Think Tank (5/2022)
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Extremism: Old Paradigms; New Frontiers
05 Oct 2022

The Centre of Excellence for National Security (CENS), with the support of the National Security Coordination Secretariat (NSCS), organised the first in-person Preventing/Countering Violent Extremism (P/CVE) workshop since the pandemic with a focus on how violent extremism intersects with gender, hate speech and intolerance.

Held on 4 and 5 October 2022, the workshop, titled “Extremism: Old Paradigms; New Frontiers”, explored these issues in the context of the evolving digital landscape. Radicalism and violent extremism continue to sit at the forefront of policy discussions, and with the nature of terror threats constantly evolving, the workshop was held to engage with leading practitioners and academics of the field.

The workshop aimed to enhance our understanding of radicalisation from a multi-disciplinary perspective, learn how countries and organisations around the world are confronting extremism, along with exploring new methods to counter extremism. Dr Shashi Jayakumar, Senior Fellow and Head of CENS, opened the event with a welcome address, and nineteen speakers from esteemed institutions in France, Denmark, Norway, Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, India, the United Kingdom, and the United States lent their expertise in seven panels over the course of two days.

On day one, the first panel titled “The Future of Global Jihad” examined the current realities of terrorist groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda and where they stand. Despite suffering territorial and leadership losses in the past few years, these groups are now breaking into factions and shifting their focus to countries in Africa, South, and Southeast Asia. Pragmatic observations for how Southeast Asian countries are still susceptible to extremism and radicalism even when the threats do not seem obvious were provided. Emphasis was also given to the roles of women and gender within ISIS, as well as the implications of these roles regarding P/CVE. Building on the discussions, the next panel discussed the state of hate speech and intolerance in detail to understand extremism and reactionary movements in Malaysia and Indonesia. The panellists acknowledged that while extremism in Southeast Asia is often viewed through the lens of Islamist terrorism, the increase in radical right-wing posts on social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Discord etc must be studied extensively. These are used to support and propagate their ideology of extreme nationalism and religious conservatism, and pose significant security risks if left unchecked. At the third panel, experts from Indonesia and the Philippines discussed the existing conditions of extremism in the region. These included examining the future of jihadist movements in Indonesia and the impact of domestic politics on these, and the challenges of post-conflict rehabilitation of the 2017 Marawi siege in the Philippines.

The four panels on day two brought together a diverse line-up that addressed global issues of radicalism. The first panel of the day titled “Gaming and Online Subcultures” explored the international changing extremist landscape which included emerging hybridised online threats in gaming or gaming-adjacent platforms like Twitch, DLive, Discord, and Steam. Following this, the often overlooked issue of extreme misogyny online in the abovementioned spaces was analysed in detail. The next panel provided theoretical grounding for the terminology of the term ‘right-wing extremism’ and how it is used to draw parallels with seemingly unrelated movements around the world. This was discussed further using the rise of Donald Trump and Narendra Modi in the right-wing political space of US and India respectively. It was highlighted how despite having varied global contexts, both countries share characteristics of purity, supremacism, exclusion, hate and imagined threats.

The phenomenon of foreign fighters who fight for and against Russia within the context of the current Ukraine war was examined in the third panel of the day. The panellists shared findings of how foreign fighters are mobilised on social media, attempted to decipher their motivations, and deliberated the new challenges in the process of recruitment, training, and deployment of foreign fighters as they remain a security threat due to their connection to extremist networks. The final panel of the workshop focused on early interventions and disengagements of violent extremism. This panel helped address radicalisation in the online context while focusing on the role of culture and arts in PVE, and reviewed research that advanced the understanding of terrorist disengagement, re-engagement, and reintegration in society. The speakers also highlighted how to approach early intervention models and emphasised the key drivers of disengagement, while providing an academic framework for studying individuals who become radicalised.

To allow the participants to expand their engagement with these topics, the workshop used a combination of Q&A sessions and syndicate room discussions, which facilitated deeper interaction with the speakers. The takeaways from this workshop will prove to be extremely insightful for Singapore as it continues to navigate online safety challenges. Online activity increased exponentially during the global pandemic, with more people embracing the Internet that has led to a growing engagement with extremist material like conspiracy theories, disinformation, and terrorist content. This workshop has provided the opportunity for policymakers, practitioners, and the academic community in Singapore a closer examination of the role of Internet and its impact on the process of radicalisation, from various perspectives.


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