Thousands of people from countries around the world have answered the call of extremists to join Syrian rebels in their fight against President Bashar al-Assad's regime, and Singaporeans are "not immune" to this call, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.
The extremists have been adroit at drumming up their cause and recruiting fighters on the Internet, posing a significant challenge to Singapore, he added at the 10th annual retreat of the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG).
This is especially so, he noted, because Singapore's young people have grown up on a diet of social media and see it as a trusted source of information and news.
But "radical ideologues" can use it as a weapon to manipulate young people's "spirit of altruism... to stir up emotional responses to the perceived oppression of Muslims in conflict zones, and to seed ideas of hatred", he warned, adding that there is a need to counter the misuse of social media by the extremists.
He urged the group to explore how it can exert a greater presence on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to "reclaim the discourse from the radicals".
"It will be an uphill task, but something necessary, so that there is a countervailing voice against the radical narrative being purveyed online," he said addressing about 30 people at the Holiday Inn Atrium on the second day of the group's three-day retreat focusing on the Syrian conflict.
The RRG, a voluntary group of asatizah, or religious teachers, counsel radicalised individuals here to get them to abandon their extremist beliefs.
Mr Heng praised the group for helping to rehabilitate those found to have "imbibed the terrorist ideology" and also for helping to reintegrate them into society.
When it was set up 11 years ago, the group was "ahead of its time", said Mr Heng.
But its method of counteracting the terrorist threat through stamping out radical ideology is especially relevant in today's "complex" terrorism landscape, he added.