Teo Soh Lung: Can ISA detention reform a radical 17-year-old?

by Teo Soh Lung

The recent detention without trial of a 17-year-old boy shocks me. He has not even been enlisted into the army.

The Ministry of Home Affairs statement of 10 February 2020 claims that they had since 2017 tried to steer him clear of ISIS. But they (and here I presume some religious organisations would have been involved) have failed to “reform” him.

I am not sure if indefinite detention without trial will turn this person who under our law is still a child into a conformist like the majority of Singaporeans. If religious groups and his family are not able to “reform” him, can the Internal Security Department (ISD) succeed?

I have serious doubts about the capability of ISD to do so. Do they have experts in child psychology who can talk and reason with the child? Torturing him and terrifying him with indefinite imprisonment may even turn him into a real terrorist.

The incident brought to mind an article written by a writer of The Straits Times, Nur Dianah Suaimi in July 2010. In the article which must have been written shortly after the arrest of three young Muslims, the writer admitted that she was impressed by the preacher Anwar Al-Awlaki who America called a terrorist. She said she turned to listen to foreign preachers because the local preachers were boring. From her experience, she wondered if three young Muslims arrested also under the ISA were like her, bored by local preachers and had innocently turned to foreign preachers. Of the three young people arrested, she had this to say:

“Had the men who recently caught the attention of ISD’s attention been content with their local preachers, chances are that they would not have searched for alternative sermons on YouTube.

Had I been satisfied with my religious classes, I would not have turned to Al- Awlaki audio CDs or the other foreign preachers that I now listen to.”

The writer went on to encourage Muslim preachers to reach out to young Muslims who are an increasingly savvy and demanding group of worshippers and to follow what other religious bodies are doing to attract young followers.

I don’t know if Muslim preachers have taken her opinion seriously and things have changed in the past ten years.

But one thing I am certain is this. The use of the ISA to imprison and teach this 17-year-old kid a lesson is morally wrong. This law should not be used against people like him or for that matter, against any person who just refuses to behave like the majority of Singaporeans.

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