Taman Bacaan Youth Engagement "Strengthening Social Cohesion Through Peacebuilding" - Speech by Assoc Prof Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, Minister of State, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of National Development

Published: 18 July 2022

Mr Abdul Halim Kader, President TAMAN BACAAN

Mr Hazni Bin Aris, Vice-Chairman, AMP

Dr Jolene Jerard, Executive Director, Centinel

Members of the Inter-Agency Aftercare Group (ACG) and the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG)

Friends from the Nanyang Technological University and National University of Singapore Muslim Society, Singapore University of Technology & Design and Singapore Institute of Technology

1.   Thank you for joining us.

2.   This collaboration between Taman Bacaan, the ACG, and the RRG is a commendable effort to sensitise youth to the threat of violent extremism, and the role that all of us can play to ensure that extremist ideas do not gain a foothold in our society. That is very important. The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced new challenges to our security landscape, namely in changing how terrorist organisations operate globally. In Singapore, the pandemic has also deepened our racial and religious fault lines, following the spate of communal disputes that were precipitated by the stressors of COVID-19. This underscores the fragility of our communal relations, and the need to continually tend to our social cohesion during peacetime so as to build a united and resilient society that can withstand crises. It is very important for us, even though we are facing the challenges of COVID-19 and it is peacetime, the terrorist organisations are at work. That means to say our work must always continue, to be able to strengthen our social capital and landscape. That is key.

Singapore Terrorism Threat Assessment Report 2022

3.   If you had followed the media coverage, just this week, the Internal Security Department (ISD) released the latest Singapore Terrorism Threat Assessment Report 2022, which you can download from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) website. Based on the report, it is indeed worrying that the terrorism threat to Singapore remains high. Many of us, are able to go through our lives without much disruption, so we think Singapore is safe. But behind-the-scenes, our own officers, are tracking and looking out for our safety. So, I think it is good that Singaporeans can read ISD’s report to know what is happening. While the report highlighted that there is no imminent terrorist threat to Singapore, we continue to feature as a target in terrorist propaganda. With the easing of the COVID-19 restrictions and resumption of overseas travel, terrorist groups may become more active and take the opportunity to reignite their attack plans that were previously put on hold.

4.   The report also stressed the unrelenting threat from Islamist terrorist groups, which continue to raise funds and plot attacks, as well as propagate their violent ideology online. This is why Government takes a zero-tolerance approach to all forms of extremist rhetoric and hate speech, to prevent their proliferation and acceptance here.  You see the words “zero-tolerance approach” – this is very important. When we take this approach, it is all in the name of Singapore and Singaporeans, including you, me and our families. That is why it is important for you to be here and be part of this journey because this is a collective effort. Youths like yourselves can play an important role by rejecting extremist rhetoric, which can have a divisive impact on Singapore’s society. I am happy to see you all here.

5.   Other developments abroad, such as in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Ukraine, have also impacted Singapore's security landscape. Extremist organisations can exploit these overseas conflicts and tap on society's grievances to promote their radical narratives and recruit supporters, online and offline.

6.   Amidst COVID-19, the threat of extremism and terrorism continues to evolve and remains worrying. The spread of radical ideologies online has fuelled the self-radicalisation threat in Singapore. Since 2015, 45 self-radicalised individuals – comprising 33 Singaporeans and 12 foreigners – have been issued with Orders of Detention or Restriction Orders under the Internal Security Act. 13 of them – three Singaporeans and ten foreigners – have been convicted under the Terrorism (Suppression of Financing) Act for terrorism financing offences.

Safeguarding Singapore's Racial and Religious Harmony

7.   As I shared earlier, Government cannot counter the terrorism threat to Singapore alone. We can’t do it alone. We can have all the best legislation and infrastructure, but we can never do it alone. We need to partner with people like you and do our best to make sure that everyone is protected. Because for example, for many cases, self-radicalisation happens behind closed doors, and at home, and the process of self-radicalisation may happen when individuals scroll through social media. Hence, we must keep a lookout for one another. When you are aware of this and come to events like this, you get socialised, you know what to look out for and then you understand the whole landscape better and also protect yourself so that you do not get influenced by some of the misinformation and go into the thought processes of self-radicalisation or extremism. While our security agencies can take operational action against extremist groups or radicalised persons, Government would need members of the community, including youths like yourselves, to be the eyes and ears on the ground to report suspicious individuals before they go further down the path of radicalism. In addition, all of you can play an important role in building bridges and fostering understanding among the different racial and religious groups so as to safeguard Singapore’s communal harmony. This is to ensure that our society can stand united in the event of a terrorist attack here.

8.   Today's event is a testament to our society's resolve to safeguard our racial and religious harmony. We are thankful for the selfless contributions from Taman Bacaan, the ACG and the RRG in these efforts. We are where we are today because of our community partners and fellow Singaporeans. MHA and the Government cannot do it alone. We know that there are organisations which may want to target us, but our strong defence line is our people –  including the Malay-Muslim Organisations (MMOs), Taman Bacaan, ACG, RRG – who have been playing a very important role.

9.   I want to commend Encik Halim and all our friends from ACG, RRG, and academia who have been working very hard on this front. Thank you for being part of this journey, and thank you Dr Jolene Jerard and Ust Ahmad Helmi Hasbi for collaborating with Taman Bacaan and providing their insightful perspectives during the presentations.

10.   This is a very meaningful event – the extremism and terrorism landscape keeps evolving and it is a clear and present danger as shared by the ISD report. To our youth – you represent the future, and I hope that you can share these messages and platforms with your friends, so that we can have more people on board to protect Singapore. I am very heartened that young people like yourselves are coming onboard to play a role in this. We want to continue this journey and bring as many young people as possible to better understand the issues we are facing and to play a part in this. If you suspect that anyone affected by self-radicalisation, do let us know so that we can help to rehabilitate the person, so that the person and people around them can continue their lives in a healthy and positive way. If we get more and more Singaporeans to play a part, we can help to ensure that Singapore continues to be safe and secure, for Singaporeans.

11.   Thank you for having me, and I look forward to having a dialogue with you and exchanging views and ideas. I look forward to learning from you so that we can shape a safe and secure landscape in Singapore. Thank you.