Speech by Minister for Social and Family Development, Second Minister for Health and Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Mr Masagos Zulkifi for the International Conference on Religious Extremism on 7 June 2022
The Grand Mufti of the Arab Republic of Egypt and President of the Supreme Council of the General Secretariat of Fatwa Authorities Worldwide, Professor Dr Shawki Ibrahim Allam,
Chairman of the Salam Centre for Extremism Studies, Dr Ibrahim Negm,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Assalamu’alaikum warahmatullah wabarakatuh.
I am honoured to address you today, virtually, at the international conference by the Salam Center for Extremism Studies. We gather today, representing our respective nations and communities, to address a shared global concern and challenge – terrorism and extremism. It not only poses an internal threat to our countries, but undermines our international peace and security globally. Therefore, we must constantly adapt our counter-extremism programmes. Conduct rigorous debate on new strategies that are adapted to the modern era. Actively share what works and what may not. To this end, allow me to share some of Singapore’s efforts in countering extremism.
First of all, Singapore is not immune to the extremist threat. In 2001, the authorities disrupted a Jemaah Islamiyah (or JI) network on local soil. We foiled their multiple plots to carry out terror attacks in Singapore. The security operation also exposed the JI’s clandestine networks across Southeast Asia, and their connections to Al Qaeda (or AQ). This has been Singapore’s closest shave with transnational terrorism to date.
The Singapore Government closely partners our community and international counterparts to combat the terrorism threat. We recognise that terrorism is not simply a threat to physical safety. If we fail to address the risk swiftly, and effectively at its source, it can sow discord, erode social cohesion, and fracture the delicate balance in our multi-racial and multi-religious society.
This is why building trust and collaborating with the community has been a key pillar of our approach to combat terrorism and radicalism. We realised this early on. It has guided our decision to adopt a softer approach, but with sound basis. We focus on religious guidance and long-term rehabilitation, to achieve the longer-term goal of strengthening relations between the community, the authorities, and the wider society. It was a battle for hearts and minds from the start.
As part of our Government-community partnership approach, the Singapore Government reached out to Muslim leaders and scholars for assistance to tackle the rising terror threat. This was a pivotal move. This ensured that our rehabilitation and counter-extremism efforts were built on strong foundations of trust.
In fact, the Religious Rehabilitation Group (or RRG) has been one of our key success factors in rehabilitating radicalised individuals. The RRG was formed by a group of Islamic scholars and teachers who volunteered to provide religious counselling to the JI members, to correct their radical ideologies. Over the years, the RRG has also expanded its work to include efforts to counter extremist ideology.
Singapore’s rehabilitation approach aims to be holistic and intensive, comprising religious, psychological, and social rehabilitation. It is also customised to meet the individual’s specific needs and circumstances. Allow me to share three quick points.
a. First, religious rehabilitation. We require detainees and supervisees to attend monthly Religious Counselling sessions with an RRG religious counsellor. They receive proper religious teachings and interpretations, to counter the radical ideology that they had imbibed from online and other sources.
b. Second, psychological rehabilitation. Our psychologists work closely with detainees to address their tendency for hatred and violence, and vulnerability to radical influence. This occurs throughout their detention, and even after they are released on supervision.
c. Third, social rehabilitation. Our goal is to ensure the smooth reintegration of detainees back into society. During their detention, they are granted weekly family visits. Upon their release, we also assign an aftercare officer to each detainee or supervisees’ family to provide social support.
The internet has also become a key platform for terrorist propaganda and online radicalisation. Our religious leaders act as a bulwark against extremist ideologies. They play an important role in guiding the community in practising their faith in our multi-racial and multi-religious society – both online and offline.
Beyond this, it is equally critical to ensure prosperity. We continuously create and sustain a society of opportunities for every Singaporean – regardless of race or religion. As a small country, with scarce land and resources, we cannot take this for granted. Hence, since independence, our social compact is one where the Government creates the conditions for economic growth and jobs, while ensuring access to the most essential needs – education, healthcare, and housing. Individuals are self-reliant and supported by strong families. For those who fall upon difficult times, the Government enables them to bounce back, together with a caring community. This approach of working together has created good outcomes for our people and society. Over time, it has protected us against the erosion of social cohesion, which has plagued many societies where opportunities have started to wither.
To conclude, tackling extremism and terrorism is a wicked problem that requires collective action – both domestically and internationally. None of us can succeed on our own. Therefore, let us continue to forge partnerships, exchange information, and collaborate with one another. Only then can we overcome the threat of extremism together, towards a more peaceful and safer world for future generations.