MR CHRISTOPHER DE SOUZA: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs (a) whether Singapore will denounce, at the international level, the acts of oppression and persecution being perpetrated by the self-declared Islamic State (IS) in Iraq against innocent civilians including Christians and other minorities; and (b) what diplomatic pressure can be galvanised at the international level to condemn and prevent such oppressive actions and provide assistance to innocent victims.
Mdm Speaker, Singapore has strongly condemned the terrorist actions of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), or the Islamic State (IS) as it now calls itself. The group’s violent campaigns against minority and other groups in Iraq and Syria, the brutal murders of Muslims and non-Muslims alike, the abduction and murder of innocent civilians, and the widespread abuses of human rights expose the true nature of IS and the threat it poses to the world. Unless stopped, IS will continue to target any group that does not conform to its extremist agenda.
On 15 August this year, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) passed Resolution 2170, which not only condemned in the strongest terms the terrorist acts and violent extremist ideology of IS and other radical groups in Iraq and Syria but also urged all UN Member States to take appropriate measures to combat terrorism. We strongly supported the Resolution. Muslim religious leaders around the world have come out to condemn IS. For example, the Grand Mufti of Egypt has said that, and I quote, “an extremist and bloody group such as this poses a danger to Islam and Muslims, tarnishing its image as well as shedding blood and spreading corruption”.
The threat is not limited to the Middle East but extends to the rest of the world. Many foreigners, with some estimates of more than 15,000 people from at least 80 countries, have joined IS and other radical groups fighting in Iraq and Syria. This is the largest mobilisation of foreign fighters since the Soviet-Afghan War in the 1980s, which drew in thousands of foreigners and led to the creation of Al-Qaeda. Many countries have begun to recognise the dangers posed, in the form of returning terrorists, to national security and social cohesion. The danger is real. In Belgium, the authorities have foiled several attacks in the past months planned by terrorists returning from Syria. Australia launched a massive counter-terrorism operation to detain a number of people, who were planning to carry out attacks around the country. Our region is not immune. Members will recall DPM Teo Chee Hean informing Parliament in July 2014 that some Singaporeans had gone to Syria to participate in the conflict. And he repeated that earlier today. There are other Singaporeans who have expressed interest in joining the terrorists but were stopped before they were able to travel to Syria. There are also reports of Indonesians and Malaysians fighting in Syria and Iraq today. Some of these terrorists have taken to social media platforms like Facebook to chronicle their activities on the ground. Another concern for everyone is that radical groups, including some in our region like Abu Sayyaf, have pledged allegiance to IS as well. This is a threat that has to be taken seriously.
On 24 September 2014 the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2178, which we co-sponsored. It obliges member states of the UN to work together to counter the violent ideologies that fuel radicalism, and cut off the supply of foreign terrorist fighters, who plan to commit terrorist acts in other States. During the UNSC Summit on Foreign Terrorist Fighters chaired by US President Barack Obama on 24 September 2014, we also delivered a strong statement. We expressed our readiness to play our part to combat the threat of global terrorism. We also welcomed the formation of an international coalition, led by the US, to eliminate the threat from IS.
I would like to make a few additional points. First, the international community has to work together to combat this threat of IS. A united approach by the international community sends a strong signal to IS that the world rejects its extremist agenda. It is significant that several Arab nations have joined or supported the international coalition.
Second, IS exists both in Iraq and Syria and has to be dealt with as one entity. Any overall strategy has to include a political solution to end the conflict in Syria. As for Iraq, there has to be strong political will to develop an inclusive and tolerant polity. Both situations are complicated and there is no quick fix. Military force is necessary to blunt IS on the ground, but missiles and rockets alone cannot and will not bring peace.
This brings me to my third point – the true fight has to be in the arena of ideas. We have to counter the extremist ideology, which is used to recruit foreigners to terrorism and fuel their violent agenda. The Singapore Government has supported and worked with our religious leaders, community groups and individuals to rehabilitate terrorist detainees and to de-legitimise radical ideologies. This must continue and we must remain vigilant. Our Mufti Dr Mohamed Fatris Bakaram has stated that what is depicted in the videos and reports by IS are against Islamic teachings, because they are propagated by misinterpretations of the teachings, and/or are in support of a certain agenda.
Mdm Speaker, to counter the threat of IS, and deal with the foreign terrorist fighters issue will require the joint effort of the international community. And all of us have to do our part to combat this threat.
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MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS
7 OCTOBER 2014