May 15, 2016
Religious Terrorism in Malaysia–Part 1 and Part 2
by Dr. Lim Teck Ghee
Dr. Lim Teck Ghee
The headline news that young Malaysian children are play acting with guns and fighting to defend Palestinians and presumably, their religion wherever the need is seen to be, should begin serious soul searching among Malaysians, especially within the Muslim community even if other manifestations showing that religious extremism has taken deep root in the country, may not have caused concern or are being ignored.
The revelation came to light when lawyer Siti Kasim uploaded on her Facebook page photos from an Instagram user that depicted a teacher wearing a full face veil and little boys carrying toy guns and little girls in long headscarves and robes.
Siti asked in her Facebook “What kind of Islam do you think they are teaching the kids …? I hope the authorities will look into this….”
Our authorities responded with a statement that the kindergarten where the playacting was carried out has been under police radar since last year and that the police are monitoring kindergartens nationwide to ensure they were not being used to train child soldiers.
That assurance is inadequate and meaningless.How can the Police possibly monitor the thousands of early education schools and teachers for content and activities related to religious extremism?
What is taking place in the tadika seems to be the nurturing of potential Islamic jihadists – a development which is probably taking place in many other privately and state operated Islamic tadikas throughout the country.
Religious Indoctrination and Exploitation of Children
We have seen the exploitation of children by terrorist groups such as ISIS, Boko Haram, and the Pakistani Taliban who have used children to carry out their activities.
This exploitation of children by terrorist groups is not new. But the tendency of extremist religious groups to use children to carry out their activities is relatively recent. It has been postulated that the move is strategic as it provides heightened media attention, especially over social media, and allows terrorist groups to groom more loyal members.
It has also been noted that children are easier to indoctrinate and less likely to resist, since they do not fully understand their own mortality. Moreover, because children appear less suspicious, using them often leads to more successful missions.
For now, the phenomenon of child soldiers or terrorists has been confined to poorer countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia. Malaysia does not yet fit into the category of failed states where recruitment of children and their indoctrination and deployment for violent activities can take place in the open or clandestinely.
Although not a failed state, that does not mean that we should be complacent. This is because the link between childhood indoctrination and adult terrorist behavior in support of religiously sanctioned and ‘righteous’ causes has been well established.
Childhood Indoctrination and Terrorism Link
Our dilemma with homegrown religious extremism – different from the failed state model – is akin to that found in developed nations such as Britain, France and Australia where some young children who grow up in relatively affluent households, totally different in conditions from their counterparts in poor countries such as Pakistan or Nigeria, share a common characteristic in being influenced by religious indoctrination during early childhood.
Harussani Zakaria–Malaysia’s Zakir Zaik
These children – and it must be emphasized that they comprise a small minority – for reasons that are not easy to fathom – at some later stage in their life become religious fanatics who have no compunctions with engaging in murderous activities to kill off the enemies of their faith, or whoever may be seen as an appropriate victim to call attention to their allegiance to their religion, and new found – but often long simmering – piety.
Besides family and friends, indoctrination and the inculcation of extremist and fanatical values in Britain has been found to emanate from Muslim private schools where religious education is said to deprive the students “from the chance of open minds and critical ways of thinking. It prevents them from accepting different points of view and turns them into nothing but dogmatic fanatics. This picture becomes serious under the Islamic education syllabus.”
(See, Samir Yousif, “Religious Indoctrination and the Creation of Terrorists (April 2015) in http://www.newenglishreview.org/Samir_ Yousif/Religious_Indoctrination_and_the_Creation_of_Terrorists/)
The Malaysian tadika in the spotlight, Tadika Hidayah Bestari, may be staging a play which is perfectly in line with its Islamic education syllabus. But their message for the child performers appears to be not dissimilar to that of ISIS.
Recently an Australian Broadcasting Corporation news report on ISIS’s focus on indoctrination of children noted that the latest of the terror organization’s many propaganda videos featuring child fighters this time showed a purported 15-year-old suicide car bomber.
“It is the road to victory and Paradise, Allah willing. Let me just do the operation, because if I stay longer I might sin and the sins will increase,” the teenage bomber said in the 22-minute ISIS video “I know my opponents are apostates who left Allah and His Messenger and became loyal to America.”
According to a London based think tank,the Quilliam Foundation, during the past six months alone, minors have appeared in 250 ISIS messages, which have included a dozen releases depicting children as executioners of prisoners or “spies”.
When explaining the playacting, the headmistress of Tadika Hidayah Bestari disclosed that the play was held in 2014 in collaboration with a non-governmental organisation, the Malaysian Consultative Council of Islamic Organisations (Mapim), that had raised funds for war victims in Palestine and Syria.
“Mapim is a registered organisation. Parents who attended the play donated to Mapim, hoping the sum collected would help Palestinians. It is an annual event, where students will perform in plays. We will have slideshows and show videos of those affected by the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to expose our pupils and their parents to the suffering that war victims go through”, she is reported to have said.
What this disclosure also reveals is an alarming situation of quasi-state and state bodies engaged in supporting and encouraging such early childhood brainwashing and indoctrination.
We should not be surprised that we will end up with large numbers of homegrown ISIS and other types of Islamic jihadists and wannabes, and the imminent and uncontrollable proliferation of religious terrorist activity, in our part of the world.
Note: This is the first of a two part post on religious terrorism in Malaysia. The second will examine the socio-economic impact of religious terrorism.
Part 2:Social and Economic Impact of Religious Terrorism
The first (above) of the 2 part post focused on the link between early childhood religious indoctrination and adulthood fanaticism and extremism; and how this can lead to acts of terrorism based on misguided religious fervour.
In this second part, we shall look at the socio-economic impact of religious terrorism – a subject matter receiving attention in affected countries, though not yet in Malaysia – at least in the public sphere.
The first important consideration is that any act of terrorism – in particular a large scale one that involves mass violence and killing – is bound to have ripple effects through the society. When such terrorism is not random or isolated, and emanates from religiously inspired causal factors, the ripple effects will be magnified and of longer duration.
The immediate impact will be felt in the economy where we can expect a sharp fall in the share market and other financial indicators and barometers. Back here, we may be comforted that financial markets elsewhere have proven to be relatively resilient against terrorism. Hence, it could be that after a few days, or longer, of sell off and losses, the KLSC and country’s financial markets could recover.
In the United States, in the aftermath of the 9/11 events, Dow Jones was closed for a few days and fell sharply after re-opening. However it was able to recover all its losses within a month, although its has been estimated that the terrorist outrage may have reduced GDP growth in the US that year by half a percentage point. By comparison in July 2005, when suicide bombers attacked the London transport network, the UK market recovered more quickly.
Although we can expect a similar rebound in our stock market, less responsive to recovery will be the tourism and sectors such as hotels, travel and services that are dependent on foreign and local spending.
In 2014, the tourism sector was the 6th largest contributor to the national economy, contributing a total of RM161 billion (14.9%) of GDP. The over 27 million tourist arrivals generated RM72 billion in receipts and created 1.77 million jobs. The blow to our tourism sector will be devastating if it is foreigners that are targeted by terrorists, either because they are easy victims or are seen as symbolic representatives of hostile governments.
Besides tourism, we can expect repercussions in such disparate sectors as education and the property market which will have adverse multiplier effects on the larger economy.
How will locals be affected?
It is not only foreigners – potential tourists, investors, business people and other parties with interests already in place in the country or intended – who will reconsider their positions, reduce their stakes or give up entirely on Malaysia.
More damaging will be the impact on the local population. The views of our citizenry with respect to any act of religious terrorism – including one originating from ISIS-inspired extremists – are likely to vary.
According to a recent study, 10 per cent of our country’s population have a favourable opinion of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The Pew Research Centre in its 2015 Global Attitudes survey found that Malaysia was tied for second place with Senegal among 11 nations with significant Muslim populations polled for the support level for the group. A quarter of respondents here also said they “don’t know” how they viewed the IS, despite all indicators pointing to it being a terrorist organisation.
Generally the adverse effects of religious terrorism in countries which have experienced bombings or other forms of terror recede over time.
But ours is a multi-racial and multi-religious society in a different developmental stage from countries such as France, Britain or the United States.
Should an initial episode of religious terrorism be followed by another or be seen as part of an unpreventable cycle of violence, then we can expect a potential melt down of the entire economy, and unprecedented shocks to our way of life.
There is also likely to be political turmoil and instability on an extraordinary scale, resulting in the imposition of martial law and emergency rule, and the suspension of democratic rights and freedoms.
With the non-Malay and non-Muslim population (and also a small segment of the Malay Muslim community), we cannot rule out the possibility that any attack by religious terrorists replicating what has taken place in Bali, Bangkok, London or Paris – and carried out by home grown terrorists – will trigger capital flight and an exodus out of the country by those who can afford to do so, mainly the wealthy and highly educated.
Out-migration, however, will not be a realistic option for the great majority of Malaysians. Those unable to migrate or preferring to remain in the country will have to live with the aftermath of the terror attack. Basically they will have to come to terms with hardened positions, polarization and greater levels of intolerance with respect to religion, race and other aspects of life related to these two identity markers.
We can also expect that among non-Muslims, Islamophobia, and prejudice against fellow Malaysian Muslims and Islam, will increase markedly, despite efforts by government and civil society organizations to repair the damage caused by religious extremism; and repeated calls for reconciliation and goodwill.
As for the Muslim side, it is difficult to predict the community’s reaction due to the rising tide of Islamization and its penetration into every sphere of Malay life. There is likely to be a range of responses, with some segments of the community sympathetic to the victims of the terrorism, others indifferent, and a possibly sizable grouping of the thinking (even if they do not say it aloud) that equal, if not more, blame should be accorded to the anti-Muslim forces that have been responsible for pushing their Muslim ‘martyred’ brothers beyond the brink.
Mistrust, fear, suspicion, anger and hatred arising from religious terrorism will drive our communities further apart. But it could be that the scars will eventually heal and the country can recover its social equanimity.
It could also be that, in the worst case scenario, the country’s racial and religious divisions reach a breaking point. And that will mean the end of Malaysia as we know it.