Thursday, 5 February 2015

Extremism in South-East Asia: The looming shadow

Nguồn tin:

ON THEIR own, the numbers do not seem frightening. Of the more than 20,000 foreign fighters with Islamic State (IS), just over 500 are believed to have come from Indonesia, along with up to 50 from Malaysia, perhaps 100 Filipinos and a very few Singaporeans. That is a minuscule share of the hundreds of millions of Muslims in South-East Asia, a region whose peaceful forms of Islam are far removed from those of IS.

But the influence of IS is being felt—and feared—all the same. In January more than 40 policemen were killed in the Philippines in an extended gun battle on the island of Mindanao during an attempted raid on the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a rebel group that has pledged allegiance to IS. Two days earlier a car bomb, also in Mindanao, killed two people. The authorities blamed Abu Sayyaf, another militant group that made the same pledge as BIFF.

Indonesia’s counterterrorism chief warned late last year that increasing numbers of his countrymen were heading to Iraq and Syria. In the past year the Malaysian authorities have arrested at least 51 people for suspected IS links. Fighters from nearby countries have travelled through the country to reach Iraq and Syria. In August Malaysian police arrested 19 pro-IS militants who were allegedly planning bombings in and near Kuala Lumpur. Indonesia tightened security around Borobudur, an ancient Buddhist temple, after an IS-inspired threat.

The immediate danger comes not from returning fighters but from home-grown militants who have “self-radicalised” online, helped by IS’s effective use of social media. Rohan Gunaratna of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore says that al-Qaeda’s videos tend to be “long, ranting and boring”. IS, however, churns out propaganda “like Hollywood thrillers”, he says. Many online pledges of support for IS are bluster. But returning fighters skilled at organising and fighting could change that. Mr Gunaratna estimates that across the region a tenth of those who have gone to Iraq have returned to their countries. Some have become disillusioned; others may want to carry on the fight at home.

Regional governments have begun mobilising to meet the threat. Malaysia’s parliament will probably consider a new anti-terrorism act when it convenes in March. Malaysia’s home-affairs minister has promised it will not be a return of the dreaded Internal Security Act, which permitted indefinite detention without charge. But he said it would contain unspecified “preventive measures”. Indonesia plans to revoke the passports of anyone who has gone to fight with IS, or who plans to do so. Singapore’s touted deradicalisation programme involves detention, rehabilitation and intense surveillance.

Sidney Jones of the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, a think-tank, says that mainstream Muslims in South-East Asia view supporters of IS as unrepresentative of their kind of Islam. That may help to limit the numbers of radicals, but it will not assuage worries. Al-Qaeda failed to gain widespread support among South-East Asian Muslims. But bombings on the Indonesian island of Bali in 2002 that killed more than 200 people convinced many in the region of the lethal power of the militant few.

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