The US-led “War on Terror” has been depicted as necessary to protect not only human security but a set of values and way of life that are said to be under attack. Given that Southeast Asia has been referred to as the “second front” in the war against terror, there would appear to be much at stake in this region. Can we understand the struggles here as symptomatic of a clash between resurgent tribal and traditional values and ascendant modern, progressive values accompanying social, political, and economic revolutions across the region? And precisely where do democratic values fit within such a dichotomy? This chapter examines developments in Singapore and Malaysia: two

cases where authoritarian regimes have not only survived but flourished under conditions of modernization and globalization. This immediately throws into question the simple tribal-modern dichotomy referred to above. In these countries the advent of the War on Terror has provided opportunities for authoritarian rule. In particular, it has availed authorities of a timely new rationalization for, and bolstering of, repressive apparatuses of the state that have traditionally been directed as much, if not more, at political threats. If the end of the Cold War finally put paid to the rationale of the communist threat, the notion of an “Asian way” as a defense for repressive state powers also lost political currency following the 1997 Asian financial crisis when it became too closely associated with corruption. Yet the consolidation of authoritarian rule in the context of the War on Terror has coincided with increased rhetorical and practical support for regimes in Singapore and Malaysia from the US administration. To be sure, though, these regimes have their differences which are important to the precise impact and conduct of the War on Terror. By definition, all authoritarian regimes systematically block political

competition, but the means by which the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) in Singapore has achieved this has become more sophisticated over time. Increasingly, emphasis has been on administrative and legalistic means of repression on the one hand and expanded structures of political co-option on the other. At the ideological level, cultural justifications for the virtual oneparty state were introduced and emphasized from the late 1980s (Rodan

1996a,b). The Asian financial crisis represented a challenge to authority structures which was especially felt by PAP ideologues. For this reason, the War on Terror has been especially functional in synthesizing and updating core themes of the city-state’s vulnerability, rationalizing a variety of existing and new social and political controls and discretionary powers by the political elite and state officials. In Malaysia, civil society’s suppression has never been as effective as in

Singapore, with pockets of independent activism surviving and the internal cohesion of the ruling party subject to periodic strain by virtue of its more complicated and dynamic alliances (Khoo 1995; 2003). Therefore, blatantly repressive legislation such as the Internal Security Act (ISA), which provides for detention without trial, as well as the Official Secrets Act (OSA) and the Sedition Act, has been more central to ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition political controls in recent years. This was especially evident in authorities’ attempts to contain the political crisis associated with former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s sacking and imprisonment in 1998. However, following the events of 11 September 2001, the use of the ISA in particular enjoyed a new respectability in influential international quarters while previous human rights concerns waned. Yet while the threat of terrorism has been functional for the consolidation

and extension of repressive powers, prosecuting the struggle against militant Islamists has not been unproblematic. To differing extents in Singapore and Malaysia, this has placed stresses on official ideologies championing multiculturalism, religious freedom, and secularism. These kinds of tensions, brought forth by the complex intertwining of domestic political demands with global shifts in both the patterns and the treatment of violence, will be explored through this chapter in relation to these two Southeast Asian nations of Singapore and Malaysia.