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The Flipside

Published: Wednesday January 21, 2015 MYT 1:17:00 PM
Updated: Wednesday January 21, 2015 MYT 1:46:06 PM

Malaysia is not a breeding ground for extremists

THE other day I came across an interesting op-ed piece by the New Delhi Times, titled “The Politics of ISIS in Malaysia”.

The article, published on the weekly newspaper’s website, argued that Malaysia had made itself increasingly vulnerable to the Islamic State’s (IS) influence because of “Muslim-dominated parties and pro-Muslim policies influencing politics”.

“With organizations like IS looking for vulnerable spots in the world, Malaysia could have a problem, especially since the debate on the role of Islam in society has increased along with an increased lobbying for following the Sharia law and hudud in the country,” the newspaper opined.

It is obvious that politics and religion are intertwined in Muslim-majority Malaysia. In the last year alone, we have witnessed notable incidents which have blurred the line between the functions of the religious authorities and the state.

But this article really got me thinking about the stage we are setting for ourselves as a moderate nation, and I found myself asking this question: Is our socio-political landscape really fuelling a radical interpretation of Islam?

Many Malaysian Muslims are furious at the murder of innocent lives, be it in the Middle-East or elsewhere, by those who claim to be championing a noble cause.

However, the majority are not driven to retaliate by taking up arms and engaging in warfare in order to defend Islam, which is essentially a peaceful religion.

Indisputably, there is a very real danger of the IS ideology spreading among Malaysians, especially the Muslim youth, as the New Delhi Times points out.

There is an even bigger risk that the atrocities committed against Muslims may cultivate an “us against them” mindset that often leads its followers to such extremes.

However, these radical teachings, otherwise labelled as ‘jihadist extremism’, are being promoted by militant groups and their offshoots operating silently in and around the country, and not by our mainstream political parties.

Islamic political parties such as Umno and PAS are still rooted in religious conservatism as opposed to extremism, despite their lobbying for some policies which can perhaps be regarded as more fundamentalist in nature.

PAS’ push for the implementation of hudud, for instance, may have many groups up in arms over the punishment meted out for crime, but it is still a far cry from the terror and violence instigated by the IS in the Middle-East.

Similarly, certain voices in the local political sphere calling for an increased enforcement of Sharia laws does not make our country additionally susceptible to the IS ideology overnight.

Such policies might be impractical and even unfair in a multi-religious society like Malaysia, but it would be erroneous to assume that its supporters harbour any aspirations of turning this country into a similar caliphate as the one actualised by IS.

It is true that some of our politicians and public figures are guilty of subscribing to views or making statements which are “extremist” in nature, and that is a “red alert”.

However, there is noticeably a more united front against the concept of religious warfare being preached by the likes of IS, Taliban and Boko Haram, which often involves even killing their fellow Muslims!

Contrary to what the New Delhi Times article argues, Muslim-dominated political parties in Malaysia are not encouraging such violence let alone supporting such radicalism.

Some Malaysian jihadists who have gone to Syria to fight for IS were members of these political parties, but they cannot be allowed to dominate the conversation.

If there should be any reasons for concern, they are the insufficient security measures and lack of religious awareness that are allowing militant groups to influence young Malaysian minds.

The New York Times recently produced a short documentary feature on the family of Ustaz Mohd Lotfi Ariffin, a 46-year-old Kedahan and former PAS member who died last September while fighting for a militant group in Syria.

What was alarming from the documentary was that Muslim youths at a village madrasah (religious school) Lotfi had co-founded with his brother considered him a "hero" and even openly declared their desire to fight and become martyrs.

It is high time we paid closer attention to what is being taught in religious schools, especially in the rural areas, as militant groups largely target these areas for their recruitment activities.

Malaysian Muslims need to come out in full force to oppose extremist violence, and the political parties, despite our misgivings about their level of conservatism, are best positioned to lead the line.

> The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

Tags / Keywords: militant, extremism, Islamic State, ISIS, opinion, Akil Yunus, The Flipside

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