The arrest this week in Singapore of a 16-yearold boy who, inspired by Christchurch attacker Brenton Tarrant, allegedly planned to attack Muslims congregated at two mosques in the island republic should alert the world community to the consequences of radicalism and hate.
Accounts in Singaporean media suggest the boy, described as a Protestant Christian of Indian ethnicity, had made elaborate plans to attack worshippers in suburban Sembawang and Woodlands using a machete and wearing a tactical vest, both purchased online.
He had apparently convinced himself that the Muslim fertility rate would lead to the subjugation of Christians in Singapore, and that it was necessary for him to defend “my people”. The Class 10 student is reported to have watched propaganda videos of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and was incensed by one that showed the execution of Ethiopian Christians in Libya.
Thereafter, he is said to have watched a live-streamed video of the attack in Christchurch and read Tarrant’s manifesto which is said to have inspired him. The student is said to have commenced preparations to attack mosques some months ago, but decided finally to go ahead, say authorities, after the attack in Notre Dame, France in October 2020 when a Tunisian man stabbed three people to death.
Certainly, official accounts suggest his planning was elaborate and included unsuccessful attempts to, first, procure online an assault rifle of the kind used by Tarrant and thereafter to manufacture a bomb of the type used in the London terror attacks of 2007 at home. The youth is said to have even considered setting fire to the mosques. But finally, he settled on the machete as his weapon of choice and reportedly planned the attacks on 15 March, the anniversary of the Christchurch carnage.
Singapore is a tightly controlled and efficiently policed island state. Accessing hate websites and those used to radicalise youth is not as easy as it might be in other jurisdictions, certainly not as easy as it might be at places in the Indian sub-continent. That a 16-year-old could make elaborate preparations of this sort ought to have a chilling effect on governments and society leaders.
While it is easy to spread hate using inflammatory words, as many across different religions have done in recent times, the consequences of promoting rabidity can be disastrous as Christchurch and Notre Dame showed, and as Singapore nearly did. The role of social media, too, needs scrutiny for it is hate speeches and videos that radicalise youth.
For instance, a 2011 video of lawyer Prashant Bhushan being assaulted in his chambers at the Supreme Court, retweeted this week in the wake of the 26 January violence in New Delhi, drew shrieks of approbation and exhortations for an encore. These are dangerous signs, and governments, including in India, would do well to quickly rein hate in. Society sits on a powder keg and it will not take much to set it alight.