Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Singapore: the protective or intrusive state?

I can only shake my head with bewilderment as I read of yet more Singaporeans being detained for harbouring plans to conduct acts of terrorism in the name of Islam. Although the Islamic world has indeed a great deal to be aggrieved for, all forms of violence (whether emanating from coalition forces, insurgent groups or self-styled mujahedin), is as far as I’m concerned, unconscionable.

That aside, I shall spare everyone (or those one of two readers of my blog) of that oh-so-tedious homily about how Islam is a religion of peace and that these misguided youths were sold an adulterated doctrine of radical Islam. That treatise has been dutifully delivered by MUIS representatives and other Government officials over the last few days.

For posterity sake, I would like to add some food for thought regarding Singapore’s approach (or direction) to counter terrorism in this new environment of heightened surveillance and paranoia. When it comes to matters such as terrorism, the Government will readily choose to err on the side of caution and squash early signs of radicalism before they materialize. But there is a fine balance to be struck between being protective and intrusive.

While the maintenance of public safety and confidence is a key consideration, the Muslim community will likely once again fall under the suspicious eye of the public. How else do you expect an uncle sitting at the coffeeshop to react to this latest news that more Malay Muslim youths sought to wage armed jihad. Extrapolate this fear and you have a citizenry (Muslim or otherwise) starting to feel squeamish under the panoptical eye of the state.

That’s when confidence is lost. Not confidence in the ability of the state to act timely, but confidence in the state to act fair handedly. Will my off-colour remark made to a friend on MSN be intercepted and misread as early signs of radicalization? Will my trips ‘overseas’ be viewed as suspicious travel with intent to wage in jihad? Will my stout religiosity be dubbed a threat?

This brings me back to my point about the difference between being protective and intrusive. Such a distinction is only appreciable by the every day man, through the perceived ethical handling of intelligence and transparency in public communications. As the veracity of the intelligence gathered on these 3 individuals cannot possibly be verified by common folk like you and I, it really boils down to trust.

Trust that the intelligence was gathered and processed without prejudice or malice. This can be achieved by more transparent sharing of case findings in order for us to be convinced that the authorities indeed had the justification to act. This would strip away the shroud of secrecy surrounding such arrests under the infamous ISA, and limit avenues for conspiracy theory formation.

Granted, I see that the authorities at least had the common sense not to detain someone merely for being a recipient of some radical ideas. We as flawed humans inevitably at points in our unfortunate existence, habour ideas that if uttered out loud could be read as radical. While this Taufik fella dodged the proverbial bullet, the other two, Zamri and Maksham really have nothing to complain about; the evidence is plain to see. But alas, my judgments are only based on the evidences shared by the authorities.

Furthermore, the announcement of 6 detainees being rehabilitated and released (timed to perfection I might add), at the very least, puts me at ease that people like Zamri and Maksham are not going to be left there to rot away their youth. Pessimists will call it propagandist rhetoric, optimists will call it public accountability.

Not being a fan of Bushism, I shall avoid using that peculiar phrase “war on terror”. Rather, in this age of pervasive surveillance brought about by the realities of 9-11, some sacrifice of privacy is acceptable and arguably necessary. But it will only remain so if our basic liberties are not flippantly encroached upon in the name of national security. Its good that the Government appears to be more open about ISA cases, but like most of what they do, more would be better.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I still remember an arrogant leeder speaking at NUS to the political club (I think) many years ago. He mentioned that the lady president of Indonesia then asked for his advice/help on Jihadists and militants in her country.

The leeder had the audacity to invite "S'poreans who wanted to fight for their beliefs" to go ahead to train in Afghanistan! If my memory serves me correctly, he mentioned something about the Green or Red Berets will be waiting to welcome them with their automatic weapons.

Now at every instance, very rich ministers will try to absolve themselves by saying that fighting "terrorism" is the duty of every S'porean and we are always told to be prepared for the 'coming bomb'

Yes, there is a price to pay in supporting an illegal war and an insane president. "If you're not with me, you're with the terrorists" and "war on terror" and "weapons of mass destruction" have become the joke of the century!

We are paying and we may have to pay big time for the arrogance that's been shown by our leeders!

Meanwhile, the show must go on! At the expense of the peasants and some enthusiastic truth seekers!

That's life in Singapura!