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It is the public services that keep us safe from terrorism not the government

I have noted before that the government seems to have an increased focus on the threat of terrorism of late. Based on the arrest figures that they themselves have made reference to, it doesn't appear that the risk is more heightened than before. It does then beg the question of why the threat of terrorism has suddenly become the bogey man du jour? I am not suggesting that we should all ignore the threat - terrorism remains a global threat from which Singapore is not exempt. What I am saying however is that the threat has always been there so why the sudden all out government focus?

Minister for Defence, Ng Eng Hen has made repeated references to this threat this year as has Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat. Our recent National Day Parade was also declared an enhanced security special event by the police due to fears of possible terrorist attacks. Now, we have Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam joining the fray by telling 300  Institute of Technical Education (ITE) students of the dangers of extremism In citing examples, the minister noted that 20 people have been arrested since 2015, with 11 arrests from 2007 to 2014. From these figures, it is evident that this is not a new threat. So, why is the spotlight shining on this in 2018 and not 2015?

Is the government slow to react? Has the government received new intel? Or, can it be argued that fear is the best way to keep people from trying out new things (such as voting for opposition parties)? Is it possible that fear is used as a means to distract people from the larger issues in the country? For the avoidance of doubt, let me reiterate that these are just speculations. There may be no truth to any of these concerns and the timing may just be a coincidence. That said, the timing is interesting.

I know that these observations have been made before but it is easy to forget possible motivations when people are on high alert and afraid. As such, it is important for us to remember the bigger picture when considering our options. We have to keep things in perspective. Based on current reports, the threat of terrorism is not higher this year than previous years. With this in mind, we have to wonder why our ministers are constantly reminding us of the threat this year. Is it to remind us that we need them to keep us safe?

As Shanmuggam said: “The fact you don’t worry about suicide bombers is not because they don’t want to come but, so far, because the Government, the public, and the security forces have worked together to keep them out.” If the message is indeed to tell us that we need the government of the day to keep us safe, I would like to counter that by pointing out that our police force and military forces will do their job no matter who the government is. Beware of the subtext!