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Youth Self-Radicalisation: Lessons From The Singapore Narrative

Bilveer Singh

 

ABSTRACT

The threat posed by radicalism and terrorism is not new. However, with the end of the Cold War, while terrorism and extremism anywhere and associated with any religion is a major concern, what has come to dominate the security radar screen of Southeast Asian countries (and elsewhere) is the extremism and terrorism associated with Islam. This is particularly of concern in countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines. While agentinspired and induced radicalisation has long dominated the phenomenon, a relatively new concern is what is described as ‘self-radicalisation’. This is brought about by self-learning, mainly of published materials and of increasingly growing importance, through the Internet. This study will examine the following issues: What is self-radicalisation, why is it increasingly important, the Singapore narrative and more important, what to do.

 

Introduction

Some have argued that the next major challenge in terrorism and radicalisation will emanate from self-radicalisation. Strictly speaking, selfradicalisation refers to the manner an individual teaches himself about religion, in this case, about Islam but through the adoption of a radical interpretation of the discourse. While the main security issue regarding terrorism since 2001 was the manner the Al Jemaah Al Islamiyyah (AJAI) was driving its supporters in the region, this changed fundamentally from 2007, when the first self-radicalised individual was detained in Singapore. Essentially, self-radicalisation involves self-learning, mainly from published materials and the Internet. While the norm in Islam has been to learn from a teacher, that is, someone who has superior knowledge and wisdom about the religion and the debates associated with various issues, once someone decides to access published materials and the Internet as the source of knowledge on Islam, the situation opens up to all kinds of possibilities, including misrepresentation of the religion, which can have dangerous consequences. Even if someone garners knowledge and information from the Internet, it is still imperative that the information be counter-checked with an expert.

 

Understanding the Self-Radicalisation Discourse

In many ways, the discourse on terrorism is analogous to ‘an argument’ that is won or lost through action and persuasion (Aly, 2007). This requires comprehending the underlying roots of terrorism generated from violent religious extremism. What the United States did following the 9/11 attacks was to externalise its response to the threat by ignoring the potential danger that could be posed by the rising radicalisation of unsuspecting ‘residents’ from within the US and other Western states. This, in turn, posed the critical question of how effective the counter-terrorism strategy was at the national, regional and global levels as the resort to hard power alone was unlikely to eradicate terrorism (Bush, 1 April 2001). This is because any extremism and terrorism, including that which is Islamist in orientation, was premised on the battle for the hearts and minds. The emergent trend of self-radicalisation across global capitals highlighted the ‘home-grown’ source of religious extremism and terrorism. While this trend has come under the focus of the international media, in reality, it is not really a new phenomenon. Rather, it is symptomatic of the “cancer” of the radical Islamist discourse and jihadist social milieu that transcends physical and territorial borders in an age of globalisation, especially the revolution in information technology.

 

In general, there is an assumption that the home-grown threat of Islamist radicalisation has emerged alongside the external threat posed by terrorist organisations such as Al Qaeda, and in the case of Southeast Asia, the AJAI. This phenomenon was highlighted by the New York City Police Department (NYPD) report titled Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat. The report referred to the “terrorist attacks or thwarted plots against cities in Europe, Canada, Australia and the United States” which “have been conceptualized and planned by local residents/citizens who sought to attack their country of residence” (Mitchell and Bhatt, 2007, p. 2). The phenomenon of self-radicalisation fundamentally altered a state’s defense against a terrorist threat which had until then assumed that the danger would emanate from outside.

 

The NYPD report and other reports released by authorities in Singapore and Australia greatly added to the discourse on terrorism with serious implications for national security and the counter-terrorism agencies. Still, the concepts of ‘home-grown’ terrorism and the ‘external threat’ posed by jihadist organisations are not mutually exclusive. Research on self-radicalisation has demonstrated that the ‘resident’ or ‘citizen’ can be ‘radicalized’ either through exposure to the militant jihadist discourse online or through recruitment by domestic or foreign operatives from regional or global terrorist organisations (Wu, 2008, pp. 2-3). This has called into question the existing referents about terrorism and states’ approaches to terrorism. It has also opened a policy window for alternative approaches to more effectively mitigate the terrorist threat.

 

For long, self-radicalisation by individuals, though not new, eluded the radar screens of security agencies. This was because such individuals only came to the notice of the security agencies when a crime was committed. Or, as in the Singapore case, they made contact with a terrorist group/cell but such contact may have not been tantamount to a crime per se. But otherwise, radicalisation or self-radicalisation remained ‘invisible’. Thus far, the complex and unconventional phenomenon of terrorism has required comprehensive approaches that do not rely solely on statist approaches in international relations, nor on the instinctive use of force to counter security threats.

 

If anything, the “intellectual front” rather than the “jungles or hideaways of terrorists” needs addressing as ‘in the end, it is the battle of ideas that will win this war’ (Singh, 2007, p. 156). This requires exploring alternative approaches that can adequately dissuade, not merely prevent, the ideological, socio-psychological transformation of the ‘unsuspecting’ resident into a religious extremist and terrorist (Posner, 2006, p. 203). Learning the grammar of the militant Islamists but ultimately refuting the narrow logic of militancy is vital in winning the ‘battle of the hearts and minds’ (Singh, 2007, p. 156).

 

The evolving trends illustrate the importance of addressing the deep-seated causes of religious extremism and terrorism. This would require expanding the analytical lens beyond homeland defense and adopting alternative referents that locate the militant jihadist milieu at the nexus between religion and politics at the global-regional and sub-state levels of analysis. Here, the analytical concept of Talibanization can assist in capturing the ideational discourse of militant jihad and the socio-psychological linkages between radicalised individuals within the jihadist social milieu. Talibanization establishes the importance of immaterial structures which sustain the transnational violent jihadist milieu (Singh, 2007, p. 16). A related imperative is to analyse the socio-psychological situation of terrorists and how this influences their real or perceived position of weakness. From this perspective, the ‘global war on terror’ approach reflects an unconventional guerrilla insurgency by non-state actors against conventional powers within the existing world order. It also brings home the responsibility of governments to act to mitigate real injustices or dispel what radical Islamists perceive is inflicted on them, in undermining the incentive of resorting to terrorism – the latter a potent weapon of the weak.

 

Today, the educated individual with a curious mind can gain easy access to the radical Islamist discourse, enabled via the dynamic virtual communications medium in the existing age of globalisation and complex interdependence. This infrastructure facilitates the emergence of a radical Islamist virtual community (Ryan, 2007, p. 995). Its ubiquity allows communication amongst widely dispersed ethno-religious groups that transcend the barriers of distance and time (Weimann, 2006, pp. 23-24), facilitating the virtual convergence of radical Islamists.

 

The communicative and instrumental functions of the Internet facilitate the sustenance of a radical Islamist virtual community, stemming from the distribution of propaganda by terrorists with the intent of canvassing support and mobilising material capabilities for armed jihad that targets current and potential supporters, the international community and enemies online (Weimann, 2006, p. 61). There are critical implications from the virtual congregation of like-minded individuals and groups (Weimann, 2006, p. 24). In particular, the proliferation of radical Islamist websites reflects their expanding reach. For example, Al Qaeda has expanded from one website (www.alneda.com) established in the late 1990s to over 50 today (Weimann, 2006, p. 67).

 

Furthermore, the online presence of global jihadists eludes censorship. The removal of a site cannot prevent its re-emergence on alternative servers (Weimann, 2006, p. 67). More importantly, the burgeoning virtual presence of radical Islamists suggests regular maintenance of the site and forums by members and supporters of the organisations (Weimann, 2006, p. 67). This demonstrates the symbiosis of virtual radical jihadist presence with a real following, not least in developed secular societies. The increasing radicalisation of individuals across developed capitals more fundamentally reflects the infiltration strategy employed by radical Islamists, manifested in three ways: the propagation of the global jihadist discourse via the Englishlanguage media; recruitment of Western jihadist spokesmen and; the employment of deceptive organisational facades.

 

The radicalisation process comprises of stages, ranging from the ‘gradual adoption of an extremist religious/political ideology hostile to the West and their allies, by local residents or citizens’ (Mitchell and Bhatt, p. 16). It entails ‘the progression of searching, finding, adopting, nurturing, and developing this extreme belief system to the point where it acts as a catalyst for a terrorist act’ (Mitchell and Bhatt, p. 16). According to this study, there are four stages in the radicalisation process that models progress from pre-radicalisation, and self-identification and indoctrination, before culminating in jihadisation (Mitchell and Bhatt, p.19).

 

It is pertinent to establish a conceptual framework that can adequately capture the complex process of self-radicalisation. Adoption of soft counter ‘values’ and counter ‘ideology’ approaches to treat and de-radicalise the ideational and cognitive-emotional bases of the militant jihadists necessitates deconstructing the appeal of fighting jihad globally. This requires integrating the ideological and socio-psychological dimensions of analysing the soft power of the militant jihadist discourse.

 

First, content analysis on the ideological discourse of militant jihad is pertinent as ‘ideas have consequences.’ Moreover, the beliefs and ideological orientation of terrorists reveal the political dimension of the radical discourse (Lia, 2005, pp. 13-15). Second, on a cognitive and sociopsychological level, it is important to consider the basis of individuals’ real and perceived sense of injustices or weakness that propels them to the resort to violent acts of terrorism. Third, critical and objective analysis of the situational context of susceptible individuals on social, economic and political levels is important in order for policy-makers to take immediate measures to undermine the basis for violent jihadists superimposing their radical worldview of an individual’s situation within the largely multiethnic and culturally heterogeneous societies of the Western developed capitals. Last but not least, it is important to incorporate a social network analysis in order to capture the critical transnational linkages that induct radicalised individuals and religious extremists into the realm of violent operations across global cities (Max, 2008, pp. 78-105).

 

Youth, Terrorism and Self-Radicalisation

By definition, youths are an impressionable lot. There is also a great of sense of idealism and of fair play, morality and the championing of causes that are outside the personal domain. These very characteristics have made them susceptible to self-radicalisation. This has led entrepreneurs peddling the business of terrorism and extremism to prey on them, in turn, raising the potential of new threats to one’s homeland following the subversion of unsuspecting individual ‘residents’ or ‘citizens’ in distant homelands. To manage this threat, there is a need to consolidate and encompass ‘soft’ strategies to counter ideational and political discourses on religious extremism and terrorism in cyberspace.

 

While the phenomenon of self-radicalisation is not new, what is of concern is its severity and its potential to undermine national security. In view of this, nation-building efforts would need to be undertaken as part of counter-terrorism, with the aim of building trust and confidence horizontally between the members of a heterogeneous society and vertically between the government and its people. Clearly, this is going to be the next lap in national security building and will be long-term in nature.

 

However, it cannot be denied that circumstances differ from society to society. For some conservative Asian societies, there may be serious problems with governance, which can be further aggravated by a lack of entertainment opportunities. This is primarily due to the prevalence and promotion of conservatism of one sort or another. In such an environment, where the only opportunity to break out of conservatism and boredom is the Internet, then the Internet as a platform can become a very powerful tool for radicals to reach what is essentially a captive audience. If for some reason or another, an individual accesses the Internet and happens upon radical websites, then trouble is likely to brew.

 

This is because the lack of entertainment and general conservatism on the one hand and the repeated ‘blasts’ of ‘jihad, jihad, jihad ’ in cyber space, the continuous drumming of manipulated and negative information on Islam and more important, what one must do to be a ‘good, pious Muslim’on the other can greatly influence the ‘client’ inducing him or her to become radicalised. Cyber space also has the potential to link like-minded people together, creating in turn, a ‘virtual family’ that is comfortable with each other. This is a major reason for the popularity of Internet radicalisers such as pro-Al Qaeda preacher Anwar Al Awlaki (Ramakrisha, 7 July 2010). Also, as the Internet does not require one to reveal one’s identity, one is able to ‘upload’ or ‘offload’ whatever is in one’s heart and mind, thereby providing a useful platform for the unrestrained vending of data as well as the its exaggeration when necessary. All these allow some people to gain tremendous satisfaction in accessing and ‘buying’ into ideas and ideology that would not be popularised or discussed by the mainstream community or media, leading to a link-up and coalescing of like-minded individuals, in this case, radicals, who have their ideas germinated, fertilised and eventually matured through the Internet.

 

It is conventionally believed that of all the different age groups, the youths are the most susceptible to online and non-online radicalisation, including through self-radicalisation. Why is this so? The age factor is critical as this is the generation that is increasingly Internet and Short Message Service (SMS) savvy. The easy accessibility of the cyberspace platform has also greatly facilitated this process, with an individual having his ‘mind washed’ in the privacy of his home and more importantly, on his personal computer, following his decision to lock into a particular website, without pressure from anyone else. In a sense, such youths have targeted themselves, resulting in them adopting particular views, often jaundiced and one-sided, about various tenets and practices of the religion.

 

The Internet is also very appealing to youth as many terror websites are flashy, well-designed with visually arresting graphic content. Many also offer chat-rooms, music videos and other features that target the computersavvy, media-saturated youths (Mohamed, 7 February 2008, The Straits Times). At the same time, the Internet, emerging as a virtual echo chamber, has become a key radicalisation accelerant. Three factors have drawn youths to radical Internet web sites: “they may come across radical content while exploring the Internet for entertainment (such as videos sites); they may be seeking, out of curiosity, information on ideologies, traditions, or heritage-related matters associated with the radical groups; or, they may be looking for a community with which they can identify” (White Paper, 24 April 2009).

 

Equally important, youths are defined and characterised by idealism. They aspire to answer calls that are beyond them. While many may have personal and other difficulties, they feel they will find self-worth by articulating, supporting and undertaking causes that appear just, moral and right. They believe in making the world a better place and also tend to be action-oriented. Often, they despise the status quo, especially one that is riddled with injustices. This, by definition, makes them attracted to larger causes. Psychologically, the ‘I and Me’ becomes less important, and the ‘Other’ and ‘Community’ becomes somewhat more critical, leading to a greater willingness to make sacrifices, especially if these are religiously sanctioned.

 

In some ways, the idealism of the youths makes them more vulnerable in supporting causes even if these appear radical and violent in nature. Also, with their access to quick information, as well as, through radical sites, readymade solutions on actions to take, there is a greater chance that this group of people will be more prone to radicalisation via this medium. Even though only a minority of the minority will be touched by this radicalism, the fact that this potential and avenue exists is something that security planners need to be cognisant of. There is also a small group that is hyper-religious and action-prone, partly due to their personal experiences and setbacks, and these individuals can be easily ‘mined’ for radical causes through the process of self-radicalisation, be it online or through radical publications.

 

Why is Religious Self-learning Dangerous?

The publication business, be it books, magazines or pamphlets, or for that matter, the Internet, CDs, and DVDs, is not neutral. This is aggravated by the existence of nearly 6000 radical sites that preach Islam in a militant manner that can endanger governments and more specifically, multiracial societies, by championing causes that are hard-line and highly religion-centric, at the expense of other societal values. For a lack of a better term, the promotion of extremist and violent salafi jihadist discourses has emerged as one of the main security concerns. If anything, the Internet and cyberspace in general, including Facebook, email, Twitter, SMS, etc. have become easily accessible and utilised, but difficult to police, so that all kinds of information is uploaded that can greatly influence an individual. The increasing number of radical sites, the ‘cool’ manner they are produced making them attractive and fun to access as well as the fact that they ‘talk the language’ that is understood by the ‘client’ has made cyberspace a very powerful tool for delivering powerful and potent messages that can easily influence not only one’s cognition but also possibly, influence one to behave and act in a particular manner. In short, it potentially serves not only to elicit sympathy to one’s causes, but also to get funds, be a source of recruitment, guide groups to undertake action almost through remote control such as bomb making and attacking a target as well as to influence one to become a convert towards a radical cause in the name of jihad.

 

For Southeast Asians, what has increasingly become disconcerting is the increasing number of radical websites that are not only in Arabic but also in English, Bahasa Indonesia and Bahasa Melayu. There are more than 200 Bahasa Indonesia and Bahasa Melayu radical sites that can be easily accessed by citizens in the Nusantara, namely, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Southern Thailand and Southern Philippines. Aggravating the challenge for the national security agencies is the emergence of multiple social networks that appear harmless and innocuous but on further probing, can reveal different levels of radicalisation that can influence the readers as the messages are about how to view a particular problem and issue, often laced with religious justifications and theories, including quotes from the Koran or practices undertaken by the Prophet and his Companions.

 

The very phenomenon of information technology, especially the Internet, from the operational point of view, makes it almost impossible to identify them unless they are specifically targeted by the relevant authorities. The fact that the Internet is essentially a private space and not a public one, makes policing it very challenging. The private nature of the platform, the difficulties of detection, the ability to access and transmit information quickly, even information that can be highly damaging and dangerous, such as on how to make a bomb or improvised explosive device (IED) or how to bomb a particular target, has made the domain a highly challenging one. True, most of the Internet users are peaceful in intent and would like to use it for various positive uses. However, this very accessible and powerful instrument also avails itself to others who may have malicious intentions and this is what make cyberspace so challenging. As for radicalisation over the Internet, it began more with information highlighting the plight of Muslims the world over, especially in places such as the Middle East where the Palestinians were being persecuted. Increasingly, the Internet was used for political rhetoric, highlighting the sufferings of the Muslims, partly to garner support for Muslim-oriented causes and partly to counter-balance the biased reporting of the Western-controlled media that rarely publicised the tragedies that befell Muslims, especially in the Middle East. However, over time, while the importance of political rhetoric remained, there has was a qualitative shift, with the information over the Internet becoming more action-oriented, showing users so inclined how to ‘fight back’ and ‘defend’ themselves, including through the use of violence where this was said to be justified as a ‘defence of the Ummah’, for ‘self-defence’ or for jihad against infidels and the enemies of Islam, with both Muslims and non-Muslims being targeted. In short, there has been a definitive shift with greater injection of radicalised discourses being uploaded on the Internet which in turn, possessed the potential to influence readers, not just cognitively but also as a ‘call to action’ to defend the Ummah and religion.

 

The Singapore Case Study

In order to understand the phenomenon of self-radicalisation, a number of cautionary provisos are worth noting. First, the demographic constituents susceptible to self-radicalisation are the minority Muslim and immigrant communities within multi-ethnic or predominantly Western societies. Second, this phenomenon has fundamentally shifted the focus to the search for potential structural factors that underlie the broader phenomenon of religious extremism within these societies. Third, because of the susceptibility of the Muslim minority communities, by birth or conversion, any study of the radicalisation process would require analysis of the secular state’s management of these communities across the West and elsewhere. This in particular applies to cases of home-grown terrorists and self-radicalised individuals who have emerged in the US, Australia, Britain, France, Germany, Holland, and Spain as well as Singapore and Bangalore (India), developed capitals with socio-cultural values and social trends similar to the West as a consequence of the phenomenon of globalisation. Last but not least, incidences of radicalisation among converts of citizens residing across these capitals should be more closely analysed for their sociopsychological state of mind that renders them susceptible to the radical Islamist discourse and violent jihadist social milieu (kinship networks).

 

In Singapore, three cases of self-radicalisation emerged between February 2007 and July 2010. The Singapore government detained a 28 year-old ‘self-radicalised’ law lecturer, Abdul Basheer Abdul Kader in February 2007 for his plan to wage ‘militant jihad ’ in Afghanistan (Singapore Government Media Release, 8 June 2007). In January 2008, three selfradicalised Singaporeans were arrested (Vasu and Chin, 2008). Twenty seven year-old Singaporean, Rijal Yadri Jumari, was earmarked as a future AJAI leader (Jeremy, 24 March 2008). Muhammad Zamri Abdullah who tried to join a ‘mujahidin network’ to wage armed jihad influenced Maksham Mohd Shah and Mohammad Taufik Andjah Asmara (Vasu and Chin, 2008). In July 2010, a serving National Serviceman, Mohd Fadil Abdul Hamid was also arrested.

 

What can be done to counter the Threat of Self-Radicalisation?

From the onset, it must be made clear that online radicalisation is not synonymous with self-radicalisation. Online radicalisation can be part of self-radicalisation but there are also other sources that can radicalise an individual, including books, magazines, pamphlets and even CDs and DVDs. With greater resources being pumped into counter-terrorism agencies and different kinds of ‘wars on terror’ taking place at the national, regional and global levels, there has been a shift in the arena of operations, especially as far as promoting the radical agenda and ideology is concerned. As the traditional avenues such as mosques, religious schools and institutions, that are being policed by security personnel, are becoming inhospitable for radicalisation, and with these institutions being manned by individuals who are unsympathetic to the radical discourse, alternative avenues have to be found; these are found in cyberspace and in published materials which are becoming increasingly important in winning the ‘battles of hearts and minds,’ in order to win over adherents, both in Muslim minority and majority states. Thus, when one posits strategies to counter, manage and contain self-radicalisation, these are important aspects that need to be understood. Otherwise, it would be tantamount to ‘boxing in the dark’ or ‘looking for a black cat in a dark room’.

 

First and foremost, education will continue to play a critical role in ensuring that self-radicalisation does not succeed. The authorities need to undertake out-reach programmes in order to educate and inform society of what is right and wrong, and more importantly, of the dangers that lurk over the horizon, in this case, cyberspace and elsewhere, if the logic of misinterpreted religion is bought in by individuals, and more important, acted upon. In the Singapore case, the authorities have, through Majlis Ulama Islam Singapura (MUIS), instituted the Azatizah Recognition Scheme to ensure that religious teachers are correctly accredited so that only qualified ones are tasked to teach and interpret the Koranic text as well as all aspects of the religion, especially in a multi-ethnic setting.

 

Here, the role of key religious and social organisations, such as MUIS, Association of Muslim Professionals, the Religious Rehabilitation Group, as well as mosques, is vitally important in ensuring that the virus of radicalism is somewhat managed and contained. It is not sufficient just to reach out to community leaders but also to the society’s rank and file, especially the students in national schools and even the madrassahs. Various avenues and forums such as the Inter-Religious Confidence Circles, Community Engagement Programmes, Safety and Security Watch Group, Inter-faith Dialogue and Presidential Council of Religious Harmony are utilised to sensitise people to the dangers of radicalism, including selfradicalisation. Interestingly, national religious bodies such as MUIS have also produced outreach programmes and information to counter the rising radicalisation in cyber space through the production of easily accessible data such as “Questions and Answers on Jihad” and “Don’t Be Extreme in Your Religion.”

 

While there is a serious need to ‘inoculate’, ‘immunise’, ‘vaccinate’ and build a ‘firewall’ for the vulnerable community, through various educational and outreach programmes, at the same time, there is a dire need to target radical and proxy websites, and individuals who have been won over by these sites. In this context, Singapore created Singapore Infocomm Technology Security Authority (SITSA), an agency in the Ministry of Home Affairs under the Internal Security Department to monitor radical websites, and if necessary, to take action against them. Otherwise, through rigorous monitoring, the authorities have taken action, including using the Internal Security Act (ISA) against individuals who have been self- or other-radicalised as they are viewed a threat to society.

 

At a more general level, there are many things that governments and state agencies can do to counter the threat of self-radicalisation. Among others, these include:

 

1. Study and understand the phenomenon of radicalisation and self-radicalisation;

2. Be able to understand how youths can be reached through different formal and informal channels and means;

3. Utilise the latest technologies to contain and counter radical websites from disseminating their ‘trade’;

4. Adopt measures to police and intrusively regulate the use of the Internet;

5. Fund and develop counter-radicalisation websites to counterbalance the websites that spurt religious misinterpretations and hate;

6. Adopt aggressive counter-ideology programmes to address fallacies, and distortions of Islamic teachings, that are propagated by various radical 

    sites, by mobilising credible moderate Islamist scholars and preachers; and

7. If all fail, have strong laws that criminalise the spreading of as well as ‘consumption’ of radical ideologies even though these laws must be applied 

    and implemented prudently.

 

General Observations, Lessons and the Way Forward

The escalation of radicalisation occurring from within societies in general, especially developed ones, directly impinges on existing policy instruments that have been adopted to mitigate the threat of religious extremism and terrorism. In particular, it underscores the domestic sources of Islamist radicalisation within states and hence, has consequences for a state’s counter-terrorism strategy and policies. This phenomenon also demonstrates the lacuna in the development of ‘comprehensive theories and computation tools to explain, hierarchically decompose, map terrorism’s root causes and generate hypotheses to resolve them’ (Sinai, 2007, pp. 36-37). More importantly, it points to the need to analyze the socio-psychological motivations driving the radicalisation of unsuspecting individuals and their induction into the global jihadist milieu. This requires, fundamentally, a relaxation of the top-down statist assumptions about the nature of the terrorist threat since September 11 which have dominated the discourse on terrorism and extremism and the processes that sustains it (Sinai, 2007, p.40).

 

Governments and their policies can, unwittingly, fuel terrorism and extremism. For instance, the documentary “Dangerous Ground” broadcast by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation highlighted the Australian Muslim community’s strong perceived alienation from mainstream society. Waleed Aly’s research demonstrates that at the local level, the Australian counter-terror approach had exacerbated this sense of alienation through the injudicious use of hard power; this may unwittingly feed the radicalisation process by entrenching Australian Muslims’ disengagement from society (Aly, 2007).

 

In view of these blowbacks, what can one learn and unlearn about managing the threat of terrorism, especially as far as self-radicalisation is concerned?

 

The first case pertains to the immediate response measures of the homeland defence in maintaining social resilience on a local level through fair and professional treatment of minorities as they will face intense social scrutiny or suspicion in the aftermath of terrorist attacks involving jihadists. The second hones the longer term national policy imperatives that require the government to manage responsibly the real and perceived vulnerabilities of the minorities, and their structural disadvantage and alienation within mainstream society. This can involve the government’s measured and responsible use of inter-racial and religious dialogues with the minority communities, to build up their trust and confidence in national efforts to sustain a state’s multicultural fabric.

 

Related to this is the foreign policy domain, especially since the September 11 incident and the US’s subsequent counter-actions that have compounded radical Islamists’ depiction of the West’s unjust policies towards Muslim globally. This was not helped by the maintenance of the Guantanamo detention facility, the treatment of Muslim prisoners at Abu Ghraib and the US’s policy of transferring terror suspects ‘from US control into the control of foreign governments, so that interrogation methods that are not permitted under US law may be applied to the suspects’ (Cohen, 18 February 2005). While the US counter-terrorism grand strategy represented a strong exercise of coercion through hard power almost amounting to the practice of state terrorism, it had the effect of engendering further hatred towards the US and its allies, as values relating to democracy, human rights and human dignity were conveniently abandoned. As was argued by Tariq Ali, what eventually developed was nothing short of a ‘clash of fundamentalism’ (Ali, 2002).

 

In view of the increasing sophistication of cyberspace and the difficulties in policing it, security planners and agencies cannot afford to let down their guard; vigilance is absolutely vital in ensuring that selfradicalised individuals do not pose a threat, at home or abroad. At the same time, as more information is acquired, together with a better understanding of the process of radicalisation and self-radicalisation, including the type of individuals who are more likely to fall prey, the challenge will always remain. To that extent, understanding and managing youths and the challenge of self-radicalisation will, for some time, remain a work-in-progress.

 

References

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Jeremy A. Y. (2008, March 24). Detained: JI member who trained with Al-Qaeda. The Straits Times.

 

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Mitchell S. D. and Bhatt, A, (2007). Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat. New York: New York City Police Department.

 

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Posner, R. A. (2006). Counterterrorism: Strategy and Structure; An Ounce of Prevention. Countering Terrorism: Blurred Focus, Halting Steps. Stanford: Hoover Institution.

 

Ramakrishna, K. (2010, July). Self-Radicalisation and the Awlaki Connection. RSIS Commentaries. S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University.

 

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Vasu, N and Chin, Y. (2008, February). Self-Radicalisation and National Security: New Threat, New Response. RSIS Commentaries.

 

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