Strong racial ties give S'pore an edge in terror fight: Masagos

Strong racial ties give S'pore an edge in terror fight: Masagos
Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs, Masagos Zulkifli.

The global terror threat has evolved since the Sept 11, 2001 attacks, said Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs Masagos Zulkifli, even as he stressed that Singapore was in a better position than most countries to deal with the problem.

Speaking to The Sunday Times in Washington after attending the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism, Mr Masagos said the threats that first prompted Singapore to form its Community Engagement Programme a decade ago are a far cry from the one presented by the likes of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

"In the past, we used to have people who wanted to contribute to the fight in Afghanistan and Iraq, basically a war against the American coalition. Now, it is not a war which you are quite removed from. It is a war you can participate in," he said.

Mr Masagos added: "With the Internet, there is a whole spectrum of ways you can participate in, including going there and fighting, providing humanitarian aid, providing funding and, for some, asking the women to marry these fighters, and lone-wolf attacks at home."

And it is lone-wolf attacks - of the sort that rocked Sydney in December last year - that are the biggest concern to him.

"We cannot plug all the holes because we don't know who they are," he said.

He said the Government has been engaging with community and religious leaders through the Community Engagement Programme to prepare responses should an attack ever take place.

"We have been exercising the system, to get our community leaders and religious leaders to be alert that these things can happen. And if it should happen, what would you do, and how will they contribute so that life can go on," he said.

Still, after attending meetings where leaders from around the world discussed their own challenges countering radical ideology, it is clear to Mr Masagos that Singapore's strong racial relations gives the country an important edge in tackling the issue.

For one thing, he said, the narrative of Muslim minorities feeling marginalised by Western governments is not something Singapore has to deal with.

He said: "The Malay Muslim community has had a good history of harmony and peace and they have been living together with their fellow Singaporeans peacefully for a long time. The sense of being the enemy of a group trying to suppress you doesn't really exist in Singapore."

"We live together, we go to school together, we go to the army together, we know each other quite well and we love each other's food," he said. "We have something special in Singapore."

And while the three-day White House summit last week had been target of much criticism for being a talk shop in the US, Mr Masagos felt that the event served an important symbolic purpose.

"It is really important to see America taking the lead because there are really big issues they can help to address because of their political and military might," he said.


This article was first published on Feb 22, 2015.
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