Malaysia’s Namby-Pamby Najib Razak


September  29, 2017

Malaysia’s Namby-Pamby Najib Razak

By Kee Thuan Chye

(received by e-mail)

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The Plain Speaking Duli Tuanku Sultan of Johor

What the Prime Minister, Najib Razak, says after HRH Sultan of Johor ticked off the Muslims-only laundrette owner sounds embarrassingly hollow.

He said there was basis in HRH Sultan’s concern that the laundrette owner’s action would lead to a narrow image of Islam, contrary to the country’s desire to nurture a united, harmonious, moderate and tolerant society.

Examine his language. He comes across as wishy-washy. He is equivocating.

He doesn’t come right out to condemn the laundrette owner’s action. Instead, he says the action is perceived by HRH Sultan as … blah blah blah … and there is basis for his concern (only the Sultan’s concern, not the Government’s too?) and that the Sultan’s action should be well-received.

He adds: “The Government will remain committed to upholding the true Islamic teachings while protecting the interests of the other communities as demanded of Islam.” And pays lip service to his fond rhetoric about this country upholding “Wasatiyyah” and championing the Maqasid Syariah foundational goals.

Image result for Najib RazakThe Blabber Mouthed Prime Minister of Malaysia Najib Razak

 

At no point does he say in no uncertain terms that extremist and society-dividing actions on so-called religious grounds should stop, that the Government would take action against those who practised them.

He was not assertive and certain as HRH Sultan was in declaring such actions taboo. He did not even say they were detrimental to society.

In fact, the Government should have been the very first authority to tick off the laundrette owner. It’s a real shame that the Sultan had to step in and do the Government’s job. Najib’s tagging on to it afterwards makes him look namby-pamby.

Do we want a government that is so wishy-washy, that closes its eyes to such practices? And, no doubt, for its own political expediency, its fear of losing the extremist Muslim vote?

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I’m for a united, harmonious, moderate and tolerant society. I’m not for a wishy-washy government.

Malaysia : T K Chua says Respect the Dignity of Difference


September 28, 2017

Malaysia : T K Chua says Respect the Dignity of Difference

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

I think that as a nation, we have lost what we want to be. We have lost track of the fundamental values and have become inconsistent in our arguments. If the nation’s trajectory is wrong, it does not matter if along the way we find some beacons of light.–T K Chua

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The Confused Malaysian Prime Minister for Good Reason

I really think that Malaysia is in a confused state now. Sometimes we hear very enlightened views, but sometimes we hear the worst of bigotry and chauvinism.

I think that as a nation, we have lost what we want to be. We have lost track of the fundamental values and have become inconsistent in our arguments. If the nation’s trajectory is wrong, it does not matter if along the way we find some beacons of light.

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The Malays of the UMNO variety no longer know the difference between what is Right and what is wrongThe Ringgit Culture

Occasionally, we get very wise counsel from our leaders highlighting the absurdity of certain religious and political ideas and practices. But I think they have to do more. They have to help set the nation’s trajectory right, not just provide beacons of light along the way.

The trajectory of Johor (I impute it as Malaysia’s too), as succinctly put forth by HRH The Sultan, is “Johor (Malaysia) belongs to people of all races and faiths, and is a progressive, modern, and moderate state (country)”.

When we say we are moderate and tolerant, we must accept that others are different. When we say we value freedom and progressiveness, we must be wary of authoritarianism, pervasive indoctrination and extremism in whatever form. When we say we are modern, we must value equality and inclusiveness and despise chauvinism, holier-than-thou attitudes and dogmas.

Trajectory is important. All leaders, be they political, royal, or religious, must help to keep the nation on the right trajectory. We must forever remain a progressive, modern, moderate and inclusive nation.

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Right now, the forces of extremism are directing the nation on the wrong trajectory – a trajectory of exclusiveness, of holier-than-thou attitudes, of inequality, of religiosity, of ignorance, and of opaqueness and intolerance. Some of our political leaders, out of expediency, are too afraid to change the course set forth by extremists.

We mustn’t just look at the forms and manifestations of intolerance and absurdity that keep popping up in our midst. Instead, we must look at the forces of extremism, ignorance and authoritarianism providing the impetus behind them.

The route to any extreme ideology, be it authoritarianism, fascism, theocracy, dogmatism or ignorance, is a one-way street. There is no U-turn. Even if there were one, it would be painful. The best prevention is not to embark on it in the first place.

TK Chua is a FMT reader.

 

Trump’s Transactional Foreign Policy: Rogue Leaders like Malaysia’s Prime Minister Matter than Democracy and Human Rights


September 13, 2017

Trump’s Transactional Foreign Policy: Rogue Leaders like Malaysia’s Prime Minister Matter than Democracy and Human Rights

…[f]or many Malaysians, including Najib himself, the most important outcome of the meeting has nothing to do with questions of bilateral policy. Rather, the most significant consequence of the Trump-Najib summit will be to burnish Najib’s reputation while being under active investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.–Trevor Sutton and Brian Harding

http://thediplomat.com/2017/09/najibs-us-visit-sends-a-troubling-message-on-rule-of-law/

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US President Donald Trump tweeted today about Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s visit to the White House.“It was a great honor to welcome Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak of Malaysia and his distinguished delegation to the @WhiteHouse today!” Trump said in his tweet of a video of the Malaysian leader’s visit.–Bernama

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak meeting with President Donald Trump today (September 12) is the first White House visit by a Malaysian head of state since George W. Bush’s first term in office. But while we will hear more about the actual deliverables from the visit, for many Malaysians, including Najib himself, the most important outcome of the meeting has nothing to do with questions of bilateral policy. Rather, the most significant consequence of the Trump-Najib summit will be to burnish Najib’s reputation while being under active investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.

For more than two years, Prime Minister Najib has been seeking to contain the fallout from one of the largest corruption scandals in modern history: the theft of billions of dollars from 1MDB, an economic development fund administered by the Malaysian government. Of these billions, around $700 million reportedly found its way into Najib’s own bank accounts. Yet, despite widespread outrage, Najib has deftly used at times draconian legal and administrative instruments to weather the fallout, including a disturbing crackdown on free speech and other civil liberties.

Many Malaysians who take a dim view of Najib’s autocratic drift have placed their hopes in external actors to expose the corruption at the heart of Malaysian politics. Multiple national law enforcement agencies are currently investigating the 1MDB scandal, including the United States Department of Justice, which last year filed a civil forfeiture complaint seeking recovery of $1 billion in stolen 1MDB assets laundered through U.S. financial institutions, and is simultaneously conducting a criminal investigation. DOJ’s inquiry has independently concluded that the funds in Najib’s bank accounts were from 1MDB, and not a Saudi donor as Najib has vowed, although the department has not brought charges against Najib to date.

Trump has not spoken publicly about 1MDB or the DOJ investigation, but his ties with Najib predate his presidential campaign, and his decision to receive the Malaysian leader at the White House sends a demoralizing signal to those in Malaysia and across the world who want the United States to stand up for democracy and fight corruption. There has been widespread speculation among Malaysians that Najib will persuade Trump to intervene on his behalf and ensure the DOJ probe does not personally target him or his assets. Although such interference seems unlikely, it is not unimaginable in light of the President’s documented efforts to tamper with law enforcement activities, such as his firing of FBI Director James Comey, and his request to aides that DOJ drop its prosecution of Sheriff Joe Arpaio (whom Trump later pardoned).

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U.S. President Donald Trump welcomed Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak to the White House on Tuesday, praising his country for investing in the United States while steering clear of an American investigation into a Malaysian corruption scandal. The visit is important for Najib, who faces elections next year and wants to signal he is still welcome at the White House despite a criminal probe by the U.S. Justice Department into a state fund called 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).–Reuters

This apprehension that Trump will seek to spare Najib reflects a widespread belief internationally that President Trump will conduct foreign affairs into a wholly transactional fashion with little regard for human rights, democracy, or rule of law. In our conversations with Southeast Asian elites since last November’s presidential election, we have found many were favorably disposed towards Trump – but for all the wrong reasons. There is a pervasive sense among business and political leaders in the region that the rules of the game have changed and everything is now flexible. In many ways, Southeast Asian leaders like Najib see in Trump an image of themselves – a leader whose instincts favor political survival over institutions and rule of law.

While Najib’s visit this week will no doubt provide ballast to U.S.-Malaysia relations in the near term, whether it serves the relationship well in the long run is a different matter. At a minimum, the visit sends a clear message that the White House should no longer be viewed as an ally in the fight against graft, but rather a friend of kleptocracy. Even if the two leaders avoid the subject of 1MDB, the meeting will be a major victory for Najib and his administration both in Malaysia and on the world stage. On the U.S. side, the visit will mark another chapter in the Trump Administration’s dangerous indifference to foreign corruption.

Southeast Asia remains a strategically important region for the United States, and the White House is right to seek to engage Southeast Asian leaders. Yet that engagement should not involve turning blind eye to graft, authoritarianism and repression. As Trump plans to welcome autocratic leaders from Thailand and the Philippines to the White House later this year, at some point one must ask whether U.S. policy towards Southeast Asia is guided by any broader values or strategic vision. For the moment, the answer to this question is completely unclear, and marginalized democrats across the region are taking note.

Trevor Sutton is a fellow for National Security and International Policy at the Center for American Progress (CAP). Brian Harding is director of East and Southeast Asia policy for National Security and International Policy at CAP.

 

Opportunities and Challenges of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and US Policy and Pakistan


September 10, 2017

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Number 395 | September 7, 2017

ANALYSIS

Opportunities and Challenges of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and Implications for US Policy and Pakistan

by Lin Wang

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China and Pakistan have long maintained diplomatic and military ties. However, close economic cooperation is a more recent development. The flagship project of China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – is expected to provide $40 billion in Chinese investments to Pakistan. CPEC is not only a strong economic boon for Pakistan’s economic growth in the next three to five years, but also an opportunity for Pakistan to stabilize its society and reshape its image from a fragile state to an emerging economy in Asia. From a geopolitical perspective, CPEC is also regarded as a game-changing project in South and Central Asia. The prospect is promising, although the detailed opportunities and challenges CPEC faces still need to be carefully evaluated. Although CPEC is a bilateral project between China and Pakistan, it has already drawn interest and  worry from other stakeholders in the region, including the United States and India.

Pakistan is important not only for the stability of South Asia, but for US national interests (including Afghanistan policy), China’s regional interests, global counter-terrorism, and the stability of the Muslim world as well. CPEC acts as a game-changing opportunity for Pakistan’s development and its future role in the region. With the implementation of CPEC and the emerging commercial attractiveness of Pakistan and the South Asia region, Chinese and US economic and security interests in Pakistan and the region are converging.

Pakistan has about 200 million people and is the second-most-populous Muslim-majority country in the world. It shares borders with India, China, Afghanistan, and Iran, which are all important players to the stability of the region and the world. As a nuclear country, Pakistan’s influence should not be underestimated. The country has a number of extremist groups and global terrorist organizations, and has sacrificed soldiers, civilians, and treasure fighting terrorism. Pakistan is still a fragile and internally divided state with a promising yet troubled economy.

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Pakistan? Where the Hell is this messy China controlled Place? 

US strategy and policies towards Pakistan need to be reoriented and reshaped. Pakistan and South Asia have long posed a challenge for US leaders, and that challenge has become one of the priorities of the Trump administration, as evidenced in the newly-announced strategy for Afghanistan and South Asia.

Opportunities

CPEC offers a number of opportunities, the first of which is economic development. The large influx of investments will work as a strong economic incentive for Pakistan’s government and social sectors to improve the business environment and enhance commercial attractiveness for more foreign investments, which will not only benefit Chinese investors engaged in CPEC, but will also benefit all foreign investors in Pakistan, including the United States. Industrialization in Pakistan will also help to create jobs for the country’s large, under-employed population, turning a social and fiscal burden into an economic and developmental driver.

A second opportunity that CPEC could provide is stabilization and improved security. With planned infrastructure, energy, and manufacturing investments, CPEC will create more private-sector opportunities and offer a realistic pathway out of poverty for Pakistan’s people, especially those extremely poor who otherwise may be tempted to fight as mercenaries for the Taliban or ISIS. Economic development will help to maintain domestic stability and enhance security in Pakistan for the medium to long term. Combined with strengthened governance and improved capacity, Pakistan will have greater political willingness and capability to fulfill its security commitment and responsibilities for global counter-terrorism.

Finally, CPEC could contribute to the further integration of South Asia. The core vision of CPEC is to improve infrastructure to facilitate inter-connectivity. The project is expected to connect China, Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, and Central Asian countries together, integrating a market of two billion people and stabilizing the region. CPEC will empower South Asia to enjoy the full benefits of region-wide trade, stretching from Iran to China.

Challenges

 

Despite the many opportunities that CPEC potentially affords, clearly there are challenges too. First, CPEC could be an opportunity to enhance governance, but for CPEC to succeed in the first place Pakistan’s political and social governance is vital. By the end of 2016, almost all of Pakistan’s political parties as well as the different provincial governments formed a political consensus in support of CPEC. But, with the large amount of foreign investments expected, there must be the fair and efficient allocation of development benefits. This will be a test of Pakistan’s political and social governance capabilities.

Second, security will remain a challenge. For now, the Pakistani government and military have arranged more than 10,000 security forces to protect the people and projects of CPEC while a long-term and sustainable security mechanism is built.

Finally, there is geopolitics. The complaints that China’s promotion of CPEC blurs the distinction between political strategy and commercial interests demonstrate that the other main players in the region like India may try to contain CPEC and dismiss the potential cooperation opportunities brought by the project. With the concern that an empowered Pakistan will threaten India, India may provoke Pakistan, trapping the two states in traditional hostilities and losing the focus on economic development.

“US support for CPEC, or simply no containment of China’s engagement in Pakistan and the region, will also reduce the trust deficit between Pakistan and the United States.”

CPEC is intended to strengthen and diversify Pakistan’s role in South Asia, activate Pakistan’s role in the global value chain and to integrate the whole South Asia region. The project also works as a benchmark or complementary project for existing US cooperation programs with Pakistan. China, the United States, and the global community should make full use of their respective resources to stabilize Pakistan and support its economic development as a new emerging economy in Asia. US support for CPEC, or simply no containment of China’s engagement in Pakistan and the region, will also reduce the trust deficit between Pakistan and the United States.

Moreover, the US government can also encourage or facilitate US companies’ entry and business in Pakistan, helping them to create a better business environment. With such facilitation, American high-end manufacturing companies like GE, Caterpillar, and top consulting firms like McKinsey will be able to seize the emerging commercial opportunities with CPEC in infrastructure, energy, manufacturing, and other industries and become beneficiaries of CPEC-driven business opportunities in Pakistan.

About the Author

Lin Wang is a Visiting Fellow at the East-West Center in Washington, Research Fellow at the China Business News Research Institute, and Senior Journalist at China Business News. She can be contacted at WangL@EastWestCenter.org.

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The East-West Center promotes better relations and understanding among the people and nations of the United States, Asia, and the Pacific through cooperative study, research, and dialogue.

Established by the US Congress in 1960, the Center serves as a resource for information and analysis on critical issues of common concern, bringing people together to exchange views, build expertise, and develop policy options.

The Asia Pacific Bulletin (APB) series is produced by the East-West Center in Washington.

APB Series Editor: Dr. Satu Limaye, Director, East-West Center in Washington

APB Series Coordinator: Peter Valente, Project Assistant, East-West Center in Washington

The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the East-West Center or any organization with which the author is affiliated.

Racial Segregation–A Colonial Legacy is institutionalized by UMNO via religion


August 27, 2017

Racial Segregation–A Colonial Legacy is institutionalized by  UMNO via religion

by Dr.Syed Farid Alatas

What is unacceptable is to try to differentiate the inhabitants of Malaysia through legislation that would end up segregating people.–Dr. Syed Farid Alatas

Apartheid is an Afrikaans word which literally means “apart-hood”.  It refers to a system of racial discrimination and segregation that was established in South Africa and derives its notoriety from that case.

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The UMNO sponsored racist group

As in many countries, racial segregation began in South Africa during the colonial period, first under the Dutch from the end of the seventeenth century and then under the British who took possession in 1795. But, it was only much later in 1948 that racial segregation became an official policy. White Afrikaner minority rule was established through legislation by the National Party which ruled South Africa from 1948 to 1994.

Under apartheid legislation the population was classified into four racial groups—white, coloured, Indian and black. Millions of non-white South Africans were forcefully removed from their homes and relocated to segregated neighbourhoods. There was no political representation for non-whites.

The apartheid system went so far as to deprive South African blacks of their citizenship. Instead, they were to become “citizens” of supposedly self-governing homelands called bantustans.

Non-whites became separate and unequal inhabitants of South Africa, with little rights and poor access to decent public services and facilities. Apartheid ended with the election of Nelson Mandela as South Africa’s first black president in 1994.

Although the term apartheid is mainly associated with South Africa, comparisons have been made with Israel. Many scholars and writers have sought to compare Israel’s treatment of Palestinians with South Africa’s treatment of non-whites during the period of apartheid.

Those who apply the apartheid analogy to Israel say that the institution of controls such as military checkpoints, restrictive marriage laws, unequal access to land and other resources and, indeed, the West Bank barrier itself, that West Bank Palestinians are subject to, is evidence of an apartheid-type state.

The American linguist, philosopher and political commentator Noam Chomsky said of the Occupied Territories that “what Israel is doing is much worse than apartheid… What is happening in the Occupied Territories is much worse [than in South Africa]. There is a crucial difference. The South African Nationalists needed the black population. That was their workforce… The Israeli relationship to the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories is totally different. They just do not want them. They want them out, or at least in prison.”

What is the danger of an apartheid-type system developing in Malaysia? Most historians and sociologists who have studied the pre-colonial Malay world agree that the racial divides that characterize Malaysia today were far less prior to the coming of the Europeans.

There was a great deal of assimilation to Malay culture and inter-marriage, from where we get the Baba or Straits Chinese and the Jawi Peranakan. But colonial Malaya introduced racism that led to instances of apartheid. For example, the Selangor Club was a whites-only establishment. Locals, along with dogs and other pets, were not granted admission.

Such an environment enabled the British and other Europeans to keep up the illusion of racial purity and superiority, to forget that they were in the East, and to socialize with their own kind. Physical segregation was accompanied by racist views that the British had of the Malayans.

A.R. Wallace, the nineteenth century naturalist, said in his work, The Malay Archipelago, that “[t]he intellect of the Malay race seems rather deficient. They are incapable of anything beyond the simplest combination of ideas and have little taste or energy for the acquirement of knowledge.”

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Perhaps the most well-known stereotype was that of the indolence of the Malays. The Malays were stereotyped as lazy and unwilling to perform hard work. The pioneering work of Syed Hussein Alatas, The Myth of the Lazy Native, argued that the characterization of the Malays and other natives such as the Javanese and Filipinos as lazy was part of the ideological justification of the Europeans to rule the colonies as well as import foreign labour.

The Chinese in Malaya were frequently referred to as “greedy Chinamen” who could be found anywhere there was an opportunity to make money. The European view of the Indians was extremely instrumental, looking upon them as a docile population that could be easily exploited as a source of cheap labour.

In the colonial system, racial segregation was not total. Neither was it absent. Indeed it was a system of mini-apartheid that was founded on racist attitudes towards the Malayans. Now we have to be wary that mini-apartheid is being brought back to Malaysia in a different guise, that of religion.

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It comes from an excessive sense of impurity and fear of contamination that can only be a reflection of the social and political insecurity that some Malays are currently experiencing.

In such a context, there is a need to live in a way that exaggerates the Islamic identity so that the Malays can feel that not all is being lost. The emphasis on the tudung and other aspects of the dress code are examples of the bid to strengthen religious identity.

It is, of course, understandable that people would attempt to emphasize their Malayness or Muslimness if they felt themselves to be under threat economically or politically. What is horrifying, however, are attempts by the political leadership to capitalize on these fears by introducing apartheid-like measures.

What is unacceptable is to try to differentiate the inhabitants of Malaysia through legislation that would end up segregating people.

Recently it was announced that the Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Ministry is considering a reckless proposal to legislate the segregation of trolleys for halal and non-halal food items in shopping malls. This is ostensibly to alleviate the fears of Muslims regarding the contamination of the food they purchased by non-halal items.

It was suggested that non-halal products could use red trollies while halal products would use trollies of another colour. Well, let us say that the trollies for halal items were green. This would amount to Muslims using green trollies and non-Muslims using red trollies throughout the supermarkets of Malaysia. As if Malaysians were not divided enough, do we have to deal with yet another identity marker, that of trolley pusher?

Making it compulsory for supermarkets to practise such segregation, or even allowing them to do so, sets a very dangerous precedent and puts Malaysia on the slippery slope towards an apartheid-like state. Will the segregation stop with the trollies?

After some time, it may be suggested by some that Muslims feel offended or uncomfortable to see “pork-infested” items being sold in the same supermarkets that they patronize. They may object to seeing alcohol being sold in front of their eyes. They may demand that there be separate supermarkets for Muslims.

This demand may also be extended to kedai runcit and convenience stores. I can also imagine that in future some people may object to non-Muslims eating in halal restaurants. What is to guarantee that these non-Muslims may not inadvertently bring traces of porcine substances into the halal restaurants?

Therefore, it would seem sensible to call for segregated halal restaurants in which Muslims and non-Muslims dined in separate areas and used utensils that were washed and stored separately. There would even be calls to make it compulsory to have separate restaurants for Muslims and non-Muslims. The call for segregation would escalate to encompass more and more areas of life in order that the Muslim consumer would not worry about contamination.

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Malay politicians and religious leaders have to take a decision. They can choose to play to the gallery of narrow-mindedness and racism and take advantage of the obsessions of certain unschooled Muslims. They can choose to capitalize on the ignorance of certain sections of the Muslim population of Malaysia. Or, they can take the lead by educating these Muslims on how to live a decent Islamic life, that is, one with a multiculturalist sensibility, that is not ridden with doubts and insecurities.

The last chapter of the Qur’an, entitled Nas or Humankind, asks humans to seek refuge with God from the mischief of Satan, the whisperer of evil (al-waswas) into the hearts or men and women. In this way, Satan attempts to destroy belief by planting psychological anxiety in Muslims, affecting the purity of their faith and way of life.

The duty of the Muslim is to fight this insecurity and live harmoniously with all. Such a spirit of Islam was exemplified by Sayyidina Ali ibn Abi Talib, the cousin and son-in-law of the Holy Prophet and Caliph of Islam, when he advised his governor, Malik al-Ashtar, to have mercy, kindness and affection for his subjects for they are “either your brother in religion or one like you in creation.”

* Dr Syed Farid Alatas is an Assoc Prof at NUS.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.