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Cultivating upstanding citizens must start early

By Chow Pak-Chin | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-10-25 09:17
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During celebrations on July 1 of the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, a police officer was stabbed by a lone-wolf attacker on a busy street in Causeway Bay. The perpetrator then turned the knife on himself. The officer was seriously injured; the attacker died.

Investigations into the attacker's state of mind revealed not only a violent anti-government and anti-police stance, but a deeply antisocial lifestyle. While the attacker did have family in Hong Kong, the contact among them was limited. He opted to live a loner's life.

Most media outlets labeled the man a "lone wolf", but the fact is he also was a homegrown terrorist who wrought violence.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a terrorist as "a person who uses unlawful violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims".

Given the nature of the attack and the fact that the walls of the attacker's home were covered with a great deal of anti-police material and propaganda, this man would have been classified as a terrorist in any other place as well, including Western democracies.

Thankfully, the enactment of the National Security Law for Hong Kong in June 2020 has allowed the city's police officers to bring order back to the streets and to crack down on the radicals threatening to destabilize Hong Kong.

The HKSAR government recently announced its intention to "fill the gaps" and revive legislation according to Article 23 of the Basic Law in a much-needed push to crack down on national security crimes.

Many members of the opposition camp have been arrested on national security offenses, and "doxxing"-the posting of private or identifying information about an individual online, usually with malicious intent-has finally become a criminal offense. Perpetrators will now face fines of HK$5 million ($643,000) or be sentenced to five years in prison.

But even with the arrests taking place, we cannot be sure that all is calm beneath the surface.

The civil service is a case in point. More than 100 civil servants refused in August to swear allegiance to the HKSAR government and to uphold the Basic Law. Many of these individuals have since left their posts by way of termination, retirement order or resignation.

This undercurrent of disobedience within the civil service ranks is not the first of its kind. Over 500 holders of public office did the exact same thing in May, opposing the enactment of a new law requiring all lawmakers, district councilors and civil servants to pledge allegiance to the Basic Law and the HKSAR government.

While these acts of open disloyalty are not violent, they are symptoms of a greater political ill in Hong Kong.

We need only look to Australian prisons for an example of a successful de-radicalization program.

In 2007, the Australian federal government set up the Countering Violent Extremism Sub-Committee, which is made up of representatives from the federal police force and police bodies across various Australian states, cultural affairs organizations and other relevant bodies.

The subcommittee of the Australia-New Zealand Counter-Terrorism Committee focuses on countering radicalization through rehabilitation and prevention. The strategy is designed to penetrate and address extremism on all levels, from the vigilance of ordinary citizens to community resilience to civil and judicial intervention.

Although the specifics of the program are kept under lock and key by the Australian government and the Attorney General's Department-Australia's legal body-the subcommittee's main objectives can be found online.

The long and short of it is to identify and divert violent extremists, and, where possible, support them in disengaging from violent extremism by changing their views and attitudes.

Therefore, I implore Hong Kong people to remain vigilant and spot extremists around us. Reach out to them and guide them. But if you fear that they are beyond your help, seek professional help from social workers, medical professionals or government authorities.

Do not underestimate the power of ordinary individuals in our community, as it is through our everyday resilience that we can counter these dangerous forces.

The Countering Violent Extremism Sub-Committee's version of this is through its "building community cohesion" and "youth mentoring programs", which enhance community resilience and rehabilitate radicalized youths, respectively.

Our version of this could start with school-age children and family education.

Not long ago, it was a common sight to see families at anti-government protests as parents took their young children to these events. Such families should question their judgment in subjecting their children to political activism so early in life.

Education must also take place across all key stages at schools, and children of all ages must understand national issues and the importance of our National Security Law. We must also teach our children that there is no place in our society for violence of any kind, and for whatever cause.

Provided that we plant these seeds early enough, we can ensure that our education system produces morally upstanding citizens.

The author is president of Wisdom Hong Kong, a local think tank.

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