“Today I want to puke when I hear the word ‘radical’ applied so slothfully and stupidly to Islamist murderers; the most plainly reactionary people in the world.”
– Christopher Hitchens, ‘Hitch-22: A Memoir’
In my previous article, I argued that we should not be surprised that a segment of Malaysian youths are enamoured by the extreme religious dogma that threatens local and regional stability when mainstream Malaysian political culture is predicated on racial and religious supremacy.
With regard to the contention of Rizal Mansor (aide of the PM’s wife Rosmah Mansor) that “uncouth” Malaysians are prone to demonise the government and belittle our security forces, I repost what I wrote about our security forces in an article about the Puchong terrorist attack:
“Security personnel tell me that efforts with monitoring mosques and other religious meeting places are hampered by the fact that on-the-ground assets have to filter so-called ‘anti-Umno’ rhetoric that is part of the democratic process and the real threats of anti-government rhetoric by committed Islamic terrorists.”
The above is a convenient lead in to an article by Mohd Azizuddin Mohd Sani, an associate professor of politics at the Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM) who published a good primer on the methods of radicalisation and the state’s response to it in the Middle East Institute – ‘ISIS Recruitment of Malaysian Youth: Challenge and Response’.
No doubt, the associate professor is part of the government initiative, or at the very least should be part of the consultative framework to counter the problem of the radicalisation of youths in this country.
I like this article for various reasons. In simple language, it outlines both the means of ISIS (now renamed IS) recruitment and the state’s response to it. It also focuses on an aspect of recruitment, the ‘usrah’ method – (from the article) “small groups comprising fewer than 10 members who meet regularly to discuss and learn about Islam – that I find as an “insurgency” tactic, fascinating.
Azizuddin, in quoting chief assistant director of the counter-terrorism division of the Royal Malaysian Police Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay, wrote, “Usrah, as a method of entrenching the ‘dakwah persona’ is effective in forming close-knit communities of dakwah activists with a mission to proselytise and Islamise society.”
Azizuddin elegantly frames the process with “If usrah is the sustenance, its camps can act as recruitment platforms for not only new dakwah candidates, but also new recruits for ISIS” and uses an example of a former commando who first joined an ‘usrah’ group which eventually led him to IS.
What I have always found fascinating is the kinds of literature used by these ‘usrah’ groups to learn and discuss about Islam. While the state regularly bans books critical of Islam, it also has an unfortunate habit of banning books that offer different interpretations of Islam that deviate from the state-sanctioned dogma.
Banned Islamic text deviate by promoting ‘secular’ values or any values that the state, through its various Islamic bodies, classifies as transgressing against ‘Islam’. I have no idea what text are used by these recruitment groups, but I do know that if there are no official state narratives beyond the lip service to religious diversity that Muslims can refer to challenge the orthodoxy of the various Islamic cults that are a danger to democracies around the world.
If Muslims cannot openly interpret their religion without fear of sanction from the state, this provides an opportunity for groups like IS to not only disseminate their literature within a controlled cult-like environment, but also offer a narrative that Muslims are not Islamic enough and beholden to corrupt regimes.
When there is no counter-balance, there is only extremism. When the narratives of these extreme Islamic groups deviate very little from the narratives of the state that Muslims are under siege and that the faith has to be protected or that Muslims should always support one another, then there is very little resistance to the idea that Muslims are a monolithic religious group beholden to religious betters to frame the discourse.
Furthermore, this stifling of speech hampers the efforts by the state security apparatus to discover truly deviant and dangerous teachings that advocate violence. Add to this, the security apparatus has to contend with suspicion from a wide range of civil society groups, including Islamic groups, because instruments of the state like Pota (Prevention of Terrorism Act) and other security tools are viewed by many Malaysians as just another avenue to stifle political dissent.
The symptoms, not the disease
Azizuddin’s article cites numerous examples where the ‘usrah’ method has been used by officials in power to influence unsuspecting recruits and while the security apparatus has done a remarkable job in investigating and subduing such threats, it is plainly obvious, to me at least, that like many issues in Malaysia, the security apparatus is addressing the symptoms but not the disease.
The article also highlights the state’s online initiative but unintentionally highlights the problem with the state advocating certain narratives that speak more of the indoctrination process of courses like BTN (Biro Tatanegara) and other state-sponsored initiatives that promulgate the narratives that the Muslim community is under siege.
The article states that “In an effort to combat ISIS recruitment of Malaysian youth and others, the police decided in October 2014 to shut down pro-ISIS websites. At the time, there were about 12 locally registered websites used by militant recruiters, which were known to have glorified several terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda, and to have been responsible for convincing a number of Malaysians to join militant outfits.”
Really? Only in 2014 did the state security apparatus decide that the best way to combat the ISIS (or IS) online was to shut down sites that glorified extremist violence? This is the problem right here. Because the state is too busy defining Islam and everyone with different ideas of Islam as “deviant”, criminal organisations are free to spread their dogma and infect the attitudes of certain Muslims who are already infused with ideas of racial and religious supremacy.
In addition, make no mistake. These extremist groups are criminal organisations. The article also highlighted another aspect of “funding” which would be funny, if not for the fact that these extremists have carried out violent acts that have killed many Muslims in lands already blighted with corrupt ‘Islamic’ regimes.
As the assistant director of the Police Counter-Terrorism Group elaborates – “We know that before this, many militants wanting to fight in Syria would sell off their belongings or were sponsored to go over (there) by ISIS supporters in the country… Lately, however, the trend of taking personal loans from banks is on the rise. They include young militants, especially those in the early 20s. Those with low credit ratings will apply for personal loans for as low as RM5,000 (US$1,400).”
I have no idea if Malaysia can withstand the dark forces aligned against it. I do know that if the state continues with its policies of painting a “moderate” face on extreme foundational religious and racial ideas and oppositional forces continue playing the same Umno game, when the dust eventually settles and we would be just another blighted Islamic state.
Future generations won’t have the cold comfort of what we indulge in now, that is, thinking “not in our time”.
Yesterday: Why Muslim youths are radicalised
S THAYAPARAN is Commander (RTD) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.
Source : @ Malaysiakini