Monday, June 18, 2007

Reflect Why Educated Turn To Radical Ideology


Abdul Basheer Abdul Kader is not the first person alleged to have "militant jihad plans". What differentiates his case is his stirling resume.

He had the best of the Singapore brand of education. He secured a prized place at university to study law. He produced a research paper on international human rights law. Then, he worked for a while in a top law firm before taking on the role of inspiring impressionable and idealistic youthful minds by teaching in a tertiary institution.

Yet the 28-year-old apparently abandoned a bright future to pursue fanatical aspects of his religion.

Political and community leaders have pointed the finger at the new media, warning people not to get information about Islam from non-credible sources. Minister-in-Charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim said: "We have to continue to be wary of dangerous political agendas coming under the guise of religion through attractive media."

If such is the threat, then it raises a question about the education system — because it would seem that, at the end of the day, all the best education given to the most deserving may still be sacrificed at the altar of propaganda.

Perhaps there is some truth in the argument a foreign friend, a public administration specialist attached to the United Nations, shared with me in Bangkok recently. She said: "You have taught your people to gather knowledge. You have taught your people to excel in school. You have given them secure, lucrative careers. But at the end of the day, your people cannot question. They develop an affinity for propaganda and miss out on the real opportunities the world has to offer."

Looking beyond the influence of the Internet, one might wonder if there are other factors within Singapore society that have led to this new trend of so-called "self-radicalised" extremists, people like Abdul Basheer.

Some time ago, British society underwent a similar shock when it was disclosed that the terror threat was rooted much closer to home than expected. Well-educated British citizens had planned to commit atrocities in the name of religion. To date, much reflection continues in British society about what caused this trend of homegrown extremism.

British-Pakistani artiste, Irfan Ajeeb, who will star in an upcoming Bollywood film Suicide Bomber, told the Yorkshire Post: "I firmly believe that when you look at these guys, we are more or less all the same. We live in households that are similar ... That's why it's so confusing for me, to ask why a guy could do this.

"He wasn't born like that. It's due to events in his life. I also watch the television images of America bombing Afghanistan and Iraq. The solution isn't to strap on a bomb and bomb innocent people in London."

Discussing the lessons from the London bombings, academic Asim Siddiqui said at an anti-terrorism conference last year: "Muslims must accept the damage Islamist terrorism has done and work constructively with other actors in preventing recruitment. The government needed to spend more time and effort improving the living standards of the Muslim community in Britain. Civil society and media also have a role to play in providing fora for communities to talk to each other — not talk about each other from afar."

Similarly, it is important for Singapore society to reflect more on the latest disclosures of bright young talent suborned by extremist ideals, and what this signifies.

Terrorism, as Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng pointed out, is an issue all Singaporeans must address together. Even as Muslim leaders intensify their outreach to "vulnerable segments of the community" in countering radical ideology, "we should also be alert to what our children are learning from the Internet or from unregistered and dubious religious teachers. We should guide them to the right sources of religious knowledge", said Mr Wong.

In addition, more effort can be put into addressing the issues that make radical ideology attractive even to a person who is well-heeled. Is discrimination at the workplace the source of disillusionment?

Is there frustration with the lack of opportunities to make one's mark on society? Is he or she dissatisfied with a poor quality of life?

We do not know if these factors played a role in Abdul Basheer's life. We have heard only the Government's perspective. As former Justices' law clerk Andy Soh commented in a local newspaper: "It is all too easy for us to vilify and portray them as Osama bin Ladens in the making without the benefit of the full picture."

But based on the British experience, these are factors to look out for. The latest revelations are an opportunity for Singapore to reflect and to question. We cannot afford to let slip this opportunity to build a stronger, more civil society.

Dharmendra Yadav

Please consider the environment - do you really need to print this?


Ministry of Home Affairs said...

Mr Dharmendra Yadav ("Reflect on why the educated turn to radical ideology", June 18) questioned whether, besides the influence of the Internet, there are "other factors within Singapore society that have led to this new trend of so-called 'self-radicalised' extremists, people like Abdul Basheer".

He also speculated if Abdul Basheer could have become attracted to radical ideology because of "discrimination at the workplace", "frustration with the lack of opportunities to make one's mark on society" or dissatisfaction with "a poor quality of life".

Our investigations do not show that any of these possible factors influenced Abdul Basheer to become radicalised.

As Mr Yadav has noted, Abdul Basheer "worked for a while in a top law firm before taking on the role of inspiring impressionable and idealistic youthful minds by teaching in a tertiary institution". He seemed to have a promising future ahead of him. But something happened in his life to make him turn religious.

Unfortunately, instead of seeking guidance from reliable, credible religious teachers, he searched the Internet for jihadist websites, and was captured by their distorted religious teachings. He is not the first person to become self-radicalised in this way.

Other professionals and well-educated people have joined terrorist networks in Asia, the Middle East, North America and Europe. Jemaah Islamiyah's Dr Azahari Husin had a doctorate in statistical modelling, and Wan Min Wan Mat holds a Master of Science. Likewise, Al Qaeda's Ayman Al Zawahiri is a medical doctor and Khaled Sheikh Mohamed is a mechanical engineer by training.

Different factors attract different people to radical ideology. But, in Singapore, there is no justification for anyone to become radicalised because of workplace discrimination, lack of opportunity or quality of life. Nor should these alleged shortcomings of Singapore society be used to rationalise and explain away the actions of those who have been led astray.

Toh Yong Chuan
For Permanent Secretary,
Ministry of Home Affairs

Anonymous said...

What a joke. MHA and its spokesperson is 100% certain that the internet is the only reason why people like Abdul Basheer has been led astray. How can they be so certain that there are no "workplace discrimination, lack of opportunity or quality of life... shortcomings of Singapore society"? Are they living in their own world?

Dare to have an open trial, MHA?

CelluloidReality said...

I'm afraid that MHA's reasoning is veering close to a one-dimensional action of attributing Basheer's "radicalisation" to the Internet as the base cause.

The Internet is not to blame, after all, it is an aggregator, it does not incite, it is the people who use it to incite.

However, for incitement to take root, the underlying forces within his psyche would already have been there to be able to react in that particular way to information found on the Internet.

It's the same analogy as parenting. You do not blame the cable broadcasters if your kid cusses, you blame yourself for inadequate parenting or leaving the goggle box to act as the nanny.

Frankly, to blame it all on the Internet is specious an argument at best.I would expect a more credible line of reasoning.

Anonymous said...

This is a sad case for the Malay Community in Singapore.

Perhaps MHA could update on how is the rehabilation process of Abdul Basheer coming along.

His mind could have been corrupted, but surely, there has to be a treatment somewhere right?

Workplace discrimination, lack of opportunity or quality of life... shortcomings of Singapore society definately plays a part. Whether it is justified, is another issue altogether. What we need to do, is to address this shortcomings.

Unfortunately, taking pity of the plights of Afghan Muslims is not sufficient, he decided to act on it. In many aspect, this seems to be a case of a Muslim-boy-made-good who sympathises with the plights of less priviledged.

So what is to be done when one feel that injustice is done?

The standard answer would be: to go by the proper channel. Resorting to militant tactics would not solve the issue.

However in this case, what is the proper channel for Abdul Basheer? Talk and talk and continue talking... would it stop the war in Afghan?

Now that this case has arised. Shouldn't it be of MHA's interest that they put this young man to trial, to shed some lights, and to educate the public on what are the pits to avoid such that another "self-radicalised" Singaporean does not happen again?