SINGAPORE: Extremist Selfies Lead to Government Crackdown

ASIA MEDIA STAFF WRITES – While Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is still contemplating the decision to join the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the country has ramped up its own online efforts in the fight against religious extremism.

Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Teo Chee Hean reported to parliament in July that, “The Government knows of a handful of Singaporeans who have gone to Syria to take part in the conflict.”

Laying out the online threat more clearly, DPM Teo revealed that some “are attracted by the ‘jihad cool’ factor, with selfies of fighters posing with weapons,” and that “Youths, who are the primary users of social media, are particularly vulnerable to such propaganda.”

The Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) was originally established in 2003 to counter a more direct extremist threat in the region called Jemaah Islamiah (JI). The RRG is now pushing for a greater presence online to fight extremist ideology, ISIS included.

In a recent article, Dr. Mohamed Ali, the Vice-Chairman of the RRG as well as an assistant professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, revealed that the RRG has been counseling people the government discovered had regularly perused online material related to extremist ideology.

Having only set up its website in 2007 and its Facebook page in 2011, the RRG has not had much of an online presence. It has only recently began uploading media that specifically counters extremist ideology.

This is about to change in the coming months, however.  Dr. Ali announced that the RRG will be producing and uploading videos, as well as publishing pamphlets online. While gaining popularity online is one of its main goals, they will also be holding talks in schools, madrasahs, and mosques throughout Singapore.

RRG, with only a Facebook page and professional website, may need to do more to counter the online extremist threat. Perhaps an Instagram account could be a welcome addition to the RRG’s online arsenal to counter extremist selfies.

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