New platform to share anti-terror practices

SCHOLARS, religious leaders and officials will be able to better learn how their counterparts elsewhere challenge radical views, from creative videos that counter hardline ideas to information on former militants turned good.

They will be part of a new platform launched yesterday to pool and share experiences on rehabilitating and reintegrating militants. Called the Strategies on Aftercare and Reintegration Network, it will first engage close to 600 participants from 30 countries who attended the two-day East Asia Summit Symposium on Religious Rehabilitation and Social Reintegration.

The network will focus on countering radical propaganda online and on social media, in particular material put out by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The platform also seeks to share ideas on how best to immunise communities against extremism, and to rehabilitate and reintegrate those who have been radicalised.

The network will be managed by Singapore's International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research (ICPVTR), which is part of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

The school's executive deputy chairman Ong Keng Yong told participants that communication among those working to counter extremism, as well as engaging the wider community in such efforts, is important. But collaboration among like-minded partners is also key, and this is what the network seeks to bring about.

"We have to look for partners and the challenges that we have here cannot be done and solved by only one person and one country," he said.

The threat posed by returning fighters and the challenge of countering ISIS' online propaganda were among the key concerns of delegates at the event.

Singapore's top Muslim leader, Mufti Fatris Bakaram, told them that with the plurality of voices on the Internet, religious leaders must strive to stay relevant.

"We'll need to take a few steps backwards and restart with the idea that our credibility as a religious authority is not a right. It needs to be earned," he said.

General John Allen, the United States' special presidential envoy for the global anti-ISIS coalition, which comprises over 60 countries working to defeat the group through military force and other means, also spoke yesterday.

"We can bring to bear the capacity of the global coalition... to counter the message and the narrative of Daesh but, also very importantly, to tell the story of Islam, to help Muslims around the world recover Islam from the grip of organisations like Daesh," he said, referring to ISIS by the acronym of its Arabic name.

Professor Rohan Gunaratna, who heads the ICPVTR, said the network will build on discussions from the event and "expand beyond this to strengthen the hands of the community, state and other organisations to counter the current and emerging wave of extremism and terrorism".

The network's partners include the Kabul-based Centre for Conflict and Peace Studies as well as Singapore's Religious Rehabilitation Group, which counsels terror detainees, and the Inter-Agency Aftercare Group, which helps the families of those detained and works to reintegrate those who have been released.

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