Archive for January, 2016

WHAT a start to the New Year for Islamic State (IS), with its presence clearly felt in Malaysia and Indonesia.

On Jan 11, two Malaysians, Mohd Amirul Ahmad Rahim, aged 26, from Terengganu and Syazwan Mohd Salim, aged 31, from Selangor, became IS bombers in Syria and Iraq killing 33 people.

This brought the total number of Malaysians linked to IS who have been killed to 17.

Also on Jan 11, police arrested three suspected IS people including a couple, who were deported from Turkey. On the same day, a 16-year-old boy wearing IS clothes, held a woman at knife-point in a supermarket at Sungai Petani, Kedah.

On Jan 14, IS attacked sites in Jakarta, Indonesia. The seven blasts and gunfights which took place in Jakarta including a Starbucks café, resulted in eight deaths including four attackers. Twenty people were wounded.

A day later, on Jan 15, police arrested a 28-year-old man from Terengganu at an LRT station in Kuala Lumpur, who was planning to stage an attack in the city.

On Jan 24, police announced the arrests of seven more suspected IS operatives in various states in Malaysia who were planning attacks at several popular spots in the Klang Valley and other states.

Before I write further, I wish to state that I am a friend of Islam. The actions and ideology of IS affect Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

I have been supporting the Palestinian cause for decades since my student days in Britain, which even a former prime minister of our country had acknowledged.

I have been writing articles on how to counter Islamophobia in the West and the causes of it and how Muslims are often their own worst enemies and playing into the trap of their real enemies. I have also written about the global threat of IS and how to deal with it.

Let’s make no mistake about this. IS is HERE and it is a clear and present danger to our beloved country.

It is only a matter of time before IS would seriously attempt a terror attack in our country.

Whether or not they will succeed or the level of casualties involved would depend on the alertness of the public in reporting suspicious cases and the presence, intelligence and responsiveness of our security forces.

The IS Caliphate, which controls large swathes in Syria and Iraq, is declaring war on the rest of the world and has been staging its terror attacks in one city after another, starting in Europe, Australia and US.

And now it has targeted Asean countries.

Islam is a universal religion of peace with no national boundaries but IS is a recent (since 2013) Middle Eastern phenomenon, using its misinterpretation of Islam, the injustices suffered by the Palestinian people and the global domination of “Christian USA” as causes célèbres for its ideology.

If you look back at the history of Southeast Asia and how Islam was spread by traders to this region, it adapted well and seeped harmoniously into the local cultures.

Islam was truly a religion of peace and moderation then and there were no threats to Muslims and there was also no need to demand the believers of other religions to respect Muslim practices. No fear or suspicion about their faith being threatened or proselytised.

There were never any serious religious wars or conflicts in the region with mutual respect and understanding. Yes, there were tribal and communal conflicts which were mostly territorial in nature.

Even Christianity was spread quite well into the local cultures after colonisation with few reports of actual compulsion and abuses by the Christian missionaries.

Why were there hardly any religious conflicts in Southeast Asia?

It is because the major monotheist religions preach many similar, common and universal values and principles of fairness, justice, equality, respect for others, compassion and peace.

How has the extremist version of Islam managed to gain a foothold in the region, especially in southern Philippines, southern Thailand, some parts of Indonesia and Malaysia?

For southern Philippines and southern Thailand, the Muslim groups there have been fighting for autonomy or independence and they needed a more extreme ideology to unite and motivate the people under their influence to take up arms to fight.

When they could not get what they wanted after many years of armed struggle, some turned to robbery and kidnapping to get rich, while the new IS ideology found its way to some militant Muslim groups who then started to declare their allegiance to the IS Caliphate in the Middle East.

Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country of 250 million people, has played an exemplary role on how to curb extremism and is a model of moderate Islam.

It has been relatively successful in its continuous focus, with state sponsored resources, on educating the Muslim population on the virtues of moderate Islam and the evils and dangers of Islamic extremism.

Furthermore, the country’s two largest Muslim social movements, Muhammadiyah and Hahdlatul Ulama, have been consistently countering the extreme jihadi propaganda.

This was probably why the IS Caliphate decided to teach Indonesia a lesson by choosing it to launch its first terror attack in Asean.

In Malaysia, having security laws alone to deal with terrorism is not enough. What is far more important is a sustained campaign to educate the public, including the use of psychological warfare.

IS is a global problem. It is militarily feasible to wipe out the entire IS Caliphate in Syria and Iraq by massive conventional bombings like how they carpet bombed many cities of Germany into oblivion at the end of World War II (to finish off the Nazi regime), or by the use of nuclear bombs (as suggested by some crazy US politicians, with expected collateral damage far worse than Hiroshima and Nagasaki). Yes, millions of Muslims may die but the IS ideology would not vanish into thin air.

Unlike Nazism, the IS ideology is far more insidious, appealing and relevant to many Muslim followers and sympathisers. In this day and age, you just can’t kill off such an ideology using military warfare alone.

The final answer in dealing with the IS problem is – EDUCATION.

There are no quick fixes for this difficult task of educating Muslims at all levels on why the IS ideology is wrong, unjust and un-Islamic.

With the use by IS of the social media and internet as powerful tools of indoctrination and spreading the IS propaganda, governments and global bodies concerned should do a lot more to counter the IS threat, using education and effective communication tools.

The writer is CEO of a think-tank and strategic consultancy firm.