With the recent revelations that a youth was picked up and arrested on the way to a suicide bombing, hundreds of arrests of suspected terrorists have been made, and security is being drastically tightened across the country, what is happening?
In the aftermath of the recent suicide bombing, blamed on ISIS in Jakarta last week, Malaysia is in a panic. Reports are coming out in the media that hundreds of Malaysians are joining the jihad in Syria and Iraq, and the elaborate means through social media young people are being recruited to the cause of Islamic State.
According to a report by the Rajaratnam School of International Studies, there are about 450 Indonesians and Malaysians, including women and children in Iraq and Syria today. Islamic State has a special unit in Syria called Katibah Nusantara which is made up of Indonesian and Malay speaking fighters and their families. There are great fears that members of this group will return to Malaysia to carry out jihadist activities at home within the near future.
This should not be a surprise, as the Islamic narrative within Malaysia has been edging towards a more fundamentalist stance over the last two decades, since UMNO and PAS began competing against each other to show the Malay heartland that they are more Islamic than the other.
According to a recent Pew Research Centre study on attitudes towards ISIS, 12% of Malaysia’s Muslims are supportive of the group.
Islamic State formed out of the remnants of Al-Qaeda fighters in Iraq during the Maliki regime as a consequence of his persecution of the Sunni population. Baathists quickly joined the ranks of ISIS, along with a number of local tribes. Sunnis within Iraq saw ISIS as the lesser of two evils and reluctantly supported them. The leader is ISIS Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi last September gave a sermon in the Great mosque in Mosul declaring a Caliphate across parts of Iraq and Syria, which has been inspiring to many Muslims around the world.
Malaysia had experience with a group with similar aspirations to develop a caliphate back in the 1980s. Al-Arqam was founded by the charismatic Ashaari Mohammad with a vision of developing small village economy and trade. Ashaari advocated a strict but simple sustainable community lifestyle, following the Syariah codes. Instead of blood and warfare Al-Arqam saw trade and Daqwah (spreading the message), as the future of Islam, where the group started a conglomerate of enterprises all over Malaysia, the region, and even in Europe, US, and Australia.
At the time, the Al-Arqam movement had the sympathy and respect of many Malays within the community, including civil servants, members of the armed forces, police, professional people, academics, and even politicians.
However in the early 1990s, Al-Arqam ran afoul of the authorities when Ashaari was rumoured to claim that he could mystically communicate with the Prophet. There was also a rumour that Al-Arqam was planning to topple the Malaysian Government and replace it with a Caliphate, with Ashaari as the Caliph. Rumours also existed that Al-Arqam had a commando training camp in Thailand, although this was denied by the Thai Government at the time.
In September 1994, the former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir banned Al-Arqam and arrested many of the leading group, putting them under ISA. Most went underground and kept their sympathies to themselves. Even up to the Badawi era, there have been attempts by Al-Arqam to make a re-emergence.
In the absence of Al-Arqam, there has been a vacuum in ‘revolutionary’ Islam, to topple existing governments and establish a utopian Islamic state. Al-Arqam had a vision of an Islamic life under a caliphate and now Islamic State has filled this vacuum.
The moderate Malay Muslim demeanour that Malaysia once grounded Malays into the social status quo has long disappeared. There is now outcry about how Malaysian Airlines stewardesses are dressed. The slapstick comical P Ramlee films of yesteryear that reflected Malay society at the time would probably not even pass the Censorship Board today.
Malaysia has become a religiously compliant society, very ritualistic, where non-adherence is frowned upon. Arabness is replacing Malay culture under the assumption that one would be a better Muslim under such a persona. Islam Hadhari was pronounced ‘dead and buried’ along with the demise of former Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, and replaced with a look-alike Taliban blend of Islam that wants HUDUD without the Tawhid.
Islam in Malaysia is evolving into a religion of exclusion. Biro Tata Negara (BTN) dogma preached to civil servants and students on scholarship has extended this concept of exclusion, into an ‘us and them’ paradigm, depicted by the concept of ‘Ketuanan Melayu’, which assumes Muslim and non-Muslim are adversaries.
Consequently, Muslims now mix much less with non-Muslims, where joint celebration of non-Muslim festivals like Christmas is frowned upon by authorities. Malay Muslims now believe it is wrong to ‘Salam’ non-Muslims in Arabic. In Kelantan, cashier lines in shops are gender segregated, and halal trolleys proposed in national supermarkets.
We have seen protests against Hindus where cow heads have been displayed, and churches burnt down, without authorities taking much action against the culprits. Authorities have ordered the demolition of a surau because it was used for purposes other than praying in a resort complex. Authorities try to remove anything that may look like a cross, even though there are not religious connections to the structure. Women are being blamed for rape by ‘exposing and flaunting’ their bodies in front of men.
This is a perfect environment for Islamic State philosophy and dogma to breed and fester, rekindling new visions for the Muslim youth of Malaysia.
The strengths of Islamic State lie at multiple levels. First there is the Caliphate, the first in many years, something that many Muslims aspire to. The Caliphate is about living a life within Islam, something extremely important to many Muslims. Then there is the political Islamic State which is repelling the evilness of the world away, which includes all the enemies of Islam. Then there is the Jihadist Islamic State which encapsulates both Islam and bloodthirstiness, a mixture that appeals to many marginalized people, unemployed, lacking self-esteem, and under achieving, become the targets of Islamic State social media.
Islamic State has both a utopian appeal to Muslims and a deranged Jihadist appeal to those who want to achieve martyrdom in a Holy war.
Islamic State’s messages through social media are powerful. They show starving children as victims of war, and the results of US drone strikes, which are designed to form outrage and anger within impressionable young people.
Islam in Malaysia no longer carries the moderation and tolerance it once was. This encourages serious consideration of the Islamic State message.
Malaysia has become institutionally hard-line as well.
This is reflected at an international level as well. Just recently two Israeli participants were banned from competing in an international sporting competition because they were Jews. Hate for the Jewish state Israel has been built up over the Palestinian issue for the last few years. Socially it has been considered a noble thing to go to Gaza and assist the situation by giving humanitarian assistance there. However Hamas is a group that still uses militancy to pursue its ends.
The Malaysian Prime Minister Najib’s trip to the Gaza strip in 2013 was denounced by the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas who said that it “enhances division and does not serve the Palestinian interests”.
The implicit support for Hamas, doesn’t seem any different to supporting Islamic State at the domestic audience level. Young Muslims had been led to believe through Malaysian Government actions and dogma that it is noble to fight for such causes.
So are there any solutions?
Unfortunately for non-Muslim liberals, the solution to the problem is not about advocating a moderate Islam. The remedy can only be seen through Muslim eyes. Non-Muslim concepts of progressive or moderate Islam will be seen as an attempt to ‘Christianize’ Islam, and fall on death ears. Such an approach may even encourage more sympathy for Islamic State. US President Barak Obama himself, with a Muslim father may be seen as an apostate, with no moral authority to talk about Islam.
Malay society needs to follow the expectations that Islam has created within the youth of the country. The authoritarian, feudalistic, corruption, gangsterism, and elite’s hypocrisy to Islam need to be eradicated from Malaysian society. This environment, where the youth are being grounded in Islam is turning them towards other alternatives. With a weak and unappealing opposition in Malaysia, many have become apathetic of politics and are looking for religious solutions.
There needs to be a national vision for a virtuous society based upon Tawhidic principles, something inclusive for all.
This has to happen for the youth of Malaysia to respect the government and institutions of the country, making the appeal of undertaking jihad to serve Islam less appealing, especially if there are duties of jihad at home to be undertaken.
This doesn’t need any reinterpretation of the Qur’an. The concept of a peaceful Islamic society already exists within the Qur’an and needs to come out without changing the meaning, only the methods. Lectures to school children and university students won’t work if respect for authority is not there. Instead the orthodox Islam that Malaysians are taking up, the message of Islam needs to be framed inward upon the self and then onto what type of society that Malaysians can create here at home.
This is the challenge to the Ulama of today to take up.
It would be easy to speculate here, that the situation should any terrorist acts occur, will lead to the activation of the National Security Council (NSC). This would greatly advantage Prime Minister Najib’s grip on power. False flag operations are a possibility here.
However the situation may be evidently more serious. Anymore overt repression by the government could open a “Pandora’s box” of jihad within Malaysia. These jihadist actions don’t need direction from the Islamic State in Iraq or Syria. They will be domestically inspired and generated.
Until today, most terrorism within the South East Asian Region has been domestically generated, sometimes inspired by movements far away. From this point of view Islamic State is a big wake up call to Malaysia.
ISIL’s ‘legacy of terror’ in Iraq: UN verifies over 200 mass graves
Investigators have uncovered more than 200 mass graves containing thousands of bodies in areas of Iraq formerly controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), according to a United Nations human rights report out on Tuesday.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) said the 202 mass grave sites were found in governorates of Nineveh, Kirkuk, Salahuddin and Anbar in the north and western parts of the country – but there may be many more.
In the joint report, Unearthing Atrocities, the UN entities said the evidence gathered from the sites “will be central to ensuring credible investigations, prosecutions and convictions” in accordance with international due process standards.
Ján Kubiš, the top UN official in Iraq and the head of UNAMI, said that the mass grave sites “are a testament to harrowing human loss, profound suffering and shocking cruelty.”
“Determining the circumstances surrounding the significant loss of life will be an important step in the mourning process for families and their journey to secure their rights to truth and justice,” he added.
Between June 2014 and December 2017, ISIL seized large areas of Iraq, leading a campaign of widespread and systematic violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, “acts that may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity, and possible genocide,” the report states.
Traumatized families have the ‘right to know’
The UNAMI-OHCHR report also documents the “significant challenges” families of the missing face in trying to find the fate of their loved ones.
At present, they must report to more than five separate authorities, a process that is both time-consuming and frustrating for traumatized families.
Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, underscored that the families “have the right to know.”
“ISIL’s horrific crimes in Iraq have left the headlines but the trauma of the victims’ families endures, with thousands of women, men and children still unaccounted for,” she said.
“Their families have the right to know what happened to their loved ones. Truth, justice and reparations are critical to ensuring a full reckoning for the atrocities committed by ISIL.”
Victim-centred approach needed
Among its recommendations, the report calls for a victim-centred approach and a transitional justice process that is established in consultation with, and accepted by, Iraqis, particularly those from affected communities.
It also urges a multidisciplinary approach to the recovery operations, with the participation of experienced specialists, including weapons contamination and explosives experts and crime scene investigators.
Alongside, it also calls on the international community to provide resources and technical support to efforts related to the exhumation, collection, transportation, storage and return of human remains to families, as well as their identification, particularly by helping strengthen the national Mass Graves Directorate.
The Islamic State’s reviving scheme
Despite the fact that ISIS lost 98 percent of its controlled territory, it is aiming for a reforming and coming back in the Sunni populated areas in Syria and Iraq. Due to the current war situation and its developed financial resource. ISIS used to relay on the territory under its control to collect billions of dollars through criminal activities such as taxation, extortion, robbery and the illegal sale of the curd oil. Now the group has shown its ability to collect money regardless of controlling large areas.
After the rise of ISIS in 2015 and the takeover of vast areas in Syria and Iraq, its budget estimation reached $6 billion, as a result, the Islamic State is considered as the wealthiest terrorist entity in the history. The question posed is how such a terrorist group budget could become equivalent to a state-nation budget? In 2015 the Islamic State main financial resources were; oil and gaze which gathered about 500$ million in 2015; taxation that generated approximately $360 million in the same year and finally; about $500 million robbed from bank vaults in Mosul.
Today the situation is different, the Islamic State has lost the majority of its territory. The global coalition had destroyed ISIS infrastructures in the Middle East as well as its communication routes and had killed the idea of the hegemonic Islamic caliphate in the region. Meanwhile, the Islamic State is struggling to control the last 2 percent of its territory. Therefore, its revenue stream from the main resources has been rapidly shrinking out.
As a result, ISIS no longer relies on the controlled territory for its financial survival. For example, ISIS leadership may have smuggled around $400 million out of Syria and Iraq. Laundering this money through fake entity is likely to occur especially in Turkey. Some other cash could be converted into valuable items and stockpiled to be used in the future.
The stockpile cash will provide the group with more than enough fund to continue as a clandestine terrorist movement with the ability to conduct campaigns of guerrilla warfare in the region. On the other hand, ISIS has supported its financial situation with a variety of funding portfolio. It has developed a range of criminal activities that do not require controlling territories such as kidnapping for ransom, drug smuggling and trafficking in antiquities.
Over the next years, the international community seeks to provide help for Syria and Iraq to recover. The reconstruction aid could provide an attractive target for the Islamic State and a possible financial boost to its comeback. It is possible that the Islamic State begins skimming off reconstruction contracts, the only way is to establish connections with the local officials which is not difficult for a terrorist entity with a huge amount of cash. Finally, the rise of the Iranian threats in the region reflects in many stakeholder’s fears from an Iranian’s control through Hezbollah over ISIS past territories. Therefore, a continuing support from regional states to the terrorist group is possible if ISIS adopts a suitable strategy to the supporters interests in the region.
The combination of the criminal activities, the reconstruction plan and the regional states financial support in the future will encourage the Islamic State to regroup and reorganize. For instance, in Kirkuk, the militants created a fake checkpoint to attack security forces earlier this year. Moreover, in Diyala and Saladin, sleeper cells activity began to hit back. The U.S. policy in the Middle East tends to view the war on terror as separate phases while jihadis consider it as one long war. Until the West recognize this, ISIS is likely to come over to repeat its strategy and to reviving the Islamic caliphate project in the future.
Religious radicalism as a trend
IN RECENT YEARS, much has been said about radicalism and its varied offshoots. True, the number of terrorist acts climbs up, the popularity of extreme right political forces grows, and the wave of left radical and anti-globalist movements, migration crises and international tension is rising. This is how everyday realities look in many countries of the world.
France is one of the European countries in which radical trends are only too obvious. At the 2017 presidential election, Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, two radical politicians who represented anti-establishment political movements, reaped 41% and 51% respectively of the votes cast by young voters aged between 18 and 24. On the whole, the Fifth Republic is getting accustomed to violence against the law and order structures, destruction of material assets during rallies, protest acts that keep lyceums and universities blocked for a long time, and rejection of republican values that looked unshakable not long ago. Today, when fifty years separate us from the May 1968 events, we can talk about “banalization of protests” not only among the groups on the margins of society but also among its law-abiding part.
Late in 2015, after a series of terrorist acts in France a group of scientists, mostly sociologists of the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po) launched a large-scale research project to identify the factors responsible for the spread of radical ideas among the younger generation. In April 2018, the results were published in a monograph The Temptation of Radicalism one of the hits on the French book market.
The project is a unique one: for the first time, academic science turned its attention to the younger generation rather than to terrorist acts and those who commit them; it has become interested in the process of radicalization and the factors that plant the ideas of radicalism in the minds of high school students.
A vast, and most interesting, part of the book that deals with religious radicalism, one of the main objects of attention of the public and the media, offers two important conclusions that devalue the old and generally accepted opinions.
Sociologists have detected two component parts or two stages in religious radicalism: the “ideological” as devotion to the fundamentalist religious trends and “practical,” the adepts of which are more than just religious fanatics – they justify violence for religious reasons.
The authors of the book under review who obviously prefer the term “religious absolutism” to “religious fundamentalism” have repeatedly pointed out that it is present in all world religions; the poll, however, revealed that religious absolutism was more typical of Muslim high school students.
Religion, or to be more exact, extreme Islamist trends combined with the male gender is the main factor of religious radicalization of the French youth.
This sociological study has demonstrated that the French national and confessional politics that for many years relied on the thesis that radicalization among the younger generation was caused by social and economic factors should be revised. This book made a great contribution to the broad and far from simple discussion of the place and role of Islam in French society, into which not only extreme right political movement are involved. In his speech of May 22, 2018, President of France “poured cold water” on the plan to shake up the banlieues devised by Jean-Louis Borloo. The president pointed out that more money poured into sensitive zones would not solve the main problem of radicalization.
first published in our partner International Affairs
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