The “war” on terror

Muhammad Shamin

Lately, the
Berita Harian, Singapore’s only Malay newspaper controlled by the Government has been giving extensive coverage to Singapore’s “war on terrorism”. Last month alone, three articles in just one week were given front page coverage on the matter.

Now we know why. The Government announced today that it had detained 20-year-old National Serviceman Muhammad Fadil who it says is a “deeply radicalised” Muslim. Given the fact that the PAP uses the Internal Security Act (ISA) to silence its critics and suppress democracy, what are we to believe in this “war”?  

There is no denying that groups who use violence as a method to achieve their objectives exist. However, these articles, coming at a time when the election fever is being felt are seen as tactics to divert attention especially of the Malay community away from the real issues affecting them.

People are saddled with the ever increasing high cost of living, shrinking wages and loss of jobs due to the uncontrolled influx of foreign workers.

Being the sole Malay newspaper, Berita Harian monopolizes the Malay-reading market. This gives the government mouthpiece the complete control to manipulate and channel Malay perception and thinking to achieve its desired objective.

Against this background, it is obvious that the issue on terrorism is played to PAP’s advantage. The avalanche of articles is to justify PAP’s heavy-handed methods in using the dreaded ISA and in broader context the denial of basic human rights.

A psychological war

The War on Terror is a label used indiscriminately. Brand someone or a group terrorist, extremist or radical and persecute and eliminate them by unleashing the most effective tool in the arsenal of the State. This process is done through draconian laws such as the ISA, a legacy inherited from the British colonial Singapore.

By repeating the message on terror in newspapers, PAP is able to instil fear in the minds of the gullible and thus take the moral high ground as the saviour of the people. It is all so easy for them to act in the name of war on terror to arrest anyone and justify their actions.

Singapore’s internal enemies

Throughout the world, many countries have their own internal enemies. For example, Turkey has a Kurdish problem and is fighting a Kurdish insurgency. Thailand has its problem with its Muslims in the South and the Philippines in facing a similar problem has to deal with an ongoing communist elements as well.

Ever since Singapore’s separation from Malaysia, there have always been Malay individuals or group who have been a thorn in PAP’s side, in particular that of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s. These Malays also happen to be Muslims. Mr Lee Kuan Yew had famously said:

Well, we make them say the national pledge and sing the national anthem but suppose we have a famine, will your Malay neighbour give you the last few grains of rice or will she share it with her family or fellow Muslim or vice versa?

In 1987, in a reply to an opposition Member of Parliament’s remark that Malays should not be discriminated, Mr Lee Hsien Loong who was then Minister for Defence said:

If there is a conflict, if the SAF is called upon to defend the homeland, we don’t want to put any of our soldiers in a difficult position where his emotions for the nation may come in conflict with his emotion for his religion, because these are two very strong fundamentals, and if they are not compatible, then they will be two very strong destructive forces in opposite directions.

War on terror

It is rather difficult to separate religious fundamentalism and outright extremism. These are play of words and it is so easy to demonise a group through the misconceptions created out of these words. Often the word “terrorist” is used liberally on people who display a form of rejection towards the status quo. Who is a radical, who is extremist and who is terrorist? It seems that anyone who displays a tendency to be religious or zealous is branded as one and condemned.

The root cause of the problem needs to be addressed rather than trying to cure the symptoms, if any. Extremism and terrorism are the result of discrimination and disproportionate treatment given by the ones in power. When dignity and pride of a people are trampled upon, such views will inevitably come to the surface. Even a cat will know how to fight back when its tail has been stepped on.

Embrace differences

Only acceptance of differences, social inclusion and solidarity will overcome our problem. Through democracy and dialogue, extremist elements are weeded out through reason. It is only through a free and pluralistic media, free and fair elections and an independent judiciary will justice prevail and reason upheld.

Religion is a private matter and interference in religious life is unacceptable for a government claiming to be secular. Even if there exists a party in the form of Christian Democrats or Islamist, it is the electorate that will decide for itself who it wants in power.

Today, Indonesia is secular even though the abundance of religious parties engaged in electoral politics.

At this juncture, a well-known poem by Pastor Martin Niemoller, who protested against Hitler’s policy of purging of targeted groups, comes to my mind.

THEY CAME FIRST for the Communists,

and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.

THEN THEY CAME for the trade unionists,

and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

THEN THEY CAME for the Jews,

and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.


and by that time no one was left to speak up.

Our common enemies are racial supremacists, racial bigotry, racist, racism and racial discrimination. These are threats to our social fabric. We should always be aware of such tendencies, especially when they are echoed by influential people. The racial riots of the 1960’s should serve as a constant reminder for all of us.

Let’s work towards a harmonious Singaporean Singapore, the goal set by the leaders of Singapore when the island became independent on 9 Aug 65.

Muhammad Shamin is a member of the Young Democrats.

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