restricted access Chapter 10: Geopolitical Landscapes of Terror and Security in Singapore
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179 10 Geopolitical Landscapes of Terror and Security in Singapore Chih Yuan Woon Introduction In December 2001, the Singapore Ministry of Home Affairs announced that it had unearthed and successfully intercepted a series of malicious, terrorist plots aimed at local infrastructures (e.g. train stations and water plants) and U.S. military facilities within the country. The initial relief that such acts of terror were prevented from materialising was overwhelmed quickly by macabre revelations of the intra-regional aspects of this challenge. A white paper released by the Singapore Ministry of Home Affairs reported that at least 37 individuals were involved in these planned attacks and the majority of them are linked to the radical Islamic group, Jemmah Islamiyah (JI), known for their active terrorism agendas in Southeast Asia (Ministry of Home Affairs 2003). The paper further illustrated that the thwarted events in Singapore were not random and isolated incidents; rather they represented part of the wider objective by JI to create a pan Southeast Asian Islamic state comprising the Muslim-dominated areas of Southern Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Southern Thailand. Citing “confidential” materials assembled from various sources, the report made elaborate attempts to demonstrate connections between JI and Al-Qaeda (the 10 C-Landscapes.indd 179 7/30/13 10:38:33 AM Chih Yuan Woon 180 organisation accused of orchestrating the September 11, 2001 attacks on America), and how JI had benefited from the latter’s financial and technical support. The report concluded that the local or national “threats” that besieged Singapore were transcended by broader concerns about Southeast Asian security as a result of the alliance forged between Al-Qaeda and its networks of regional adherents. The incident is important because it signified an important geopolitical juncture in Singapore where fear and terrorism are interwoven into the social fabric of the nation (Tan 2002). If geopolitics is traditionally about the expression of political power and control (usually by state elites) over a given territory (Agnew 2003a; Dodds 2007), it is hardly surprising that the Singaporean government has been proactive in devising policies to secure its national “space” against such potent threats. Indeed, although the September 11, 2001 events and the foiled attacks on Singapore happened more than a decade ago, (counter)terrorism issues continue to haunt public imaginary and political rhetoric and strategies in Singapore. This ongoing emphasis on terrorism and national security, according to Law (2007), has led to an almost ubiquitous production of landscapes of security not only to police and maintain public order, but also to communicate a sense of safety to Singaporeans in their everyday lives. This chapter contextualises and analyses geopolitical transformations in Singapore as a result of the city-state’s heightened encounters with terrorism. It argues that Singapore’s (counter)terrorism experiences cannot be divorced from events and processes occurring at other geographical scales (e.g. the September 11, 2001 attacks on America). The overt emphasis on counterterrorism rhetoric and policies has led to the production of landscapes of security in Singapore. Landscapes of security refer to material spaces in which strategies such as policing and deterrence are enacted to secure the country from terrorist threats. They signal an attempt by the Singaporean state to gain hegemonic control of and surveillance over the public domain in the name of combating terrorism. Such a scenario is closely related to Young’s (2001) notion of the National Security State whereby she argues that states expand their powers during times of emergency. As informed by the introductory chapter, the exercise of power is never absolute and will be met with contestations and resistances (refer to Chapter 1). The fault lines and challenges to such counter-terrorism interventions will be discussed later in this chapter, prompting reflections on the politics and social dynamics shaping urban tensions in contemporary Singapore. 10 C-Landscapes.indd 180 7/30/13 10:38:33 AM Geopolitical Landscapes of Terror and Security in Singapore 181 Geopolitics, Terrorism and Everyday Life Before discussing the landscapes of security in Singapore, this section will discuss the conceptual parameters of the chapter by highlighting recent geographical analyses broaching the interface of geopolitics, terrorism and everyday life. Prior to the events of September 11 and the global “war on terror”, geographers’ forays into the study of “terrorism” remained limited. However, the intense proliferation of terrorism-related rhetoric and initiatives in recent years meant that geographers can no longer situate themselves at the periphery of such debates. In particular, a sizable number of works...