Worries: ISIS threat, Asian stability
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Sunday Times, 21 Sep 2014
The rise of a group of jihadists in Syria and Iraq, and growing nationalism in Asia, are two things that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong thinks about before he goes to bed.
The first worries him because the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is not a problem just for the Middle East, while the second threatens peace and stability in Asia, he said.
He was responding to questions at The Singapore Summit dialogue.
ISIS, which has captured large swathes of territory and committed atrocities such as beheadings, has fighters from the United States, Europe and South-east Asia, including Malaysia and Indonesia, he said.
"What is it which has possessed people who want to go and do such things in a faraway land? If they destroy their own lives, that is one thing. If they come back, and bring back trouble to our societies, that is more difficult to contain, so we have to worry about it," he said.
Even though governments can take measures to weaken ISIS, "you can't fundamentally change the texture of the society and the people there. When you are gone, the problem will come back", he said.
"What we can do in our own homes is to watch the security, confidence and trust-building between different communities and make sure... the Muslims have leaders who will stand up and say that ISIS is not Islam, that it is evil, and we repudiate them and condemn them. Fortunately in Singapore, we have got religious leaders who have said that and said that emphatically."
Occasionally, some people are led astray, and Singapore has been lucky to discover them early. But some slip through: "We have a couple in Syria and Iraq, including a woman with teenage children... And the children are part of this. So it is something to be taken in absolute seriousness."
On his other worry, Mr Lee noted that there was rising nationalism, such as in China, Japan and some South-east Asian countries: "You can see it in the territorial disputes... in the tone it has taken in national debates, in an exaggerated and often very harsh and nasty way in the Internet discourse."