Helpline to be set up to counter ISIS propaganda

Ustaz Hasbi Hassan (left) and Ustaz Ali Mohamed (right), the Religious Rehabilitation Group's (RRG) co-chairmen, presenting the new manual on refuting ISIS' extremist narrative, to Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.

A HELPLINE will be set up next month for people worried that their family members or friends may fall prey to radical ideas.

Giveaway signs could be the unusual amount of hours they spend surfing for violent material, following social media sites linked to terror group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), or expressing radical views about current affairs.

But people who want to better understand concepts like jihad or the caliphate can also call the helpline on 1800-774-7747.

The hotline was announced by the co-chairman of the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG), Ustaz Ali Mohamed, at the group's retreat yesterday on "Protecting our youth from violent extremism".

The RRG, with more than 30 Islamic religious teachers, was set up in 2003 to counsel detained members of terror group Jemaah Islamiah, and has gone on to counsel self-radicalised individuals and educate the community about the dangers of extremism.

Its volunteers will man the helpline, which is one of several measures Singapore's Muslim religious leaders are taking to counter ISIS propaganda.

The other counter-measures are a new manual on refuting ISIS' extremist narrative, and RRG leaders stepping up public education through talks before Friday sermons at mosques.

In April, a 19-year-old Singaporean was detained under the Internal Security Act for making plans to join ISIS and, if he could not leave the country, to kill President Tony Tan Keng Yam and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

A 17-year-old student was arrested last month for investigation into the extent of his radicalisation.

Ustaz Ali said such radicalised young people displayed an understanding of Islam that was "both shallow and narrow". They may also grow distant from their parents, said an RRG counsellor, Ustaz Ahmad Saiful Rijal Hassan, who cited how a worried father asked the group for help when his son "unfriended" him on Facebook and showed signs that he sympathised with ISIS.

To educate the community about the dangers of radicalism, the RRG is working with the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore to give talks before Friday sermons at mosques. They started last week, with the RRG co-chair, Ustaz Hasbi Hassan, speaking in Ang Mo Kio and the vice-chair, Ustaz Mohamed Ali, in Clementi.

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who is Coordinating Minister for National Security and Minister for Home Affairs, also spoke at the retreat. He said security agencies and the community have to work together to protect the youth from radical influences.

He was also glad the RRG had made progress in countering ISIS ideology, and in reaching out to the youth through social media.

The message that different communities can live together in harmony in Singapore's multi-racial, multi-religious society must also be put across, he added.

"This is a precious legacy built by our founding leaders and pioneers," he said. "This peace and stability serves as the foundation for our social and economic development."

Security expert Bilveer Singh said that while the new measures will help counter ISIS' appeal, it is important that they are delivered effectively, like through charismatic young people who are respected by their peers. "Otherwise, it would be lost even before the message is delivered," he said.

This article was first published on June 10, 2015.
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