Why are Malaysians joining IS?
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Why are Malaysians joining IS?

A SENSE of global injustice towards Muslims seems to be the driving force radicalising Malaysians to join or support terrorist organisation Islamic State (IS).

Local men detained at a Malaysian prison reveal they were driven to view IS as a saviour from their sense of hopelessness in the face of local injustice at home as well as on Muslims overseas such as the Rohingya and those in Marawi, local academic Dr Maszlee Malik said at a forum “Politicisation of Islam” yesterday night in Kuala Lumpur.

“To them, what is the solution to the global injustice towards Islam? United Nations (UN) is a big failure, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is a cloud of dictators. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)? Come on,” Dr Maszlee said.

“They need a hero. IS is the hero that brings hope and a vision of a ‘foreign utopia’.”

The assistant professor at the International Islamic University Malaysia added: “It is a false hope, but at least it is a hope”.

Dr Maszlee’s statements are based on rehab sessions he held with 30 Malay Muslim men detained by Malaysian police over links to IS and published in a discussion paper titled “ISIS: A Case Study” last year.

SEE ALSO: Rohingya protesters rally near Burma embassy in Malaysia

The paper listed the persecution Rohingya face and the failure of the Muslim world and international community to react, as they did for Yazidi lives enslaved by IS in Iraq, as one of the foreign political events that played a part in radicalising the detainees.

Detainees were also disappointed with the failure of local politics, as seen through the “scandals, leakages and bad governance” which they attribute to the Malaysian government’s adoption of Western ideology, such as democracy.

These political realities thus push them to see IS as their only viable option.

“The frustration with the current situation of Muslim worlds and Muslim nations has pushed IS sympathisers in Malaysia to believe that the only solution for the misery surrounding Muslims all over the world is through the restoration of a saviour ‘borderless Caliphate state’,” the discussion paper wrote.

Dr Maszlee’s research differs from statements made by Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister Zahid Hamidi, who was home minister back in 2015. Based on data by the police and Interpol, Zahid had blamed the rise in Malaysian joining ISIS to the a “cult-like” worship of the terror group as well as well as financial and family difficulties.

SEE ALSO: Malaysia: Police arrest six for suspected links to Islamic State

The Malaysian Insider noted that the academic’s findings also differ from previous claims that many detained for trying to join or support militant groups in Syria were lured by sex, money and power.

Islam as a political commodity

Another panellist at the forum, Lembaga Survei Indonesia’s (Indonesia Survey Board) Dr Hendro Prasetyo spoke on how the politicisation of Islam in Indonesia can be seen from the public opinion gathered during Jakarta governor’s, Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnamacharges on blasphemy.


Ahok speaks to his lawyers after the sentencing in his blasphemy trial in Jakarta on May 9, 2017. Source: Reuters/Bay Ismoyo

“If you were to go to a mosque (during this period), you will hear about elections,” Dr Hendro said, adding that some mosques even went to the extent of refusing to accept Muslim corpses of Ahok supporters.

Polls on public opinion showed how Ahok’s likeability dipped significantly after the blasphemy charge, and drove a big chunk of voters to his opponent in the Jakarta gubernatorial elections, Anies Rasyid Baswedan. Dr Hendro explained this phenomenon as nothing new for political parties in the country, who – secular or not – have used Islam for political reasons.

“Islam has long been an attractive political commodity in Indonesia. Perhaps the same can even be said of Malaysia,” Dr Hendro said.