COMMENT: Singapore the elusive terror target

P N Balji
A child lights candles in front of a memorial in tribute to the victims of Paris' attacks, on November 15, 2015 in Lyon, France

P N Balji is a veteran Singaporean journalist who is the former chief editor of TODAY newspaper, and a media consultant. The views expressed are his own.

As the scale and horror of the Paris tragedy began to sink in, only one scary question kept coming back to me: Will Singapore also be a target?

If there is one country the terrorists spreading mayhem the world over want to hit, it must be Singapore.

This oasis of calm is an obvious target as it houses many Western companies, has a significant immigrant population and is considered pro-western in many of its policies and actions. “Lackey of the Americans” is a description that can be easily pinned on the country by the haters of the Western super power.

Yet, Singapore has remained unscathed. There is really only one reason for this. It is a nation obsessed with security. Its intelligence gathering is one of the best in the world. When it suffered the worst embarrassment to its image as a security haven with the audacious escape of terrorist Mas Selamat in 2008, the security agencies quickly recovered ground and finally pinpointed where he was in Malaysia. That led to his arrest.

This is not a war Singapore wants – it’s a war that's looking for Singapore. The terrorists may lose many times, but all they need is just one successful hit and they will rejoice.

Rationalising that the terror attacks are a consequence of the “misdeeds of the West” is a sad reflection of how religion is used to mask the true perpetrators of this despicable act against humanity.

The root cause of this evil lies in how countries like France have not integrated their Muslim citizens. That was manifested in nearly three weeksof rioting by disenchanted Muslim youths in the suburbs of Paris in 2005.

It also shows up in the statistics -- a shocking 70 per cent of the country’s population languishing in prison are Muslims although they make up only about 10 per cent of the French population.

Singapore’s problem is not so acute. Still, it is worrying that the percentage of Muslims in prison is higher than the national average of 13 per cent.

The terrorists arrested after the Jemaah Islamiyah plot to cause mayhem here was uncovered 14 years ago are still under detention.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong put forth Singapore’s predicament starkly in an interview just before the Paris attacks.

It is intertwined in complex issues like ideology, religion, impressionable youth and restive sections of Singapore society - all perfect breeding grounds for Isis to exploit with its compelling videos and
emotive rhetoric.

“Some people genuinely persuade themselves that this is the way to Heaven and so they pursue this perverted path,’’ Lee said.

Unlike France, Singapore has taken tough and unpleasant measures like preventing racial ghettos from forming in Housing Development Board estates. It checks its borders in a vigilant manner and is uncompromising when it comes to law and order.

These measures have made Singapore safe. But for how long?