I am heartened that Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, Grace Fu has publicly said that "the actions of a few misguided individuals must not be allowed to define an entire community" in the wake of news that a 33-year-old IT engineer has been detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for alleged plans of terrorism. However, do the recent actions taken by the government gel with Ms Fu's words of solidarity?
In recent months, the government has repeatedly hemmed up the threat of terrorism. Most recently, schools have introduced new drills more in line with terrorist attack drills than the usual fire drills. While no one has explicitly stated that the terrorists have to be Islamic terrorists, the sub text is there. What is the point of issuing statements of solidarity and calm when by the same token, you are also stoking unnecessary fears?
If it is just the actions of a few misguided individuals, why is the government mentioning the dreaded "T" word at every turn?
The National Day Parade this year (NDP 2018) was declared an enhanced security special event by the police. Minister for Defense, Ng Eng Hen has also repeatedly emphasised the heightened risks of terror attacks in conjunction with announcements that we will be replacing all our fighter jets to safe guard the country from terrorism. While Minister of Home Affairs and Law, K Shanmugam justified the increase of over 10% in the MHA's budget in 2018 as spending it largely on enhancing Singapore's counter-terrorism capabilities. He said, "It is because the threat of IS remains high, and in fact, will continue to grow as fighters from the Middle East come back to this region."
If the government is so intent on driving home the threat of terrorism point, how can we also take comfort from Grace Fu's words?
Looking at all these enhanced security measures, one would be forgiven for thinking that there are terrorists at every turn and that an attack is very imminent. What is the message the government is trying to send and to what extent is this congruent with Ms Fu's words of reassurance?
In repeatedly warning people of threats and dangers, the government has to be responsible. It cannot expect people to remain calm if it is itself fanning the flames of fear.
For the record, I do agree with Grace Fu. I do think that planning attacks are but the work of a tiny minority of misguided individuals. So why then is our Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Defense calling out the threats at every turn? By all means, the authorities and emergency response officials should be prepared to deal with anything but there is no need to sound the alarm at the public at every turn. Not only is it irresponsible, causing Singaporeans to look at each other with suspicion, it sends out conflicting messages to the public.