On June 9, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) made a shock announcement that it had detained a young lawyer, Abdul Basheer s/o Abdul Karim, and 4 alleged Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) operatives under the Internal Security Act (ISA) in February. Information from the press release is scant, and raises many questions. DPYadav has asked his questions on his blog. Here are mine:
1. According to MHA, in Oct 2006, Abdul Basheer “left Singapore for a Middle-East country” where he had made plans to fly to Pakistan, contact the Pakistani terrorist group Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), train for “militant jihad” and the cross over to Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban. But before he could do that, he was arrested there and repatriated to Singapore.
Which Middle East country was Abdul Basheer arrested in? This has revealed a very close state of cooperation between Singapore and that country for the latter to be willing to arrest someone who had legally committed no crime, and “render” him to Singapore. Do we have an extradition agreement with this country? If not, did Singapore and the Middle East country act within international law in executing this rendition? (Recall the scandal that the US was embroiled in with its CIA renditions of terrorism suspects from Eastern Europe to Guantanamo Bay.)
2. There has been much emphasis by the Government that these latest arrests must not be allowed to harm race relations in Singapore. The implicit concern is that the Chinese majority may suspect their Malay neighbours (including the educated ones) of being extremists too. Several Malay community leaders and academics were quoted in the press condemning Abdul Basheer for his actions so as to ally any fears felt by the other communities. However, it was never mentioned that Abdul Basheer is not Malay. He is an Indian Muslim.
Even Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng seems to have missed this fact, when during a grassroots event on June 9, he was quoted as saying, “We must not over-react…Our Malay-Muslim community in general are moderate people.”
Why was there no effort by the Government and the media to point out that he is not Malay? The numerous articles written about how this well-educated lawyer could turn out to be a radical is has probably reinforced in many people’s minds that even the Malay community’s best and brightest are not spared from problems of radicalisation. These are the kind of things stick in people’s minds, whether consciously or sub-consciously. It is therefore quite unfair to the Malay community that Abdul Basheer isn’t Malay but has been widely assumed to be so.
3. From a legal perspective, Abdul Basheer has not broken any law, a point that Brother Michael Broughton of the Singapore Inter-Religious Organisation raised. He was legally in that Middle Eastern country studying Arabic and he had bought an air ticket to Pakistan. Based on MHA’s statement, he had not contacted the militant LeT yet, and even if he had, that in itself would not be a criminal offence.
So why the rush to arrest him without any evidence of criminal wrongdoing? Was it just to save Internal Security Department (ISD) officers (and their external spy counterparts) the trouble of tracking him and gathering evidence on his alleged planned militant activities? Or was there a genuine reason to believe that was the last chance they had to apprehend him? Would they have arrested him so soon if the Government didn’t have the ISA, which gives the Home Affairs Minister almost absolute power to detain someone indefinitely, even without evidence that can stand up to scrutiny in an open court?
I don’t disagree with DPM Wong’s argument that someone who has gone on a jihad in Afghanistan poses a threat when he comes back home. Neither do I think it is ok “if a Singaporean kills or plans to kill others in terrorist acts abroad, so long as those who die are not Singaporeans”. But the intention to “make contact” with LeT does not automatically mean that he will become an Afghan jihadi. Would LeT have even accepted some unknown Singaporean with no jihadi credentials into their fold in the first place?
4. There is much speculation about how the Internet played a significant role in radicalising Abdul Basheer. Yes, there is a lot of extremist stuff out there which can be quite mesmerizing — scenes of “martyrs” blowing up US troops in Iraq with Arabic music playing in the background, compelling essays (in English) of how the “Zionists” (i.e., Israelis) are killing Palestinian women and children, online communities of radicals feeding off each others’ hate, etc. But is this really what can turn an intelligent, educated Singaporean into a terrorist? According to a New Paper article, a former classmate said she bumped into him sometime in 2005 and he had grown a beard and was clad in a religious outfit. He also had a bruise on his forehead which he said was caused by pressing his head hard to the ground while praying. That speaks of a deeply spiritual experience that he had gone through — something that does not simply happen by surfing the Net in your bedroom. There must have been someone or several people who were closely “discipling” him through his spiritual transition. Have these mentors been identified and are the authorities monitoring them to ensure they do not produce more disciples like Abdul Basheer?
5. The Straits Times article “extremism.net” (June 16) pointed out that psychologists believe the transition of a Netizen from terrorist sympathiser to terrorist stems from the state of mind of the individual even before he enters Cyberspace. An expert said that it was likely that an episode in his life caused him to “lose faith in the innate rightness of the status quo”.
I recall a dorm-mate in my freshman year in university in the US who was an Iranian born Briton. He spoke with a crisp English accent, but had nothing but expletives to describe the Brits. He told us how in boarding school he was ragged and abused on the basis of his national origin. This experience was evidently the cause of his intense anger against the Brits, whom he said were “all f****** racist”. Could Abdul Basheer have gone through something like this growing up as a minority in Singapore, that personally hurt him and caused him to want to take up arms to fight against “infidels”?
I don’t expect that there would be ready answers to any of these questions. But I hope readers can share their views on this issue.
Lack of Critical Thinking Not Internet is the Problem by Bernard Leong