Sunday, July 4, 2010

Falling into the extremists’ net

Falling into the extremists’ net
By RASHVINJEET S. BEDI
sunday@thestar.com.my

How do people become indoctrinated into becoming militants? Sunday Star explores the issue.

TALK about extremism or JI here and the names of former Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) lecturer Dr Azahari Husin and postgraduate student Noordin Mohd Top are bound to crop up.

Both Malaysians gained notoriety when they were linked to the 2002 Bali bombings that killed more than 200 people.

The duo, who were on the FBI’s wanted list for several years, have since been killed by Indonesian police but there is concern that some Malaysian campuses are still not out of the radar of extremist groups.

JI recently made the news again when Malaysian police claimed there were attempts by the group to revive its struggle by recruiting youths, including university students.

According to a Malaysian anti-terror source, the so-called “wave of extremism” is not really a new issue as it started penetrating local campuses in the 1970s with the Islamic resurgence.

“The threat has always been there and it is being monitored,” he says.

He explains that issues affecting Muslims worldwide such as the Gaza/Palestine problem will usually be discussed through usrah (study groups). And it is through these informal discussions that youths might become extreme in their thoughts.

“It could start with a chat on the situation in Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq or southern Thailand,” he adds.

The source cites the case of 24-year-old Muhammad Fadly Zainal Abidin who was arrested in southern Thailand for allegedly trying to steal a motorcycle in Sungai Golok.

Fadly, a mechanical industry student in UTM, later confessed that he was in Thailand to wage jihad against the Thai military.

In an interview with The Star last year, Fadly claimed he was convinced to wage jihad after being shown a video of the Tak Bai atrocities on Oct 25, 2004, where 78 Muslim protesters died of suffocation and other injuries after being loaded lying down into police trucks.

He was shown the video by one Ustaz Muhammad, a religious teacher in his early 30s who helped him get into Thailand. Fadly said he was told by the ustaz to buy knives and parang, steal a motorcycle, and kill Thai soldiers as well as take their weapons.

Assoc Prof Dr Hassan Basri from the Education Faculty of Universiti Malaya believes this could happen to those who did not understand the roots of Islamic teaching.

“Extremists who persuade our students use elements such as Jihad, holy war and the victim card. When these elements are combined, the students see Jihad only with weapons,” says Dr Hassan.

He maintains that Islam never promoted this type of jihad.

“Jihad in Islam is to defend yourself, your religion, your wealth, your dignity and not to attack others,” he explains.

Another academic, Assoc Prof Dr Ahmad Fauzi from the School of Distance Education (SDE), Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), does not discount the fact that students might be sympathetic towards JI at an ideological level.

But the political science lecturer does not think it is at a level where students might go to Afghanistan or the Philippines to pursue military training.

“I don’t think the students are stupid to leave their studies at this stage,” he says.

Dr Ahmad believes that extremism happens in every religion, especially when there is a resurgence.

“It happens everywhere. Some sections of society might deviate and bring things to the extreme because of their over-zealousness and ignorance of new and illuminating ideas.” He believes this could be a consequence of development – people become frustrated and discomfited with the vacuum in their life. To overcome this emptiness, they turn towards religion.

“Those with no proper guidance might get lost in extremism. But to them, it is not extreme. Instead, they might think the mainstream have deviated.”

National Union of Malaysian Muslim Students president Faisal Abdul Aziz, however, believes Malaysian students by and large are not involved in extremism because of their worldly and material priorities.

“It’s not easy to be influenced. Students are busy with their studies and thinking of their future careers,” he opines.

But he admits there are still some who could have been influenced, such as in the case of Fadly.

According to the anti-terror source, every Muslim is obliged to Jihad.

“The only difference is the approach; whether it is through violence or other means,” he says.

In the case of JI, spiritual leaders such as cleric Abu Bakar Ba’asyir have been known to influence people.

JI’s aim is to establish the Islamic state of Daulah Islamiah Nusantara in South-East Asia incorporating Indonesia, Malaysia, the southern Philippines, Singapore and Brunei.

“Some extremists such as Azahari were born-again Muslims,” he notes.

“Both Azahari and Noordin had families, so how do we explain what happened?” he asks.

Dr Kamarulnizam Abdullah of the School of History, Politics, and Strategic Studies, Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, UKM believes that some students are impressionable and might be looking for guidance.

“They are soul-searching and in the process of establishing an identity and finding out their purpose in life,” he notes.

He believes that what is happening now is similar to the militancy and Islamisation process which was seen as a threat in earlier years.

“Before, it was more open but now it’s more selective. These extremists groups don’t want to expose their ideas openly because they can be tied to terrorism,” he says, adding that terrorist organisations might be talent spotting for outspoken student leaders.

And with Malaysia now becoming an educational hub, there is also the fear that some foreign students and lecturers with links to militant groups could have entered the country and exerted a negative influence on local students.

Faisal claims there are students from the Middle East preaching a rigid understanding of the religion, which is not suited to the Malaysian context. He fears these ideas could lead to further problems.

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