SINGAPORE — The use of online hate speech by Indonesian preacher Abdul Somad Batubara, who has been banned from entering Singapore, could cause serious polarization between Muslims and non-Muslims here, an observer said on Friday 27 may.
Associate Professor Kumar Ramakrishna, who directs the International Center for Research on Political Violence and Terrorism at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), said that based on his observations, authorities are reviewing current comments and past preachers like Somad in deciding whether or not to bar their entry.
The rise of these radical preachers on social media is a topic Prof Kumar addresses in his new book Extremist Islam: Recognition and Response in Southeast Asia, launched on Friday.
Speaking to The Straits Times on Wednesday May 25, he said it was clear the government is applying an identical test when deciding whether to ban foreign preachers of any faith. This is based on whether their current or past messages or speeches have denigrated the sentiments of one or more of the religious groups in Singapore, he added.
“The authorities, to be fair, appear to have been impartial. That is why in recent years we have seen Muslim and Christian preachers banned from entering the country for divisive rhetoric,” he said. .
Somad was turned away at the Tanah Merah ferry terminal when he arrived from Batam on May 16 because of what the Interior Ministry described as “his extremist and segregationist teachings, which are unacceptable in the multiracial society and Multi-Religious Singapore”.
Somad, in the past, had preached that suicide bombings are legitimate in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and are considered “martyrdom” operations.
He also made comments disparaging members of other faiths, such as Christians, describing the Christian crucifix as the abode of an “infidel jinn (spirit/demon)”.
This is not the first time a foreign preacher has been banned from entering here, and Singapore has banned such people of various faiths in the past.
Professor Kumar’s book, published by Oxford University Press, examines why the region’s terrorist networks driven by violent extremist interpretations of Islam remain resilient and dangerous.
Over the course of the nearly 500-page book, which Professor Kumar worked on for around three years, he also examines four case studies of extremists from the region and examines the factors that influenced their beliefs and actions.
They are: Wan Min Wan Mat, a rehabilitated former senior member of Malaysia’s regional Jemaah Islamiyah terror cell who had worked as a university professor; Zulfikar Mohamad Shariff, a Singapore-born Australian who was detained under the Homeland Security Act for his active promotion of terrorism; Abu Hamdie, a former militant of the Abu Sayyaf Group terrorist cell based in the Philippines; and Aman Amburrahman, an Indonesian who led the extremist network Jamaah Ansharut Daulah and is considered the leader of all Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) supporters in Indonesia.
Professor Kumar also explains why Southeast Asia’s global response to such radical threats involves working together to steer Muslims away from rigid, set patterns of thought that disregard the contexts in which they find themselves.
Governments, civil societies, social media companies and others have a responsibility to encourage Muslims to adopt flexible and tolerant Islamic values and beliefs that are both theologically authentic and compatible with the multicultural and globalized societies of the world. Southeast Asia, he added.
Families can also play an important role in this, and in his book Professor Kumar said they can help young people avoid being radicalized by extremist ideology by encouraging critical thinking.