guide the more vulnerable members in the community from being misled or subverted by extremist teachings.
41 Lastly, this White Paper urges all Singaporeans to reject terrorism, whatever the cause. It urges Singaporeans to appreciate that once they accept that in some situations it is all right to use violence and to perpetrate terrorist acts against the innocent for some cause, religious or political or otherwise, they would have crossed a dangerous line. This could destroy Singapore as a multi-racial society. If a bomb explodes tomorrow, it would hurt Muslims as well as non-Muslims. And the reactions of the different communities would be different.
42 Just look at Bali where the terrorist attacks killed about 200 people. Immediately, there was tension between the majority who are Hindus and the minority who are Muslims. And they have been living there together peacefully for years without problems. Take another example -- Russia. There are reports that as a result of the hostage-taking incident by Chechen rebels in Moscow, there is now an "Islamophobia" in Russia despite the fact that Muslims have lived side by side with other Russians even in the days of the Czars. These types of reactions were also seen in the US after the 11 September incident and in Australia after Bali.
43 We have to prevent fractures in our society of the kind that some societies have experienced. We have to realise that we cannot afford to wait for a bomb to explode in Singapore before we start asking ourselves tough questions and taking measures to enhance our national cohesion. All Singaporeans must understand and do their part as our survival depends on it.
44 Mr Speaker Sir, the White Paper and this debate in Parliament will be scrutinised not only by Singaporeans but also by the world outside. They will watch whether we are united across parties and communities and are determined to deal with the threat or are we divided and in denial, squabbling over secondary issues and who to blame. Whether our foreign investors will view us with confidence or with anxiety will be influenced by how we respond as a Government and as a people.
45 The support of this House for the White Paper and the Motion will reassure our people of the Government's commitment and firm actions in countering the threat of terrorism and in encouraging our people to press on with their efforts in building national cohesion.