Staying Safe – Knowing and Doing What It Takes

There has been a noticeable silence from liberals in the wake of the Paris massacre. We do not hear the usual cry to abolish the Internal Security Act and the concomitant State power to detain without trial, to abandon capital punishment and to champion freedom of expression.

Where have all the liberals gone? Gone to try quiet places with heads turned away from the nasty reality that there are bad people willing and capable of doing bad things. Really bad. And no amount of high flown rhetoric or rational debate will stay their hand.

It is no secret that Singapore opposes violent extremism – of whatever typology or origin. Nor is it unknown that we have supported operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and in the Gulf of Aden. So it is not improbable that we are on the hit lists of some groups. In 2001 we dealt effectively with the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) cell but it would be naive to think that our troubles ended then and with them.

We should be prepared to confront evil, whatever its name and origin. We should note that while ISIS claims for itself a religious premise, violent extremism is not its exclusive domain.

In the 1950s and 60s the Chinese community in Malaya was susceptible to the attractions of terrorism motivated by a volatile mix of communist ideology and a ethnic chauvinism. It required a multi-year, multi-front and costly campaign to strangle the snake of communism.

In the 1980s some in the local Sikh community were outraged by the actions of the Indira Ghandhi government to suppress the militant Sikh sect at Amritsar. Thankfully early intervention by the authorities backed by the power of the law kept matters of spilling over.

We cannot pick and choose our positions with regards to violent extremism, racial or religious hatred depending on our personal affiliations. We must be universal and consistent in our stance against these mortal threats.

Our strong laws, capable intelligence and security forces and hard headed leadership with backbone are required but inadequate to confront violent extremist forces in today’s’ interconnected world. The people have to play their part too.

First, we need to deny extremist forces any presence in our country or claim to legitimacy. We should police each other in the cyber world and report to the authorities any indication of violent tendencies or sympathy for those who practice terrorism, racial or religious hatred. We must be prepared to constrain the speech of those who espouse or sympathise with violent extremism whatever the claims to legitimacy.

Second, we need to deter violent extremists. We must make clear that we are prepared to act swiftly and decisively, as we did to deal with the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) cell in 2001. There should be no signalling that we have since become a softer touch.

Third, we must be prepared and able to disrupt violent extremism. This means close coordination between our security agencies and with agencies in other countries similarly challenged. It also means that we invest in the capabilities and training required to have the sort of intelligence and security forces necessary to meet the threats of today and tomorrow.

Fourth, should it become necessary we must be willing to destroy violent extremists and violent extremism.

The former means having the specialists units capable of tackling forcibly any recalcitrant violent actors. The latter means we have to wage a relentless campaign of education and psychological warfare to stamp out the poison of extremist ideology and thinking.

To deny, deter, disrupt and destroy violent extremism successfully in the 21st century requires the support and participation of the population to complement the capabilities and powers of the State. We cannot have the attitude that this is the sole responsibility of the Government.

The dead cannot enjoy their rights. Innocents cut down cannot be substituted with memorials. Families destroyed can never be made whole with speeches and internet memes.

The garden of liberalism to flourish it must be guarded by the walls of illiberalism. We must have constraints on certain freedoms, accept that the State needs to have the powers to act and understand that there will always be certain forces which understand no other language than a greater force.

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