Terrorism in Singapore – are we unfazed or unaware?
Dominic was a Facebook acquaintance of mine. Well, ex-acquaintance.
“Stupid security staff,” he ranted, in a post about his morning’s random bag-check at the MRT. “Can’t even do his job properly. Do I look like a terrorist?” He cursed.
To which I asked, “how is a terrorist supposed to look like?”
Maybe they should look like Zulfikar Mohamad Shariff, recently detained by our Internal Security Act (ISA) for suspected recruiting activities in Jemaah Islamiyah (JI). Or maybe the eight Bangladeshis who possessed extremists materials with plans of attack from the Islamic State of in Bangladeshi (ISB)? Profiling is a dangerous tendency to have when it comes to security. It not only encourages xenophobia, but also allows for complacency – actually an extremist’s most lethal weapon.
So when my friend brought up his racial profiling, I had to shut it down. There was no room for him not to participate in a safety check just because he is a young Chinese male adult. It made me wonder if some Singaporeans are blase about State security as it is “someone else’s problem”. I remember in 2001, while gathering feedback from a public survey on the September 11th tragedy, that a local couple concluded, “it was no big deal because we are so far away.”
Terrorism always seems so far away. On our shores, our participation has stayed online, with warnings to travelling friends or a filter change on our profile picture. But when it came to real-life examples, like a parked smoking car test in Orchard Road conducted by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in 2010, we preferred to walk on by or take a photo of the anomaly.
A State paper survey found that over 75% of Singaporeans believe we will encounter a terror attack, but only 66% agreed to undergo more stringent processes. Confidence in our security readiness dipped even further at 54%. With well over 5.5 million on the ground and one of the highest population densities in the world, we cannot deny that we are prime targets in this region. World-class developments, a high-traffic airport and busy port also contribute to a higher incidence rate due to their iconic and transient nature.
Our government has introduced gradual systems against threats, though they have so far been fairly subdued. You might have seen the occasional suited up troops at crowded places. Exercise Heartbeat continues to be implemented every year, while 2016 saw the launch of a newly upgraded national program and website, SG Secure . Clarifying ideology and promoting social cohesion – one that has always been one of Singapore’s strength – the ministries continue to work at keeping our country safe. The least we can do is to allow for the processes (even if mildly inconvenient) to be rolled out on us without taking things personally. We should then harness the strength of our populace, as eyes on the ground, and keep open vigilance for not just ourselves, but society in general.