SINGAPORE: Within the next two years, all Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) personnel will have to attend a counter-terrorism module on protecting themselves and supporting first responders in the event of a terrorist attack.
“In MINDEF and the SAF, we are equipping our personnel to respond to crises in their personal capacity,” Senior Minister of State for Defence Maliki Osman said in his Committee of Supply debate speech on Friday (Mar 2).
Called the Community Response Module (CRM), the programme includes the SGSecure initiative of “Run, Hide, Tell” to prepare Singaporeans against the threat of terrorism.
Personnel will also be taught the “Assess, Decide, Act” framework to know how to apply relevant military and life-saving skills acquired during their service.
“Through CRM, our people will be better prepared as active responders to render aid to injured civilians as well as assist authorities to enhance the safety of others,” MINDEF said in a press release. “The training will also emphasise that our people’s responses are voluntary and they should not unnecessarily put themselves in harm’s way.”
MINDEF hopes to introduce CRM training “progressively”, with the aim of training all personnel – including defence executive officers and SAF Volunteer Corps (SAFVC) members – by mid-2019.
“It complements the SGSecure effort, and better prepares our servicemen to be active community responders,” Dr Maliki said, noting that CRM has already been rolled out in Basic Military Training.
THE THREAT OF TERRORISM
While it is good to prepare for the tangible side of a terrorist attack, Dr Maliki said the damage can run deeper.
“Our social cohesion could be compromised if Singaporeans allow themselves to be swayed by divisive falsehoods, or stigmatise particular social groups in the wake of a violent attack,” he said.
This is especially as religion has been misused by terror groups like Islamic State, and misrepresented by preachers who espouse extreme views, he noted.
“Religion has also begun to enter the realm of politics as seen in the region, resulting in built up tensions in community relations,” he added. “As a society, we can and will continue to be tested.”
However, negative reactions can be avoided “depending on how strong we are psychologically as individuals and socially as a community”, Mr Maliki said.
Good examples are Muslims who denounce such actions and assure non-Muslim friends that they are not reflective of Islam in Singapore, he said. At the same time, the latter group would return the assurances and express support.
“With deepened trust, all Singaporeans would stand united to safeguard the harmony we hold dear,” he added.
Beyond race and religion, Dr Maliki said there are “new potential fault lines” in Singapore’s social fabric, which can come in the form of differences in culture, experiences and perspectives.
“If we do not continue to forge common understanding, our differences could be played up to divide us, making it difficult for us to band together in a crisis,” he warned.
Rather, it is important to grow “our common space” by interacting with people of different backgrounds, speaking up against attempts to sow discord and helping those in need, he said.
For example, Dr Maliki highlighted the “Common Senses for Common Spaces” interfaith dialogue programme, which provides community members with a safe space to ask questions and learn about the different faiths in Singapore.
“Such efforts foster deeper trust and a stronger will to stand firm against attempts to turn us against each other,” he added.
THE THREAT OF FAKE NEWS
Even then, Dr Maliki said, there are still people who deliberately spread falsehoods to weaken trust in public institutions or to incite fear. “Fake news has the potential to undermine us from within,” he said.
In response, Singapore needs a “psychologically resilient people, able to withstand crisis or viral attacks, and not be rattled”, he added.
Citing a Channel NewsAsia commentary, Dr Maliki said Singaporeans should think and stand up for themselves.
“If someone comments negatively about Singapore and our immediate response is not to verify the facts, but to instead condemn Singapore and worse, spread the untruths, we are creating for ourselves a hole in our defence,” he added.
Nevertheless, Dr Maliki said MINDEF will continue to strengthen the whole-of-community effort when it comes to Total Defence. This includes deploying SAFVC volunteers in 15 additional roles across the SAF this year, he added.
“Enlisting in the SAF Volunteer Corps is one way many women, new citizens and first-generation Permanent Residents have stepped up to serve,” he added, noting that more than 600 volunteers have been trained and deployed to various roles since launch.
“With a strong Total Defence, we have every reason to be hopeful and confident in Singapore’s future.”