Youth 'must be wary of ISIS rhetoric'

Minister of State for Defence and National Development Maliki Osman with participants at the convention yesterday. Also present was Mr Ganesh Kalyanam (far right), director of Republic Poly’s Office of Student and Graduate Affairs.

SINGAPORE - Youth in Singapore have a part to play in countering the threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), given the unprecedented social media savvy shown by the terrorist outfit, said Minister of State for Defence and National Development Maliki Osman yesterday.

Besides guarding themselves against the terrorists' rhetoric, youth here should also be watchful for peers who may appear to have fallen under the influence of extremist ideology, Dr Maliki told 350 students yesterday, at a convention organised by Muslim group Taman Bacaan and the Inter-Agency Aftercare Group, which helps to reintegrate terror detainees.

He urged them to be on guard against the terrorist group's social media reach.

"The videos and images that we view from our palms, through our tablets and smartphones, may shape perception and thinking and influence us," he said.

"But, please remember, our multiracial, multi-religious nature of our society will not change. Neither will the need for tolerance, respect and sensitivity in preserving our racial harmony."

Individuals may become self-radicalised by material they view online, and like-minded "lone wolves" could also come together to commit acts of terror, said Dr Maliki.

He called on the participants to look out for one another, watch for tell-tale signs like increased isolation and more dogmatic religious views in their peers, and alert the authorities or adults early.

Participants also had a closed-door dialogue with several terrorism experts.

The questions students raised included how prepared Singapore was to manage the social fallout of a terror attack.

How a country reacts to a terrorist attack determines whether it will survive one, said keynote speaker Rohan Gunaratna, who heads the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

"A terrorist attack, by itself, cannot really destroy Singapore," he said. "It is only a communal riot, (that may) happen after the attack, and the suspicion and the hatred that we develop - that is what can damage Singapore."

Only individual Singaporeans, and not the Government, can ensure that society remains peaceful and resilient even if an attack occurs, said Professor Rohan.

Students said the session reminded them to be wary of ISIS propaganda and question the purpose of materials released by the terrorist group.

Ms Monessha Nair, a 20-year-old Republic Polytechnic student, talked about watching a recent shocking video of a Jordanian pilot being burned alive by ISIS.

She said: "The video really captured my attention and I watched the whole thing from the start to the end... I'm definitely more on guard against their propaganda."

Dr Maliki said he was glad that the participants included young people from various ethnic groups.

"It's not about Islam; it's a political ideology that is being framed in the context of a religion," he said. "And for non-Muslim students to be able to hear and appreciate the actual content is very important."

This article was first published on March 15, 2015.
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