Can moderates take on the Islamic State and win?

by Melissa Chi
Malay Mail Online
October 3, 2014

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 3 — The Islamic State (IS) has been luring hundreds of the followers of the religion of peace to join its cause in the Middle East, including Malaysians, by romanticising jihad, but a panel of moderate Muslims here believe the militant movement can be beaten.

Speaking at a youth townhall session themed ‘Extremists & Terrorism: How Should Moderates Respond?’ at Publika Solaris Dutamas last night, a three-man panel representing three local Muslim groups suggested the first step to counter the IS and other like-minded jihadists would be to make moderation “sexy” again.

“There is something narrative on the other side. It’s really powerful and it can be very attractive and you really have to counter that narrative,” said Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, CEO of the Global Movement of Moderates Foundation (GMM).

The IS and other similar extremist Muslim groups have been holding up their fight to forcefully create a caliphate in Syria and Iraq as a chance for Muslims worldwide to gain glory for Islam and themselves, even at the cost of their lives in which they will be rewarded with martyrdom in the hereafter.

“Most of us are silent. We don’t actually talk about this. I think we need to shape discourse to reclaim the centre stage,” Saifuddin said.

He added that there should be attempts to make “moderation look sexy” by trying to make it like the norm rather than the exception when it comes to public discourse.

Ahmad El Mohammady from Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia (ABIM) said the IS claimed to bring the banner of freedom and its followers touted themselves religious warriors fighting for Islam, which he noted was appealing to some Muslims.

“It’s a question of identity,” he said, and added, “Because the voice of moderation is not fashionable, it is outdated.”

Ahmad said the IS was fighting a propaganda war and had, on its side, “experts” to package and market its message to a wider audience through technology and sleek, high-definition promotional videos.

“They have experts packaging messages, like the game Flame of Wars. The IS took that game and created a movie and propaganda out of it by using effective messages and sound,” the political science lecturer from the International Islamic University Malaysia said.

Julia Sveshnikova from the Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF) said a challenge for moderates was knowing the identity of these religious terrorists and exposing the real reason for their fight, which she attributed to the lack of analytical reports on the people who make up the militant jihadist movements.

“We need to be more sober to think deeper about this. Do we know how profitable this war is?

“How much they profit and who are the people they recruit. So we should treat them more soberly, trying to unmask this illusion, this romance around that to talk more about it,” she said.

The total number of Southeast Asians fighting alongside Islamic State is estimated by governments and police to be a few hundred.

As many as 40 Malaysians are currently fighting for the IS in Syria, with some saying that the jihad was mandated by the Prophet Muhammad, business news service Bloomberg reported Monday.

Some of the jihadists identified as Malaysian come from diverse backgrounds and include a former Kedah PAS leader Mohd Lotfi Ariffin, who was died in Syria following an ambush, and a UK-educated 38-year-old who held a job with a construction company, Ahmad Salman Abdul Rahim.

On August 11 this year, Hong Kong daily South China Morning Post reported that Malaysian police have revealed local jihadists who joined IS are now training their sights on Putrajaya.

A senior Malaysian police official was reported as saying that suspected jihadists had planned attacks on entertainment venues in Kuala Lumpur and a Carlsberg factory in Petaling Jaya.

The violence and brutality committed by terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria poses a threat to the Middle East and, if left unchecked, the world, the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations said in a statement on September 27.

Malaysians and Indonesians fighting for the IS have also reportedly banded together over their common language and are said to be planning to expand their numbers to form a “katibah”, a military unit of 100 men roughly equivalent to a company.

Malaysia has designated IS a terrorist group.

The organisation was formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

  1. #1 by sotong on Friday, 3 October 2014 - 1:36 pm

    There is no such thing as ‘ moderate ‘. Either you are normal or extreme.

    The problem started decades ago with narrow, divisive and damaging politics of religion.

    Deliberate seperation and exclusiveness of Muslims in politics of religion by Muslim politicians created ‘ us-and-them ‘ attitude.

    Most Muslim ‘ leaders’, for political reasons, actively prevent their supporters/followers from integrating and forming normal and healthy relationship and attitudes towards Non-Muslims.

    Islamic State will have a strong influence on Muslims around the world.

    • #2 by cemerlang on Friday, 3 October 2014 - 2:14 pm

      Supposing If everyone is a Muslim in this world, will this be forever bliss and happiness like in heaven ? The pig will be an extinct species same with other dirty creatures. Clooney and Alamuddin looks like a fine couple

  2. #3 by Bigjoe on Friday, 3 October 2014 - 3:36 pm

    How do you define “moderate”?? Truth is Islam is NOT a religion of peace. Its religious texts, like many old or older version of other religions, is replete with violence. It can’t be a “religion of peace”.

    And its time to admit, the line “there is no compulsion in Islam” is also not true. Death is acceptable to most for not believing, simply cannot qualify as “no compulsion”.

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