COUNTERING VIOLENT EXTREMISM IN SINGAPORE. Muhammad Haniff Hassan, PhD

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1 COUNTERING VIOLENT EXTREMISM IN SINGAPORE Muhammad Haniff Hassan, PhD

2 ABOUT THE SPEAKER Assoc. Fellow at RSIS Research interest: Muslim extremist ideology, radicalisation and counter-radicalisation, moderation in Islam, Islamic law (shariah) and contemporary Islam Other key portfolios: > Member, Islamic Advisory Board HSBC Takaful (Islamic insurance) > Member, MUIS Shariah Appeal Board > Member, Political Film Consultative Committee

3 Some works and publications (downloadable from internet for free)

4 Dedicated blog for counter-ideology at (previously hosted at multiply.com)

5 Content of Presentation Centrality of ideology in Muslim radicalisation Singapore experience dealing with Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) s threat - Overview of cases - Community initiatives Recommendations for counter-ideology work - Basic framework (based on experiences of Singapore and others)

6 Centrality of Ideology The hard approach of War on Terror has not produced intended results Many governments are gradually incorporating counter-ideology work in their counter-terrorism strategy What is the intellectual basis?

7 . centrality of ideology Based on violent extremists words and deeds Tremendous efforts by violent extremists on ideological work - constructing their ideology, criticising opposing ideologies and justifying their actions from the lens of their ideology Al-Maqdisi s website - the largest repository of violent extremist intellectual materials, the focus of the Militant Ideology Atlas

8 . centrality of ideology Publications by the Trio Bali Bombers The thriving of violent extremist publications in Indonesia study made by the International Crisis Group The act of former jihadists ideological revision materials

9 . centrality of ideology Violent extremists as rational actors - would not have spent so much of their resources and effort on ideological materials if they were not important to them, did not serve their cause nor if there were no demand for such material The profile of violent extremists - not all of them commit terrorism because of poverty or economic marginalisation Ideology is central but not the only factor

10 . centrality of ideology The identification of those other factors and their impact on counter-terrorism work are not within the scope of the presentation Ideology is defined as any system of ideas underlying and informing social and political action Admittedly, role of ideology is contested

11 Overview of Cases in Singapore ( ) First wave of arrest in December 2001, 15 arrested (13 JI, 2 MILF) Second wave of arrest in August 2002, 21 arrested (19 JI, 2 MILF) Since then several minor arrests, most recent is in June 2012 (1 JI fugitive deported from Indonesia) Not all detained without trial, some where released with restriction order

12 overview of cases Total no. of cases (as of October 2012): JI, 1 JI/MILF, 9 MILF, 8 self-radicalised, 1 Al-Qeada sympathiser Detained 65, Un-detained 21 Released from detention 48, remained in detention of 48 released detainee freed from restriction order 16 of 21 un-detained persons freed from restriction orders

13 overview of cases 1 recidivism case 1 escape case (re-arrested) 1 Singaporean is serving 18 years imprisonment in Indonesia for terror activity

14 Counter-Ideology: Community Initiatives Commendable initiatives by Singapore Muslim community Muslim organisations had come out to condemn the 9/11 attacks Initiated public debates on the importance of moderation amongst Muslims 122 Muslim leaders/organisations condemn JI s plots and ideology

15 community initiatives Publication of a book entitled Muslim, Moderate, Singaporean Publication of a book entitled Moderation in Islam in the Context of the Muslim Community in Singapore The Asatizah (religious teachers) Recognition Scheme

16 community initiatives The formation of the Religious Rehabilitation Group Aftercare Group - provides psychological, emotional and financial support to the families The Harmony Centre Online platforms

17 Recommended Framework Is about identifying: right objectives right target groups accurate understanding of extremist ideology right key partners right approach key success factors

18 . objectives Inoculate general Muslims from extremist ideology Persuade some members of violent extremist groups to abandon the ideology Create doubt and dissension within violent extremist organisation Rehabilitate detained violent extremist Minimise non-muslims anxiety and suspicion by presenting alternatives to violent extremist ideology

19 target groups Members of violent extremist organisations, immediate family members and their sympathisers Muslims in general Non-Muslims at large

20 Importance of primary materials, good human resources and research work thorough understanding of ideology Understand the ideology and main ideas of the extremist groups How? Map key ideas, which make up the belief system of the group Why? > To have a comprehensive view of the ideology > To better distinguish the group s features, minimise the danger of mistakenly attacking wrong ideas and groups

21 key approach The importance of the theological and juristic approach in the ideological struggle against terrorism The classical ulama s methodology of ijtihad or deduction from the Quran and the hadits

22 .intellectual rigour Not mere condemnation or judgment i.e. Al-Qaeda is deviant, Terrorism is haram, not jihad Violent extremists argue rigorously for their ideology (see materials Al-Maqdisi s website), equal rigour is needed to counter them Not all violent extremists are simple minded folks Allow Muslims to make informed judgment, not blind following; Empower them with knowledge and sound arguments, not spoon feeding approach Give more credible to counter-ideology

23 key partner I The ulama Important for policy makers to incorporate and co-opt Muslim scholars/leaders to succeed in winning over the terrorist s sympathisers and for the refutation be widely accepted by Muslim community

24 key partner II Moderate community leaders Making a clear distinction between the moderate and the radical is difficult because in reality there is no such neat dichotomy Thus, a more subtle or nuanced approach is needed when characterising moderate Muslims, ulama and Islamic groups

25 key partner III Madrasah - strategic partner, not a threat The institution that schooled many moderate Muslim scholars and thinkers The main provider of the right foundation for students keen on learning the traditions and theology of mainstream Islam The key for the preservation of mainstream Islam

26 key partner IV Former detainees (where appropriate for specific audience) Lessons from counter-ideology works in Egypt by leaders of Egyptian Al-Jamaah Al-Islamiyah and Sayyid Imam Al-Sharif Great impact on Egypt, Libya and Algeria Use their revisionist materials; need to translate them to other language for non-arabic speaking Muslim youth

27 avoid generalisation Avoid generalisation Negative effects - Non-cooperation from moderate Muslims, ulama etc - Defines the threat too widely, face a wider battlefront, larger target audience or possibly creating too many unnecessary battlefronts - End up creating more enemies

28 understand context Take into account the heterogeneity of Muslims and Muslim Take into consideration different cultural and contextual realities A policy that worked for one group or one area, may not be successful for other groups or areas Political, historical and socio-economic considerations are all part of the contextual consideration in formulating policies at the national and international level No one size fits all policy

29 .inclusive front Includes Muslim partners of different background and tendencies i.e. traditionalist, sufi, salafi, Islamist, tablighi, community leaders who can reach out to wide segments of community, academician (not just clerics), institutions (not just individuals) Non-violence radicals may have a role capitalise them for audience that suits them best Muslims are diverse needs diverse actors to reaching out for greater impact i.e. not everybody can be appealed by sufi/salafi/tablighi viewpoint Terrorism is a common enemy of Muslims of all orientations, counter-ideology front is a good platform to bringing together Muslims

30 address grievances Winning over the trust and addressing grievances Winning hearts and minds will be an uphill task as long as some of the root causes of global Muslim grievances are not addressed Understanding the grievances helps to understand terrorism s roots

31 overcoming discrimination, hate crimes, prejudices Non-Muslims and Western governments must also make the effort not to allow the extremists among them to dictate the agenda of Muslim and non- Muslims relation by continuously casting doubts on general Muslims, or anticipating an inevitable clash between them

32 role of state at the strategic level State must facilitate community-based initiatives to take off and succeed, otherwise such calls will only be seen as an effort to transfer a burden to the community At strategic level, policy makers must have clear vision on how they should contribute to this important aspect of combating terrorism

33 role of Muslim officers The availability of Malay and Muslim officers within the security agency and the Singapore Police Force helps the Singapore government to implement a nuanced approach in handling JI issue

34 state-community relationship building Continuous effort to develop good relationship with minority community is an important asset in time of crisis that policy makers must recognise

35 Muslim-Non-Muslim gap Gap between Muslims and non-muslims or the Muslim world and Western countries hampers a cohesive counterideological work at community level Counter-ideological work must give serious attention to this in order to devise effective strategies

36 partnering with media If media continues to promote Islamophobia, the effort to bridge gap between Muslims and non-muslims or Muslim world and the West will not have any effect at community level Muslim leaders and scholars need the media to make their voices heard Counter-ideology work will need to incorporate this agenda in its work and devise appropriate strategy and plan Good media relations is essential

37 interactive approach and online initiative Interactive approach appeals to current trend of Muslim youth More interesting, not perceived as propagandistic and brainwashing Youth are so connected to Internet, increasingly use it to study Islam Produce cool stuff for youth i.e. computer wallpapers, short video, cartoons, comics

38 Online radicalisation is real; the need for counterideology go online i.e. engage extremist at their forums Write counter-ideology articles to local papers

39 closing remark Similar to counter-insurgency approach of winning the hearts and minds By winning the people, the flow of recruits and material support would be cut off The Tri-partite relationship - Government agencies - Community leaders and institutions - Research and academic institutions

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