Nations Should Cooperate in Psychological Fight Against Radicalism, KL Conference Told

Fahirul N. Ramli
160126-MY-asean-620 This image taken from a video filmed by the Abu Sayyaf Group and released by the Islamic State extremist group shows militants huddling after they swore allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi at a ceremony in Basilan, Sulu Archipelago, Philippines.
Courtesy of International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, Singapore

The war against violent extremism cannot be won without also getting into the minds of young people who could be lured into radicalism, said speakers who appeared at the end of an international conference in Kuala Lumpur on deradicalization.

“It is without a doubt that this is a battle on all fronts – in cyberspace, on the ground and in the mind,” Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said Tuesday in closing the two-day conference attended by senior officials from 19 countries, including all 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

“We must ensure the effectiveness of our rehabilitation programs, we must include all relevant parties. There is a very real need to engage and re-engage our youth,” he added.

It is crucial that countries battling the ideology and influence of radical groups like the Islamic State (IS) work together, Zahid said, to tap into and harness what he described as a “passionate commitment” shown by people who join such groups.

“[T]his is a passion arising from a deep-rooted adherence and a total but myopic loyalty to a mission, a mission that, often, most of them do not fully comprehend but yet, are devoted and committed [to] 100 percent,” said Zahid, who is also Malaysia’s home minister.

After his speech Zahid held a press conference where he announced that Malaysia would open a regional digital center on May 1, whose mission will be to counter IS online propaganda.

The 200 million ringgit (U.S. $46.8 million) project is being built through a bilateral deal signed with the United States in October. Once up and running, the center will be the first of its kind in Southeast Asia, officials said.


Zahid's comments about the importance of the psychological dimension echoed earlier statements by terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna, who participated in the conference’s last session of presentations.

Malaysia’s success in its program to rehabilitate people who have been radicalized could be applied to all ASEAN countries, said Gunaratna, a BenarNews columnist who heads the International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

“This would take more work and diligence, but it is imperative as to diminish and end extremism, not only at the level that can be seen by the naked eye, but also the ‘unseen,’ in the minds, especially among the youth,” Gunaratna said.

“Community-reaching programs, online campaigns, and others should be increased and wide-spread, carrying messages that IS is merely a misinterpretation and misrepresentation of Islam …,” he added.

Gunaratna later told BenarNews that it is in Malaysia’s national security interest to cooperate with the Philippine government in preventing IS from expanding into the Malaysian state of Sabah from the nearby southern Philippines.

Local militant groups in the southern Philippines recently pledged their allegiance to IS and its self-proclaimed caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as Gunaratna wrote in a column for BenarNews earlier this month.

“Malaysia should be very concerned because it will directly grow into the borders of Borneo, with the nation’s Sabah state taken along …,” Gunaratna said.

Modern-day paradox

He had just made a presentation along with Zaini Othman, who directs the Security and Strategic Research Center (SASSREC) at the University of Malaysia – Sabah.

In his presentation, Zaini spoke about a “global paradox” and tension that exists between modern-day progress and a parallel rise in extremist ideology as digital technology helps spread it.

“Since the issue of radicalism and extremism has gone beyond nations’ borders, therefore so must the solution,” Zaini said.

“Unintended consequences, such as the loss of autonomy, authority and legitimacy, must be contained carefully without unnecessary conflict arising by transparent, noble cooperation with systematic means intertwining layers of multiple nations’ organizations,” Zaini said.

Suhana Osman contributed to this report.


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