Book Review: Exile in Colonial Asia


December 16, 2017

Book Review: Exile in Colonial Asia: Kings, Convicts, Commemoration

Ronit Ricci, ed. (University of Hawai’i Press, 2016. vii + 294pp.)

Reviewed by Craig Reynolds@www. newmandala.org

Image result for exile in colonial asia kings convicts commemoration

 

Exile in Colonial Asia is a compact book, but it’s a large book in its treatment of forced migration, prisoner resettlement, and exile across the globe from East Asia to Africa. The ten essays cover people up and down the social hierarchy: rulers (kings, princes, sultans); pretenders to thrones; convicts; and a few pirates and smugglers.

The life of a slave might be better than that of a prince, and a prince one day might be a rebel the next, and soon after on a ship to another part of the world. Commemoration in the subtitle means memory. To restore lives lost to the historical record, the authors pick their way through grudging source material—letters, notes, trading company documents, and lists. It’s amazing what a detective-author can resurrect from the dry lists of people and objects buried in archival records.

In the period covered by the book the world was mapped not by countries but by empires: Portuguese, Dutch, British, French, Belgian, and Italian. Colonial authorities and trading companies like the Dutch East India Company (VOC), a quasi-state, removed people from their homelands and exiled them to foreign lands. The globe is criss-crossed with the movements of these people shown on maps drawn by Robert Cribb. Exile was not a peculiarly Western imperialist measure. Indigenous political systems—the Chinese and the Vietnamese, among others—also used exile and prison colonies to expand their territories. Not all the people sent into exile became alienated in their new surroundings. Some adapted by converting to a new religion, or by seizing opportunities in commerce or agriculture.

From ports in the Indonesian archipelago the VOC transported prisoners to the Cape of Good Hope on the southern tip of Africa. From the French colonies in Indochina 600 prisoners were sent to Gabon on the west coast of Africa and the Congo. The French also sent prisoners from Indochina to French Guiana, New Caledonia, Madagascar, Martinique, and Guadeloupe. High-level political prisoners in the French colonies went to Algeria, Tahiti, and the Marquesas. The British sent Indian convicts to the Andaman Islands which became a penal colony after the Great Indian Revolt of 1857–58. Rebels against British rule in Ceylon were sent to Mauritius.

Prisoners built and fed European empires. Convicts laboured as brick and tile makers, blacksmiths, boatmen, cart drivers and grass cutters, or were engaged in experimental industry and agriculture. Convicts worked in tin mines in Burma, and in Mauritius in silk and cotton production and the cultivation of sugar and coffee.

This historical study on Asia is one of the few that sees fit to include Australia, in this case to illustrate a place that was both colony and penal settlement. In Asia proper we find ourselves in India, Lanka, Java, Singapore, the Malay world, Vietnam, and Burma. Siam is not among the case studies, because it was not colonised, but when the king of Siam visited Java in the early 1870s he saw what might become of him if the British and French decided to take away his crown and carve up his realm. He observed the sultan of Jogjakarta being marched around and guarded by troops. The Javanese sultan displayed the paraphernalia of royalty, but he was a prisoner in a gilded cage, dethroned and demoted within his own country. Native rulers could be packed off to other outposts of empire. Amangkurat III was exiled from Java to Ceylon. The last king of Kandy in Ceylon was sent to Madras. Maharaj Singh was banished from the Punjab, where he was considered a threat to colonial consolidation, and then sent to Singapore. Sultan Hamengkubuwana II of Yogyakarta was exiled to Penang after he opposed the British takeover of Java in 1811. Some exiles became submissive, some were moderate. Some became militant, some were already militant.

The book is not sentimental, but exile, banishment, and forced migration are melancholy topics. I came away empathetic not only with the individuals affected by dire circumstance but also with the authors’ struggles to salvage memories of those uprooted and sent away. Exiles pined for home, and if they were rulers they dreamed of regaining their thrones. Several authors discuss the emotional pain in the exiled life of their subjects. Anand Yang refers to his chapter as a meditation, and Ronit Ricci’s story of the return to Batavia of Amangkurat III’s remains after his death in Ceylon is told with sorrow.

The final essay by Penny Edwards is a fitting end, if not a conclusion, to the volume. Prince Myngoon, the son of a modernising Burmese king in the mid-nineteenth century, was an embodiment of the Burmese monarchy the British had just eradicated. Edwards calls him a trickster who outwitted the British as he darted from Rangoon to Pondicherry to Benares to Saigon. The prince was a subversive figure able to elude colonial administrators trying to keep track of him. His story is shaped by subterfuge that challenged colonial surveillance. Colonial power had its limits.

The book is not divided into sections, a bold decision by the editor assisted by Maria Myutel. Cross references cite other essays within the volume to make comparisons and contrasts, but not in a false or jarring way. The book began life as a workshop, that familiar factory of academic production, and the authors apparently arrived soon enough at a consensus about what to discuss. Clare Anderson’s introduction is a masterful account of exile as a global phenomenon that ties the essays together, and the book’s striking cover depicts wayang figures on a Dutch ship that conveys movement, one of the volume’s themes. No surprise that the International Convention of Asian Scholars this year awarded Exile in Colonial Asia an accolade for the best edited volume.

Readers of this book cannot fail to reflect on today’s accounts of refugees forced from their homelands by repression and civil war. History is present knowledge, and each author in his or her essay reaffirms human possibility in an inhumane world.

 

Why Denmark is a Special Place– It is not just the Mermaid of course


December 3, 2017

Why Denmark is a Special Place– It is not just the Mermaid of course

by Benedict Lopez*

Image result for the mermaid in copenhagen

The Little Mermaid to Copenhagen– The mermaid statue was created in bronze by Edvard Eriksen, and was unveiled in August of 1913.

Eriksen was commissioned in January 1909 by Carl Jacobsen of Carlsberg Breweries to create the statue. Carl was fascinated by a ballet at the Copenhagen Royal Theatre based on the fairy tale about the mermaid, and asked the star of the ballet, Ellen Price de Plane, to model for the statue.  Price declined modeling in the nude for the sculpture, and Eriksen enlisted his wife Eline Eriksen (who modeled for several other of his works) to model for the mermaid statue.   A popular story has it that Price modeled for the face and Eline Eriksen for the body, but in actual fact Eline Eriksen was the model for the entire sculpture.  This is easily seen when comparing the statue’s face with photos of Eline Eriksen, and the faces of Eriksen’s other statues.

This mermaid statue is one of the top tourist attractions in Copenhagen, and has become an icon and a symbol of both Copenhagen and Denmark. While the story by Hans Christian Andersen was more than enough to make this mermaid statue known around the world, the Disney movies have only added to the fame and the appeal of this statue.

There are copies of the statue – with some differences – in a number of locations around the world, which in some cases are authorized by Eriksen’s heirs, and in other cases have been allowed to remain without specific authorization from the heirs.

The mermaid statue on display in Copenhagen is the actual original, but other copies and sizes were made as well – which is a good thing, as the original has been vandalized several times, and then lovingly restored using the copies.   Several sizes are available for purchase at the official website for this most famous of all mermaid statues.

While the statue is often seen as being smaller than expected, it is actually larger than it appears, about 25% larger than lifesize.  The spectacular location and the grand features of ocean, harbor and shoreline around the statue contribute to make it look small in comparison.  The original statue here is the only true copy of the statue in this size – according to sculptor Edvard Eriksen’s will, only smaller copies may be produced, with Copenhagen Harbor having the only full-size statue.

https://aliran.com/thinking-allowed-online/2017-ta-online/denmark-progressive-nation-deep-rooted-basic-values/

Benedict Lopez is drawn to the simplicity, integrity and passion for the environment on display in Denmark.

Although I have visited Denmark several times since 2010, I always look forward to my next visit.

I feel comfortable being in the home of Carlsberg, not for the beer alone (although I enjoy a pint or two occasionally) but also for the core values of this country of 5.5m people – values I cherish as a human being.

Like in Sweden, discrimination is prohibited on the grounds of race, colour, religion, gender, disability and sexual orientation in Denmark.

On each visit, I observed as many things as possible as to what makes Danes the happiest people in the world. I personally believe it is the sense of security given to the citizenry by the state.

Sharply in contrast to citizens in many other countries around the world, Danes need not worry about the basic necessities in life like healthcare, education and social security as Denmark is a welfare state. This is made possible because of high taxes, accountability in public expenditure, little wastage, checks and balances in the system and virtually non-existent corruption.

Having travelled the length and breadth of the land of Hans Christian Andersen, I have observed many facets of Danish life. The virtues of the Danes may be summarised as follows: integrity, simplicity and passion for the environment.

READ MORE:  https://aliran.com/thinking-allowed-online/2016-ta-online/accountability-integrity-backdrop-swedish-society/


Government ministers, civil servants and all public sector officials are held accountable for their actions. And when inefficiency, negligence and breach of fiduciary responsibility is highlighted, the minister or official concerned resigns immediately or is reprimanded. Transparency ensures that public expenditure is effectively scrutinised with any leaks in the system immediately plugged.

There is a high level of integrity among ordinary people too, and they seldom hoodwink or defraud others. Seldom does one read about any form of dishonesty, abuse of power or financial transgression.

Simplicity is a virtue the Danes are noted for. About a third of Copenhagen residents cycle to work and the rest take the train or drive to work. Most of those who drive have ordinary cars. In my six years traveling all over Denmark, I never once saw posh makes like Lamborghini, Aston Martin and Ferrari.

In sharp contrast to their Malaysian counterparts, chairmen, CEOs and managing directors of companies in Denmark usually drive to work on their own – without a personal driver. There are no special parking spaces reserved for them at their place of work. All staff park their cars in the same place. Meeting rooms are simple with ordinary tables and chairs; no expensive executive chairs even for the top brass in the company.

Just like in Sweden, simple dressing is the order of the day for the office and meetings, and most men wear a jacket without a tie. Their dress code contrasts conspicuously with many in the upper echelon in Malaysia, who have a passion for branded products and wait for the opportunity to display their opulence.

READ MORE:  https://aliran.com/aliran-csi/aliran-csi-2017/uncharted-waters-1mdbs-fourth-auditor-faces-formidable-task/

The offices of top management staff in companies are simple, quite unlike what you find in Malaysia. No posh office furniture. I have noticed this in many companies in Denmark over the years and this is something we Malaysians can emulate. In Denmark, people look down on you if you flaunt your wealth conspicuously.

I always take the flight to Billund, the home of Lego, via one of the European cities, and the one-hour drive to Julesminde is just awesome. I admire the beauty of the Danish countryside while passing through country towns along the way.

Image result for Denmark

Each time after arriving in Juelsminde, a small town of less than 5,000 people, I immediately check into the guesthouse. Without wasting any time, I go for a jog on the beach in front of the guesthouse for an hour. The clean fresh air, unpolluted environment and early morning sunrise keeps me rejuvenated as I jog in the mornings and evenings.

I subsequently laze about outdoors reading a book with, of course, a glass of good wine beside me in the evenings, before I go for a satisfying Danish dinner with colleagues.

Danes are passionate about their environment and are moving at an accelerated speed towards zero dependence on fossil fuels by 2050. Much of Denmark’s renewable energy requirements will be met through wind, and wind farms are conspicuous on land and sea all over the country.

All through my travels in Denmark and my dealings with the Danes, I have observed one of their traits, and that is if you are honest and sincere with them, they respect you. I too was always candid in my dealings with them, constantly being the “unsubtle diplomat”.

 

 

READ MORE:

https://aliran.com/newsletters/2017-newsletters/courting-elephant-room-1mdb/

After all, honesty is the mark of self-respect in any human being, and only those without this trait try and boost their self-esteem in other, less edifying, ways.

Benedict Lopez was director of the Malaysian Investment Development Authority in Stockholm and economics counsellor at the Malaysian embassy there in 2010-2014. During the course of his work, he covered all five Nordic countries. An eternal optimist, he believes Malaysia can provide its citizens with the same benefits and privileges found in the Nordic countries – not a far-fetched dream but one that he hopes will be realised in his lifetime.

The cancer of Islamist extremism spreads around the world


November 3, 2017

The cancer of Islamist extremism spreads around the world

by Fareed Zakaria

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-cancer-of-islamist-extremism-spreads-around-the-world/2017/11/02/30162342-c005-11

Singapore

This week’s tragic terrorist attack in New York was the kind of isolated incident by one troubled man that should not lead to generalizations. In the 16 years since 9/11, the city has proved astonishingly safe from jihadist groups and individuals. And yet, speaking about it to officials in this major global hub 10,000 miles away, the conclusions they reach are worrying. “The New York attack might be a way to remind us all that while ISIS is being defeated militarily, the ideological threat from radical Islam is spreading,” says Singaporean Home Minister K. Shanmugam. “The trend line is moving in the wrong direction.”

The military battle against Islamist extremist groups in places such as Syria and Afghanistan is a tough struggle, but it has always been one that favored the United States and its allies. After all, the combined military forces of some of the world’s most powerful governments are up against a tiny band of guerrillas. On the other hand, the ideological challenge from the Islamic State has proved far more intractable. The terrorist group and ones like it have been able to spread their ideas, recruit disaffected young men and women, and infiltrate countries across the globe. Western countries remain susceptible to the occasional lone wolf, but the new breeding grounds of radicalism are once-moderate Muslim societies in Central, South and Southeast Asia.

Image result for People rally on behalf of Jakarta's former governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama in Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia

Governor Basuki “Ahok” Purnama after the sentencing in his blasphemy trial in Jakarta on May 9, 2017. © 2017 Reuters

Consider Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, long seen as a moderate bulwark. This year, the governor of Jakarta, the country’s capital and largest city, lost his bid for reelection after he was painted by Muslim hard-liners as unfit for office because he is Christian. Worse, he was then jailed after being convicted on a dubious and unfair blasphemy charge. Amid a rising tide of Islamist politics, Indonesia’s “moderate” president and its mainstream “moderate” Islamic organizations have failed to stand up for the country’s traditions of tolerance and multiculturalism.

Or look at Bangladesh, another country with a staunchly secular past, where nearly 150 million Muslims live. Founded as a breakaway from Pakistan on explicitly nonreligious grounds, Bangladesh’s culture and politics have become increasingly extreme over the past decade. Atheists, secularists and intellectuals have been targeted and even killed, blasphemy laws have been enforced, and a spate of terrorist attacks have left hundreds dead.

Why is this happening? There are many explanations. Poverty, economic hardship and change produce anxieties. “People are disgusted by the corruption and incompetence of politicians. They are easily seduced by the idea that Islam is the answer, even though they don’t know what that means,” a Singaporean politician explained to me. And then, the local leaders make alliances with the clerics and give platforms to the extremists, all in search of easy votes. That political pandering has helped nurture a cancer of Islamist extremism.

In Southeast Asia, almost all observers whom I have spoken with believe that there is another crucial cause — exported money and ideology from the Middle East, chiefly Saudi Arabia. A Singaporean official told me, “Travel around Asia and you will see so many new mosques and madrassas built in the last 30 years that have had funding from the Gulf. They are modern, clean, air-conditioned, well-equipped — and Wahhabi [Saudi Arabia’s puritanical version of Islam].” Recently, it was reported that Saudi Arabia plans to contribute almost $1 billion to build 560 mosques in Bangladesh. The Saudi government has denied this, but sources in Bangladesh tell me there’s some truth to the report.

Image result for Moderate Muslims in SingaporeHE Halimah Yacob, Singapore’s Eighth President, is a Muslim Malay.

 

How to turn this trend around? Singapore’s Shanmugam says that the city-state’s population (15 percent of which is Muslim) has stayed relatively moderate because state and society work very hard at integration. “We have zero tolerance for any kind of militancy, but we also try to make sure Muslims don’t feel marginalized,” he explained. Singapore routinely gets high marks in global rankings for its transparency, low levels of corruption and the rule of law. Its economy provides opportunities for most.

Asia continues to rise, but so does Islamist radicalism there. This trend can be reversed only by better governance and better politics — by leaders who are less corrupt, more competent and, crucially, more willing to stand up to the clerics and extremists. Saudi Arabia’s new crown prince spoke last week of turning his kingdom to “moderate Islam.” Many have mocked this as a public-relations strategy, pointing to the continued dominance of the kingdom’s ultra-orthodox religious establishment. A better approach would be to encourage the crown prince, hold him to his words and urge him to follow up with concrete actions. This is the prize. Were Saudi Arabia to begin religious reform at home, it would be a far larger victory against radical Islam than all the advances on the battlefield so far.

 

ICAN founded by Malaysia’s Dr. Ronald McCoy wins Nobel Peace Prize 2017


October 26, 2017

ICAN founded by Dr. Ronald McCoy wins Nobel Peace Prize 2017

http://www.straitstimes.com

Image result for ICAN and Dr.McCoy

Dr Ronald McCoy founded ICAN a decade ago

Dr Ronald McCoy founded the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (Ican) 10 years ago. On October 6, Ican won the Nobel Peace Prize.

 

But there was.

Decades later, Dr McCoy heard of and joined IPPNW, the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. Years of campaigning to eradicate nuclear weapons led the retired obstetrician to found the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (Ican) 10 years ago.

On October 6, Ican won the Nobel Peace Prize, after the United Nations announced in July that 122 countries had signed on to adopt a total ban on nuclear weapons.

The first UN treaty of its kind, it is legally binding and comes into effect once 50 nations ratify it. Absent from the negotiations were the nine nuclear-armed states and their allies, while Netherlands voted against it and Singapore abstained.

 “A lot of people in the world don’t understand what are the consequences of a nuclear war,” Dr McCoy said in an interview at his home in Petaling Jaya.

NOT AN INSURMOUNTABLE TASK

A lot of people in the world don’t understand what are the consequences of a nuclear war. There is the feeling that no matter what they do, nuclear weapons won’t be disarmed. But if there is a human problem, surely there is a human solution.

DR RONALD MCCOY, who founded the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, or Ican.

“There is the feeling that no matter what they do, nuclear weapons won’t be disarmed. But if there is a human problem, surely there is a human solution.”

The founding of Ican, Dr McCoy said, stemmed from the 2005 failure of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to produce any agreed action plan.

“It felt like barking up the wrong tree… So I said, ‘Let’s take nuclear disarmament out of the NPT process, which was not working, and let’s form an international campaign to abolish nuclear weapons’. That is how we got Ican.”

Image result for ICAN and Dr.McCoy

A sprightly 87-year-old, Dr McCoy has had an illustrious career delivering more than 20,000 babies during his 40 years working as a doctor in Malaysia.

Watching over soon-to-be mothers and their babies, Dr McCoy could not shake off the feeling of responsibility for children growing up in a world with nuclear weapons.

“This baby now lives in a world bristling with nuclear weapons and the threat of a nuclear war… To me, I have an extended responsibility to do something about that,” he said.

He added: “As doctors, we cannot do anything in a nuclear war… Nuclear disarmament is a kind of preventive medicine.”

Dr McCoy said that the countries possessing nuclear weapons cannot use the excuse of deterrence to justify having such destructive arms.

“You can’t forever rely on deterrence without an accident occurring one day,” he said.

The road to eradication of nuclear weapons, Dr McCoy believes, has to come from the country with the most nuclear arms – the United States.

“If the US gives these up, other nuclear states would give up their nuclear weapons. The change has to come from the US.”

Image result for ICAN

Despite his age, Dr McCoy has not slowed down. Spending his days responding to e-mails and reading the news and reports on nuclear weapons disarmament, he stays healthy by doing light exercises at home.

Dr McCoy, whose father was a civil servant with Malayan Railways, grew up in Kuala Lumpur.

It was a five minute-walk from his home to his primary school in Pudu, an old neighbourhood in KL; later, he cycled daily to the prestigious all-boys Victoria Institution for his secondary school education.

Of Anglo-Indian descent, Dr McCoy said many people are surprised to learn that he is Malaysian. “Maybe it is my name and the colour of my skin. So I would say, ‘I am 200 per cent Malaysian’,” he said in jest.

Although he thinks that it will be “a tough road ahead” for nuclear abolition, the bright and cheerful grandfather of four is optimistic that nuclear weapons disarmament is possible.

More so after the UN treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons was passed.

“You should have heard the roar in the room when they announced it!” he exclaimed.

“When we get to zero nuclear, I won’t be around. But do leave me a forwarded message and wherever I am, I will celebrate,” he said, smiling.

The Nobel Peace Prize will be presented on December 10 in Oslo, Norway. Dr McCoy will be attending the ceremony.

When asked if he could impart any advice to the younger generation, he said: “Love your fellow human beings. What could be more needful than that today?”

Correction note: The headline has been edited for clarity. We are sorry for the earlier error.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 23, 2017, with the headline ‘Malaysian doctor wins Nobel prize for anti-nuke movement’. Print Edition | Subscribe

Bread for All: The Origins of the Welfare State by Chris Renwick


September 16, 2017

The Guardian Book Review

Bread for All: The Origins of the Welfare State by Chris Renwick

State of desperation: a hunger march in 1935 before the creation of the welfare state.
State of desperation: a hunger march in 1935 before the creation of the welfare state. Photograph: Keystone/Getty Images
A new account shows how Attlee’s reforms built on foundations laid down decades earlier – and that was the key to their success

Contrary to what some may believe, the welfare state did not come into existence solely as a result of some sort of post-second world war big bang caused by the election of the Attlee government. To be sure it was the Attlee government that supplied the political will, but many of the principles and some of the measures evolved over the preceding half-century. One or two were of even earlier origin.

Chris Renwick, who lectures in modern history at the University of York, has produced an account of the origins of the welfare state, from the Elizabethan poor law to the Beveridge report, which is at once both learned and highly readable. Until the mid-19th century, most politicians and political philosophers were instinctively against the notion that the welfare of its citizens was any business of the state except maybe in the direst circumstances, and perhaps not even then. The late-18th-century philosopher Malthus argued that the poor law was an interference with the natural checks and balances on a growing population.

There were also arguments that will be familiar today about escalating cost, fecklessness and the undermining of the market, with the result that early social reformers sometimes found it easier to focus, not so much on the moral arguments, but on the suggestion that it was simply not efficient to have perhaps one-third of the population unable to make any meaningful contribution to the wealth of the nation if they were laid low by disease, malnutrition and lack of education.

Image result for Bread for All: The Origins of the Welfare State by Chris Renwick

The first stirrings of ruling-class interest in the welfare of the masses began in the 1830s with the appointment of a royal commission into the workings of the poor law. Remarkably, however, it concluded that the existing patchwork of local provision was too generous and needed to be replaced by a centrally imposed system of workhouses where living conditions were sufficiently unpleasant that no one save the destitute would want to live there.

Gradually, though, the grim realities of working-class life in 19th-century Britain began to impinge on the comfortable world of the Victorian middle classes. A combination of the rise of trade unions, the founding of the Labour party and the extension of the franchise, along with a handful of enlightened employers and social reformers, forced social welfare on to the political agenda. The revelation, during the Boer war, that up to two-thirds of the recruits from industrial cities such as Manchester were physically unfit to fight came as a particular shock to the political classes.

Only with the election of the 1906 Liberal government did the state start to take a serious interest in the welfare of its people. One of the new government’s first measures was to introduce legislation permitting local authorities, should they choose, to introduce free school meals. Predictably, however, many declined to do so with the result that, after five years, only a relative handful of children benefited. The first old age pensions were introduced in 1908 (£13 a year for the over 70s), but once again provision was far from universal. Only those with incomes of less than £31 a year qualified. David Lloyd George’s attempt to introduce a national insurance scheme to cover the sick and unemployed, funded by increased taxes, was famously blocked by the Tories in the House of Lords and needed two further general elections to force through.

It took two world wars and the extension of the franchise to women before the welfare state as we know it today, universal and comprehensive, became politically possible. Although the greatest credit lies with the Attlee government, Labour did not pluck ideas and legislation out of thin air. During the first four decades of the 20th century, governments of all persuasions had begun to turn their attention to improving the education, housing and welfare of all citizens. As the author says, “The fact that there were Labour, Tory and Liberal fingerprints on the welfare state was an important reason why it was not instantly dismantled by the Tories when they regained power in 1951.”

Bread for All: The Origins of the Welfare State by Chris Renwick is published by Allen Lane (£20).

Jihadist Terrorism back in Southeast Asia


August 21, 2017

Jihadist Terrorism back in Southeast Asia

by Zachary Abuza, US National War College

http://www.eastasiaforum.org

Image result for Terrorists in Philippines

Within any Salafi-jihadist organisation there lies a debate over strategy: should the organisation target the enemy at home or the one further afield, like Western backers of the government? In Southeast Asia this debate has erupted in recent years. 

The Al Qaeda affiliate Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) spent years engaging in sectarian domestic conflict before taking up a larger-scale international approach with the 2002 Bali bombings. But that attack was largely at the impetus of Al Qaeda, and from 2003–09 JI only managed to perpetrate roughly one major attack against a Western tourist venue annually. And with each attack, more of the organisation was dismantled.

 

This provoked a debate within JI between advocates of the Al Qaeda line and proponents of a sectarian conflict-based strategy. Neither side prevailed. Despite attempts to bridge the divide and establish a training camp in Aceh, JI splintered in 2010, and became a more or less defunct organisation which was incapable of military operations.

The 2014 emergence of the so-called Islamic State (IS) revitalised terrorist networks in Southeast Asia. Since 2014, a number of IS-inspired attacks and plots have been perpetrated following recruitment efforts by Indonesian and Malaysian leaders in Raqqa. But the majority of militants from the region still remain preoccupied with the far enemy and with joining IS. An estimated 1000 Southeast Asians have traveled to Iraq and Syria. Indeed, the fact that many traveled with their families, or ceremoniously burned their passports, suggests they had no intention of ever returning.

Many wanted to be part of the caliphate, attracted by IS promises and slick propaganda. Some simply saw themselves as being too weak at present to take on their government back home. Others perceived fighting with IS as a way to burnish their jihadi credentials and gain military skills before returning home to focus on the domestic enemy.

Image result for Malaysian Isis

Groups and cells across Southeast Asia declared ‘bay’ah’ — an oath of allegiance — to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. But IS did not recognise any Southeast Asian cell or group until January 2016, when IS referred to Isnilon Hapilon of the Abu Sayyaf as ‘sheikh’, and called on other groups that had pledged ‘bay’ah’ to IS to fall under his leadership. That recognition allowed militants in the region to once again re-orient themselves towards the domestic enemy as they sought to establish a ‘wiliyat’ — a province of the caliphate.

This movement escalated following a mid-2016 video produced by IS central media that called on Southeast Asian recruits to travel to Mindanao or to engage in operations in the region if they could not travel to Syria. The trip to Syria has become more perilous with greater international cooperation among security forces. Hundreds of Southeast Asian recruits had been turned back by Turkish authorities, including 430 Indonesians alone.

The recent success of IS-pledged militants in tying down the Armed Forces of the Philippines for over two months will further attract followers and recruits. Sieging cities on two occasions, they have proven themselves as committed jihadists, willing to take the fight to the Philippine government. Marawi demonstrated the utility of targeting the domestic enemy. That in itself will attract foreign fighters from Southeast Asia and further afield. And with the Philippine military weak and spread thin, more attacks make both tactical and strategic sense.

The pogroms from Myanmar will also provide a new pool of talent to recruit from and networks to penetrate. The ongoing sectarian cleansing against the 1.1 million Muslim Rohingya minority in Myanmar has led to the deaths of over 600 and the displacement of over 75,000. The situation is growing more dire by the day with some 140,000 living in squalid internally displaced person camps, and over 40,000 others currently displaced by pogroms, much of which have been caused by Myanmar’s security forces.

Indonesian authorities have now broken up two terrorist plots to blow up the Myanmar embassy in Jakarta. Recently, an armed militant group, the Harakat al-Islamiyah (HAY), has begun operations against Myanmar’s security forces, at the same time that IS has begun to reference the Rohingya in its (albeit diminished) media. There are signs that HAY is trying to recruit from Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, with a surge in arrests of Bangladeshi nationals across the region.

The July 2017 decision by Indonesian President Joko Widodo to ban Hizbut Tahrir is also likely to inflame the anger of Islamist militants in Indonesia. While Widodo is rightfully concerned about conveyor groups — such as Hizbut Tahrir — the ban is likely to put the Indonesian government back in the cross hairs. The Indonesian government’s threat to ban the messaging app Telegram, resulted in the company removing 55 IS channels, another thing likely to incur the wrath of militants in the region and get them to refocus their energies towards the domestic government.

Image result for Malaysian Isis

Further, there are several hundred terrorism suspects in Southeast Asian prisons, including over 200 in Indonesia alone. Most will be released in the coming years, and they will be unlikely to travel. And though Indonesia touts its de-radicalisation program, it is not compulsory and its prisons have long been key nodes of recruitment and indoctrination.

The loss of the caliphate has led to a shift in attention back to the domestic enemy in Southeast Asia. Until a militant Salafist group emerges from the embers of IS, the more distant enemies will recede in the strategic thinking of Southeast Asian militants.

 

Zachary Abuza is Professor of National Security Strategy at the US National War College. The views expressed here are his own, and do not reflect the opinions of the Department of Defense, National Defense University, or the National War College. Follow him @ZachAbuza.