Community, religion 'key to help fight extremism'

Community, religion 'key to help fight extremism'
Mr Lee Hsien Loong greeting members and volunteers of the Religious Rehabilitation Group yesterday.

AFTER two days of discussions on countering extremism with counterparts from around the region, senior Australian law enforcement official Mark Whitechurch feels community and grassroots groups need to be enlisted to challenge radical views online.

And Dr Afifi al-Akiti, an Oxford University Islamic studies academic from Malaysia, says Muslim parents need to "have the ISIS talk" - referring to the militant Islamic State in Iraq and Syria - with their children and be aware of their surfing habits, and treat extremism the same way they do sexual predators online.

They were among 600 experts, officials and religious leaders from over 30 countries who shared their expertise and picked up ideas at the two-day East Asia Summit Symposium on Religious Rehabilitation and Social Reintegration, which ended yesterday.

Speaking at a closing dinner for key guests at the Khadijah Mosque, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he hoped that delegates would "adapt and apply" what they have learnt.

He noted that countries face different circumstances in grappling with the ISIS threat, but a common feature was that security action alone was not enough to tackle the problem.

"We must go beyond that, to the religious dimension: to rehabilitate apprehended terrorists so they understand the error of their ways... and do not fall prey again to a warped version of Islam.

"We also need the social dimension: to reintegrate the former extremists back into society, so they have family, friends and support."

Both aspects need to be addressed more broadly, to avoid marginalisation, enclaves, misperceptions and resentments which can feed extremism, he said.

Fortunately, Singaporeans have lived in peace and harmony due to a conscious, sustained effort to build trust, that includes integrated public housing estates.

Crucially, the Muslim community and its leaders have been supportive of these efforts, he said.

Mr Lee noted that after Jemaah Islamiah members were detained in 2002, a group of religious leaders came forward "with no certainty of success, put their reputations on the line, worked closely with government, and took the risk of being seen as just doing the Government's bidding".

But they persevered, formed the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) to counsel detainees, and Singapore has released from detention 57 extremists. It has so far had only one case of recidivism.

The RRG also reached out to the wider community, and set up at Khadijah Mosque a resource and counselling centre, which Mr Lee visited yesterday afternoon.

Other Muslim groups have also played a key role, like the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore, the Singapore Islamic Scholars and Religious Teachers Association, and the Aftercare Group.

But community and religious leaders say there can be no let up.

Dr Afifi said some popular scholars have many followers: "They need to come to the forefront and play a better role.. You have to come up with what I consider sexed up messages, more attractive messages for the young."

yanliang@sph.com.sg


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