Our politics created Malaysian Isis

– Saefullah Norhaidi
The Malaysian Insider
19 January 2016

I was recently in Kuala Lumpur when Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis) carried out its attack in Jakarta, marking the entrance of a new terrorist movement, in the Southeast Asian region.

It is clear now, Isis wants its voice to be heard, its presence felt. I have no idea whether this has any connection to it, but that very evening, I saw police forces walking in the miscellaneous places we were walking around in Kuala Lumpur.

Now is definitely the time when governments in this region will start to become intensely vigilant and more vehement in deterring the harmful growth of Islamic radical movements in their respective countries.

In Malaysia, police reports have verified a substantial amount of jejune radical Islamic militant activities.
Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor announced (on Sunday) that the governmental intel is already in the know that the terror groups will target locations like Bangsar, Solaris and Bukit Bintang and that the military forces will work together with the city’s police in preventing any potential terrorist attack from being executed in the vicinity.

In the midst of all this chaos, a question comes to mind. Has there ever been an official statement even, in Malaysia, addressing the rise of these radical Islamic movements?

You can easily access Jakim’s e-fatwa website and read the Islamic council’s stand on Isis and terrorism in general. In fact, the word “Isis” is used quite abundantly as the insignia of religious extremism by the majority of the population.

That is to say, despite few inane incidents that have made the official stand on Isis wishy-washy like (Datuk Seri) Najib Razak’s (the prime minister at that) flagrant and unabashed euphemism of the word Isis by attributing gallantry to its members to bolster unintelligent and self-demeaning cheers from his daft supporters at the Umno annual general assembly, the general public is antagonistic or unsympathetic towards the radical group.

But the problem lies within the Muslim community which is fed with the inclination of their ustaz (dilettante scholars) that has blurred the lines of religious extremism to the extent of resulting in the increase of the rate of sympathizers for the terrorist group.

I, for one, have actually sat in a public lecture of a fairly popular ustaz whose name bears quite a significant weight in Malaysia who publicly advocated and endorsed the actions of the “mujahideen” of al-Qaeda, saying that their actions are verily justified and it was actually the Western media that has corrupted their image by creating a fallacious portrayal of the group.

Such problematic view, imposed by an unforgiving and perennial prejudice of the West that judges it as a monolithic erection, and the usual victim-playing have ensued a mentality which traps its followers in a dualistic us-or-them thinking, which then occasioned the validation of the existence of these radical and extreme movements.

In conclusion, it results in the recent poll which shows that 11% of Malaysians (mind you 11% of 30 million, that is around 330,000 people) are Isis sympathisers.

MCA president and Transport Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai released a statement saying that the authorities estimated a figure of around 50,000 Isis supporters in Malaysia, and considering the government’s wont of sugar-coating actual figures to palliate unfavourable repercussions against them, it could only be said that the actual figure is larger than that, which is to say the situation is distressing.

Other than that, the fervent use of Islam as the ultimate and supreme political tool has materialised a mentality among the general Muslim public which employs a dogma of a kind of ferocious and obdurate political Islam as the only legitimate voice of reason.

This type of political manoeuvre is majorly conspicuous in PAS. We can see that every decision that its leaders make will be authenticated with verses and samples from the Quran and the Hadith. Even if a newer decision conflicts with an older one, Quranic verses and Islamic terms will expediently come to play, and the new decision will conveniently be appropriated and contextualised and thus, simply legitimised.

The religion Islam has become the magic wand which one can use to swish and flick away his sins, his misconducts and political malpractices in literally any situation, just by way of contextualising them in esoteric Islamic terms, encapsulated within seemingly Islamic envelopes.

A paramount example of this is how Umno politicians and their supporters stupidly (no better word for it) whitewash the prime minister’s corruption scandal by saying that the “donation” is to fund the fight against the liberals, the LGBT movement and Shiaism, DAP, the Yahudi (Jews) and Isis.

This desacralisation of a holy religion and its reduction to a mere political tool to fool the public has ultimately fuelled a counterblast of an anti-secular, anti-reason and dogmatic worldview.

Only religion can then become the sole legally binding force in the community, and the situation can only plummet down and worsen from here as it becomes circular and tautological in nature. Politicians use Islam as political tool, the people consume it and only agrees with religious views, thus only legitimising discourse in “Islamic” terms.

Comparing the increase in terrorist activities and the blitz that have shaken up the people of Europe, the onslaughts in the Middle East and the ones that have occurred or the possible, budding threats alike in Indonesia and Malaysia, it must be said that the terrorist movements in our region are expanding under this idiosyncratic circumstantial climate (mentioned above).

Here in Malaysia, the majority of the population are Muslims who have never been in or seen a major scale war in their region, in their lives.

In comparison, the radicalisation of Muslims and non-Muslims alike in Europe could likely be caused by a marginalisation phenomenon and their exclusion from the community and the absence of the transmission of a religion that is culturally integrated in their revolt, and the radicalisation of Muslims in the Middle East might be a consequence of an epic post-colonial suffering.

The radicalisation of Muslims in Malaysia, however, could likely be caused by an almost systematic Arabic fanaticism, an ardent Islamisation process (in which we see only Islamic terminologies can become the leverage in authenticating political works and operations) as has been specified above, and a zealous Islamic sectarianism which marginalises Shias as one of the schools of the Islamic faith. As Julien Gradot accurately puts it:

“Shiasm, adhered to by a minority of Muslims worldwide, is prohibited in Malaysia.

Various Shia scholars have been jailed and their places of worship shut down. To understand why an increasing number of Malaysians have displayed an affinity toward the Isis movement, it may also be important to note that the current rebel-led conflict in Syria opposes the government of Bashar al-Assad who belongs to the Alawites – a branch of Shia Islam representing only a minority of the country’s population.

“The Malaysian government in no way condones the actions of the foreign fighters. However, anti-Shiite rhetoric disseminated through official media channels, such as newspapers and television, combined with sermons by some scholars claiming it is acceptable for Sunni Muslims to join ‘holy war’ against a repressive Bashar al-Assad, has led to the perception that this is acceptable.”

In the end, it must be stated that merely addressing terrorism as a cancerous problem in our speeches is indubitably negligent.

Terrorism must be demolished from its roots, and that is by way of inhibiting radicalisation to even take place in our community.

The only way we can survive and attenuate the radicalisation of our youths and elders alike is by speaking of a more compassionate Islam, like what they do in Europe when the image of Islam is backlashed by the acts of terrorism.

And the only way we can put a stop to radicalisation is by projecting a unitary condemnation against terrorism through popular voices in the Islamic community, every time any terrorist attack happens. Our ustaz should stop beating around the bush and dragging their feet and start voicing out an absolute and enthusiastic, predominant rejection towards the acts of terrorism and these radical Islamic movements.

Sectarianism barriers should be once and for all lifted and tolerance and mutual respect promoted. But lastly and most importantly, we as the rakyat should start to renounce religious and racial rhetoric in our political atmosphere and move away from these fundamentally simplistic mentalities, so the nation can begin to initiate real significant discourses, improve and advance. – January 19, 2016.

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