Defeated at home, ISIS flickers into life on Southeast Asian screens

opinion January 19, 2018 01:00

By The Straits Times
Asia News Network

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The surfacing of a second propaganda video by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), featuring Singaporean Megat Shahdan Abdul Samad, has sharpened the message of the terror group for Southeast Asia.

In the first video, he rallied fighters to join ISIS, which is based largely in the desert along the Iraqi-Syrian border. In the second, he and two other men dressed in military fatigues are shown executing three men by shooting them. Just as an action thriller excites the impressionable through improbable acts of daring, this video seeks to appeal to its audience by moving beyond religious and political exhortations to suggest that joining ISIS is a religious adventure in which real guns are used against the “enemies” of Islam. It weds fantasies of violence that exist among all humans everywhere to the calling of a religious state. It is a sophisticated video by the standards of most propaganda.

And this is why it is significant. ISIS has been defeated militarily at home, its dreams of a global religious empire lying in strategic tatters. However, its efforts to seduce would-be recruits intellectually, by preying on their personal insecurities, remain intact. As the video suggests, the information war with ISIS is far from over.

Muslims in Singapore share the general religious self-assurance of Singaporeans, who are free to practise their faiths peacefully in a secular state that does not prefer any religion to another. In view of this, Muslim Singaporeans would no doubt reject unequivocally the message of the video: that the direction and destination of their national loyalties and social affiliations should be decided in foreign lands that lie thousands of physical and political kilometres away.

Of course, to belong to a world religion is to be global by definition, but that globalism must start at home. Terrorist efforts to erase the mental distance between a peacefully inclusive Singapore and the battlefields of the Middle East must be resisted. By making clear that they reject such calls to violence issued purportedly on behalf of their faith, Muslims will help prevent the spread of Islamophobia.

The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore works consistently to defang terrorist and extremist attempts to misrepresent and exploit Islamic teachings and Muslim sentiments. Its interventions in religious issues should be complemented by ground-up efforts made by individuals to defend Islam from its pretend warriors. 

Non-Muslim Singaporeans need to throw their weight behind their fellow citizens in collective defiance of organisations and individuals who employ religion deviously to try and achieve political ends. The end of this conflict is not in sight. Much as ISIS took up the perfidious vocation once practised by al-Qaeda, a new terrorist organisation will rise. Singaporeans must stay true to older verities.