The rise of right-wing extremism creeping into Singapore is a worrying development and is part of a larger wave sweeping across the world, Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam said on Wednesday.
He was commenting on the case of a 16-year-old Singaporean detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for plotting to attack Muslims with a machete at two mosques in Singapore.
The boy, a Protestant Christian of Indian ethnicity, was influenced by Australian shooter Brenton Tarrant, and planned to attack mosque-goers on the second anniversary of the Christchurch mosque attacks in New Zealand in which Tarrant killed over 50 Muslim worshippers.
“This boy is 16 but he was extremely serious,” Shanmugam told reporters. “Violent impulses are not restricted to any particular racial or religious group. It’s really a question of being exposed to hate speech and then being influenced by it.”
In a report by the Straits Times, he said Singapore’s strategy has been to engage with communities and religious organisations on maintaining religious and racial harmony, as well as to use the ISA to pick up radicalised individuals before they can cause any harm.
Emphasising that extremism is not restricted to one particular group, he pointed to terrorists who claim to act in the name of Islam, as well as right-wing extremists with hate-filled manifestos.
Shanmugam also noted a worrying trend. He said that since 2015 seven young people under 20 have been arrested under the ISA after becoming radicalised online.
The minister held up the latest case as an example of why Singapore takes a tough stance against hate speech of all forms. The police are focused on responding quickly to terror incidents but it will not be easy to prevent every attack like the one the youth had planned, he cautioned.
Since the plot came to light, the Internal Security Department and the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth are encouraging religious organisations to be more vigilant.
Religious leaders are urging Singaporeans to join forces to battle online radicalisation of young people.
The National Council of Churches of Singapore issued a statement on Wednesday, saying: “We believe that this is an isolated incident, and that the youth developed his extremist ideology on his own rather than from any teaching from his church or other churches in Singapore. Nevertheless, we urge all church leaders and Christians to be vigilant and to continue careful nurture of youths who worship in our churches.”