Balance between overreaction and unpreparation

By Ghui

The brutal and bloody string of attacks in Paris on Friday night has horrified the world. In a merciless series of calculated acts, at least 129 have been cruelly slain while many more lie injured. Tidings of these sorts are by their very nature shocking and sobering but is it a surprise? While any wanton waste of life will always be traumatic, shock is an emotional response. If cool hard logic is used, an attack or attacks is/are to be expected. Where, how and when are the unpredictable aspects of what has now become a global scourge.

It is important at this juncture to be mindful of the fact that this is a time of solidarity within the community. It is not the time to point fingers or sow discord. This is especially so in a multi racial world that is increasingly globalised. Shutting out difference or worst, politicising death, is not the answer. Nowhere is this more crucial than in a culturally diverse society such as Singapore. However, staying unified does not mean that we do not make preparations against potential threats.

Singapore is a small country that has been blessed to have been at peace for over 50 years. While I am not denying the existence of racism and ignorance in Singapore, it has by and large been harmonious. This is a time where we should guard against any form of racial or religious bigotry and remember that Singapore is and should remain a secular state. We should also be refining our “emergency situation” plans.

The recent chaos that has been caused by our transportation system does not bode well for our ability as a country to cope with situations that are unexpected or “outside the box”. Perhaps in a country that has been so efficiently run for so many years, we no longer have the skillsets to think on our feet when “the computer says no”.

It is therefore of paramount importance that our country puts in place various back up plans that take into account the much larger population our country now boasts. If a terrorist attack were to occur, it would be most definitely be “outside the box” and unexpected. To minimise fatalities, Singaporeans as a whole will need to be able to react fast and effectively when things do not go according to plan.

While Singapore has initiated a handful of drills such as “exercise heartbeat”, are these sufficient? Should all schools and offices be given at least an overview of emergency procedures? This may be considered as “much ado about nothing” and so the balance must be carefully drawn between overreaction and under preparation.

The press has been largely silent on these issues and I wonder if this is a case of no one wanting to tackle this dicey issue or that no one is interested? Neither scenario is reassuring. If it has not been highlighted yet, now is the time to take note. Pretending that something isn’t a problem does not make the issue go away. Overreaction is also not a solution. Accurate information and a well thought out countermeasure plan is however a very sensible choice. As the old saying goes – Better safe than sorry.

Responses aside, how sound is our security against external threats? Recall the incident where a British citizen was able to enter Singapore undocumented, how Mas Selamat managed to escape or how there had been incidents of breaches at the land domain checkpoints? These are definitely important issues in which accountability is key.

Last but not least, what laws do we have in place to tackle what is now increasingly a global problem?

In Singapore, we have still retained the controversial Internal Securities Act (ISA) which can be used to detain suspected terrorists without trial.

In light of the recent world events, the momentum to repeal this draconian act will no doubt face obstacles. The question that is open for debate is the potential abuse of this act versus its utility as a deterrent to potential national security threats. Could we perhaps refine the wording in the ISA to make it more specific to potential threats against national security as opposed to mere political differences? Would this make the ISA’s retention more palatable?

We already have laws in place to thwart the rise of terrorist activities in the form of the Terrorism (Suppression of Financing) Act, and the Terrorism (Suppression of Bombings) Act.
Perhaps the ISA should only be restricted to those who are suspected of violating the two acts above?

I say all this not to fear monger but really to highlight what I consider to be a global issue that everyone must be alive to. While life must not be ruled by fear, we similarly cannot have our heads in the clouds. We must be cognisant of the dangers that might lurk. It is therefore important to flesh out all the issues in the open so that potential solutions can be robustly discussed.