Fundamentalism on the rise in Malaysia

Mohd Najib Husen, Muhammad Joraimee Awang Raimee, Mahmud Ahmad, Ahmad Tarmimi, Mat Soh — the list goes on.

Jan 14, 2016

KUALA LUMPUR: Mohd Najib Husen, Muhammad Joraimee Awang Raimee, Mahmud Ahmad, Ahmad Tarmimi, Mat Soh — the list goes on.

All were unremarkable Malay Muslims until a couple of years ago. Today they have been exposed as your jihadists next door.

Malaysian authorities have identified them and about 100 others as people who have joined the group that calls itself Islamic State, most of whom are in or have been to the Middle East.

More than two-dozen IS sympathizers have been charged in court and police believe hundreds more are being radicalized.

In August, intelligence sources revealed that three local women traveled to Syria to offer sexual services to their warriors. Three Malaysian men have reportedly been killed in the conflict there so far.

Police estimate there are at least 50,000 IS sympathizers in the country and warn of growing radicalism.

"If only one percent of these sympathizers turn radical and if they attack any part of Malaysia, we will be in trouble," Minister Liow Tiong Lai told a conference on national security last month.

Malaysia has a secular constitution and has been ruled by a coalition led by the United Malay National Organization (UMNO) since gaining independence from the United Kingdom in 1957.

By constitutional definition, all Malays are Muslim. Discrimination in their favor over the country’s other main ethnic groups — the Chinese and Indians — has boosted their numbers from 50 percent in the1960s to 70 percent now, census data shows.

This along with the comparatively stable situation favors the influx of people from Indonesia and Philippines, a commission of inquiry on illegal immigrants reported in 2014. Mingled among them are supporters of the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group and Moro fighters.

Still for some Muslims, the status quo is dissatisfying: a compromising, corrupt government ruling a heterogeneous population in which they must share with non-believers.

This was highlighted when Rural and Regional Development Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakub started a ‘Bumiputra or Malay and indigenous people-only’ mall last month after complaints against Chinese vendors dominating the business landscape.

The struggle of Malaysian Muslims to make Malaysia an Islamic state has been on people’s minds since independence.

In 2012 a commission of inquiry on immigrants in Sabah was set up by the government following years of unease and discontent over an extraordinary population boom during the 1980sand 1990s.

It reported in 2014 that government agencies forced a rapid change in the once Christian-majority state’s religious demographics by naturalizing and converting illegal immigrants.

Malaysia has also always sought to bolster its Islamic credentials in the eyes of Arab nations, sponsoring Islamic economics — Halal marketing, Islamic banking systems — while also promoting an “advanced” Islamic state run on the principles of Islam Hadhari, a form of parliamentary democracy, with the constitution as the highest law of the land.

But the UMNO-led government also allowed the Muslim community and government institutions enormous latitude in their dealing with non-Muslim citizens.

"From there on it is not a very big step to more radical thinking," said a social researcher who requested anonymity. The young, he said, are fed up with the status quo, the vested interests at play, the lack of an identity and the lure of IS and global Islamic supremacy is attractive.

Economist Zainal Ajamain agrees, but qualifies this saying that what the government calls radicalism is more frustration with their economic status.

"They [the government] cannot handle the important economic issues … they have done nothing to create wealth. Workers are being retrenched everywhere. When your economy is not performing, what comes next — dissatisfaction," he said.

Zainal also believes new warnings about radicalism taking root are merely to pass more laws against dissent.

Supporting this assertion are some of the government’s public comments that seem to reveal a schizophrenic attitude towards IS.

In June 2014, Prime Minister Najib Razak made an unfortunate connection between IS and his UMNO party during a branch meeting. He declared that members should emulate the bravery of the militant group that defeated superior forces in a battle in Iraq.

Meanwhile, intelligence sources continue to log Malaysians in the southern Philippines, long considered a training ground for terrorists.

Last month, Mohd Najib Husen, a close aide of a Malaysian IS supporter, Dr. Mahmud Ahmad, was reported killed there in a skirmish with the military.

The expert bomb maker, also known as Abu Anas, was killed along with 13 Abu Sayyaf members in Basilan.

There is growing evidence of radical academics in Malaysia’s universities. Mahmud, a former university lecturer and another Malaysian IS member, Muhammad Joraimee Awang Raimee, 39, a former government worker, are on the government’s wanted list.

Mohd Najib, 37, an engineer and father of five, once owned a shop in Universiti Malaya. He was also a member of the Arakan Daulah Islamiyah, arranging meetings with known radicals in Malaysia.

On Dec. 22 controversial Canadian Islamic preacher Dr. Bilal Phillips, 67, was scheduled to conduct a seminar entitled 'The Muslim Youth — From Darkness to Light' at Universiti Malaysia Sabah.

Apparent intervention by the government led to it being cancelled.

The Jamaica-born academic was deported from the Philippines in Sept 2014 and is also barred from entering Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany, Kenya and Bangladesh.

On Dec. 22 the government passed the far-reaching National Security Council Bill giving the prime minister extraordinary powers.

Police are now urging neighbors, relatives and friends to inform on anyone who shows leanings towards militancy.

The nation's powerful religious agencies, including the Department of Islamic Development, at federal and state levels have been co-opted in the campaign against IS ideology.

Special Branch counter-terrorism chief, Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay, told a conference on extremism on

Dec. 27 only the religious departments have the authority to spread the word that IS ideology is deviant.

"Tackling the problem at the root need[s] to be intensified," he added, because recruitment was being done online.

But many are concerned that IS has been left unchecked in Malaysia for too long and that the country faces a bruising time ahead.--Global Pulse

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