Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Our View: The Arrest of Syaikhah Izzah Zahrah Al Ansari

Singaporean’s muted response to the arrest of 22-year-old Syaikhah Izzah Zahrah Al Ansari under the ISA caught many by surprise. Many were expecting the announcement by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to trigger fear and anger, but nothing of the sort emerged. Instead, judging from online comments and conversations with the man-in-the-street, Singaporeans went about life as normal. Few, if any, were heard talking about this.

arrest of Syaikhah Izzah Zahrah Al Ansari

From a crisis communications perspective, this is instructive.

We can only postulate that the Singapore Government’s ongoing rhetoric of “not if, but when” had a dampening effect that forestalled any adverse reactions. Being told almost daily that there will be a terrorist attack in Singapore has likely psychologically prepared Singaporeans to accept that there will be terrorists in our midst and, by extension, arrests would be inevitable. Thus, when the announcement of Izzah’s arrest was made, Singaporeans were already expecting it and hence the non-reaction.

This bodes well for Singapore, as when an actual terrorist attack occurs, we believe that Singaporeans will react positively and we will quickly return to life as normal – defeating the desired outcome of the terrorists.

While the community’s outward non-reaction is a positive sign, what we cannot be sure about is whether there will be an “inward” change in sentiments towards the Malay Muslim community. We hope not, as this is the other objective of terrorism - to engender the marginalization of Muslims. What the marginalization serves to do is to reinforce the terrorists’ message that secular society rejects Islam and its practitioners. Radicalised Muslims will then use this as the rallying call for its members to rise in Jihad against the infidels that persecute Muslims. It is a vicious cycle.

Hence, Singaporeans must resist the instinct to generalize the actions of Izzah to the broader Muslim community. To fight terrorism, Singaporeans must instead recognize Izzah’s actions as that of an individual (a bad apple if you will) and continue to embrace our Muslim brethren.


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