Opening remarks by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the dialogue with community and religious leaders on Singapore’s concerns with the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, on 29 November 2014.
PM Lee also spoke in Malay.
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Ladies and Gentlemen
We have held dialogues like this one today, from time to time, since 9/11 – 13 years ago. We need to do this because extremist terrorism is such a serious and difficult long-term problem, especially for us in our multi-racial and multi-religious society. The trust and harmony amongst us that we have built up so labouriously over so many years can easily be disrupted by one terrorist act; or even without a terrorist act, by rumours and untruths spreading, causing suspicion and distrust among our communities. Because we have been able to talk frankly amongst ourselves, and discuss amongst ourselves our fears, our concerns, our anxieties, what we are doing about this problem, these have helped greatly in calming nerves and building trust, in bringing us together. So we have continued to hold briefings like this regularly, because the terrorism threat is not constant. It continues to develop, and we have to update ourselves on what is happening and what we can do to counter this threat.
The last dialogue was held in 2011, two years ago. At that time, the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) was reviving its network in the region, and we wanted to share with you what we knew and what we were watching, what we were doing. Since then, there have been developments in the region and in the wider world. Osama Bin Laden has been killed; successful counter-terrorism operations in our region have neutralised some groups.
But the groups continue to develop, and terrorism remains a problem. Recently, the threat has worsened. The terrorist elements in Southeast Asia are regrouping, getting more active. In the Middle East, the conflict in Syria and Iraq has morphed into a civil war, and ISIS has emerged, claiming to be fighting to establish an Islamic caliphate. There are links between ISIS in the Middle East and the groups in Southeast Asia. People are travelling from Southeast Asia to Iraq and Syria – in fact, they are going there from all over the world – in order to join ISIS to fight. Even a few from Singapore are doing that. So although Syria and Iraq may seem far away, the conflict there, and especially ISIS, affects us.
It is naïve for us to think that we can keep our heads low, and the problem will pass over us and we can avoid trouble. So we have got to do what is necessary in order to protect Singapore and Singaporeans. We need to get the support of the community; we need to talk amongst ourselves; we have to be vigilant domestically; and take swift action to neutralise threats to Singapore, or people who may get themselves into trouble and get us into trouble.
We also need to contribute to international efforts to tackle the threat at source. Singapore will be joining 60 other countries, including many Muslim ones, in the coalition against ISIS. The SAF will be contributing some forces to this. We will contribute liaison and planning teams, an air-to-air refuelling tanker aircraft – a KC-135, and an Imagery Analysis Team to the coalition. It is like what we did the last time there was a war in Iraq, and what we did in Afghanistan. We are not going to put combat troops on the ground.
So that is why I have asked to do this briefing today and invited you to come. I have told the security agencies to brief you, to cover things which are not in the public domain, to speak as frankly as they can, and share as much information with you as they can, so that they can help you to connect the dots, make sense of what you can read in the newspapers, tell you something more which we can’t have reported in the newspapers, so that you can understand what is happening, understand what our thinking is, and what we must do.
I also would like to say thank you to all the community and religious leaders who have responded to the terrorist threat so resolutely and well in Singapore. This threat – terrorism – can sow doubts and dissension amongst our communities. But we have avoided this danger, because our people are rational, because they look at facts squarely, and they forthrightly condemned the extremists. So we have maintained the trust amongst ourselves.
I am particularly grateful to the Malay/Muslim community who have maintained this position, especially the leaders. The Mufti and the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) have done a lot to counter the ideological propaganda of ISIS. They produced a brochure – “The Fallacies of ISIS Islamic Caliphate” – in English, in Malay and in Tamil. And they made two online videos to point out these fallacies and why the brutal methods employed by ISIS are against Islam.
I am also glad that our community groups and VWOs – Malay/Muslim organisations but also other religious groups, like the Singapore Buddhist Lodge, the Taoist Federation and the Bright Hill Temple, have contributed towards humanitarian efforts to help Syrian refugees.
These are things we can do in Singapore, but you must know that eradicating terrorism is going to be a difficult, long-term fight. We have to carry on doing it. Provided we continue to work together, and we are open with each other, and we share and come closer together, we will prevail.
So let’s listen to the briefing, and after that, I look forward to a candid and productive discussion.
Thank you very much.
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