SINGAPORE: Singapore takes a zero tolerance approach on hate speech and must ensure its communities are resilient against extremist rhetoric, said Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean on Wednesday (Jun 1).
Speaking virtually at the 17th Annual Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) Retreat, Mr Teo highlighted the case of Indonesian preacher Abdul Somad Batubara, who was denied entry into Singapore on May 16.
He noted that Somad had instigated his supporters to agitate on social media against Singapore. They also held protests and demanded an apology, with some inciting violence against Singapore and Singaporeans.
"Their allegations of Islamophobia are unfounded. Singapore takes a zero tolerance approach on hate speech regardless of whether it is a Christian Pastor or a Muslim Ustaz," said Mr Teo.
"Such extremist rhetoric has real world consequences" said Mr Teo, adding that a 17-year-old detained under the ISA in 2020 had watched Somad’s lectures, and had begun to believe that suicide bombers are martyrs.
But while Singapore can stop hate speech from physically entering the country, it cannot fully stop what comes through online, he said.
"We need to ensure that our communities are resilient against extremist rhetoric, especially online," he added.
"Our people, especially the young, must know to seek guidance from credible religious authorities, and to reject extremism and hate speech."
IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON TERRORISM
In his speech at the retreat, Mr Teo noted that the pandemic has made it difficult for terrorists to plan, prepare and carry out attacks, especially across borders, in the last two years.
However, terrorist groups stepped up their propaganda and recruitment efforts online.
"As people spent more time online, we continued to see a stream of self-radicalisation cases during the pandemic," he said.
"As we reopen our borders, there will be a surge in international travel. So there may be a renewed terrorism threat as foreign fighters return home or travel to conflict zones. There will also be more opportunities for lone-wolf attacks."
Mr Teo also highlighted the situations in Afghanistan and Ukraine, as well as Israeli-Palestinian clashes, adding that the global security landscape remains uncertain.
"In Southeast Asia, the JI and ISIS affiliates are rebuilding their capabilities and show interest to mount attacks. Within Singapore, self-radicalisation continues to pose a domestic terrorism threat," he said.
But Mr Teo said he was heartened by how the RRG continued its work for the past two years in spite of COVID-19, and stressed the crucial role it plays.
"I have spoken to my counterparts in various countries. They often tell me that they envy us. What we have today is the result of the sacrifices of our RRG members," he said.