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Examples of Radicalisation in Southeast Asia

Audio interview with Hellyer
Southeast Asia, first, is a very big place. So the geographical spread is quite vast. So it’s difficult to be able to pinpoint a certain area. But I think even more important than that is that you have many different types of cases. OK, even if it was in a single country, or in a single community, where you could talk about radicalisation processes taking place– and I say processes because there’s not one model that captures everything, you’re going to have people in any given geographical area who are vulnerable to radicalisation for very different reasons. Some are going to be far more related to social circumstances, socioeconomic and political factors. There are going to be people like that.
And then there are going to be people who are affected far more, or this is far more of a trigger for them, by ideological and ideational concerns. And then there are going to be people who are affected by a mixture of the two. And then even that mixture is going to vary from case to case in terms of weight of importance. So it’s very difficult to be able to pinpoint.
And my general feeling about most of these groups is that you have a higher percentage of people within the ‘quote on quote’ “general ranks,” who are probably affected far more by political issues, and social issues, and those sorts of contexts, whereas the further higher up you go, you’re going to find people who are far more affected by ideological concerns and ideas. And I think that generally that holds true in Southeast Asia. And I say again, generally holds true.
One example of a religiously attributed violent radicalisation– using the wording of your question– that I think about a lot is a chap from the north of Malaysia, who I believe was from the state of Kelantan, which is a very predominantly Malay Muslim state in the Federation of Malaysia. The individual in question was a Malay Muslim, Malaysian. He was also somebody who was quite active in civil society. He was part of a youth group. He wasn’t particularly disadvantaged in terms of economic power or anything like that. He’s in a part of the country where that’s certainly not the case. And apparently he was quite well-educated and quite well-off.
But he saw all of the videos about what was happening in Syria, and the massacres, and the brutal oppression and repression from the Bashar Al-Assad regime, and proceeded to then join a radical group in Syria. OK, so there’s an example of somebody who I think is far more ideational and ideologically bound, whereas when you compare that to probably the vast numbers of people in Syria who joined radical groups, they’re doing so I think due to vulnerability following a really brutal war, or in the midst of a really brutal war. And it’s important to put this into a larger context. You’ve had a huge amount of Syrians go towards rebel forces and opposition forces against the Assad regime since 2011.
And it’s actually a minority of them, even though they’re all facing this awful repression. It’s a minority of them that went towards groups like al-Nusra, or ISIS, and so on. Most of them didn’t go to groups like that, even though they fought. So I think it’s a lazy, cheap answer to say that this is all about ideas all the time and radical religion. I think that that’s an excuse for many people.
So when it comes to the relationship between violent radicalisation, and Islam, and really ideas in general, I think there are two very important things. First as I said in the previous question that I answered, the level of importance, vis-à-vis ideas, can’t be taken for granted in every single case. For many people the ideas aren’t all that important, one. And two, that means that they’re incredibly uneducated and illiterate about it. So and the very famous sort of example of this are some people that went from the UK to Syria. And when investigations were done, they showed that they had ordered books like Islam for Dummies. So they actually had very little by way of literacy in the religion.
Because it’s not really all that important to them. OK, and that’s a moral excusing for them. But it’s not really all that important to them. It’s sort of an afterthought in that regard. And other issues are far more important relating to identity and so on. So that’s one. Two, there will be people however that are very literate in a particular way. And I think this is important to express. There’s no hierarchical ecclesiastical authority for Muslims. OK, so there’s nothing that is akin to the Catholic Church, for example. There’s no overarching institution that then defines dogma, and what is and what is not normative, and genuine Islam worldwide. That doesn’t exist.
The Muslim community doesn’t have that either it’s never really had that, not since the first generations of Muslims. So the way in which religious authority is broken down is very different when it comes to Muslims. But you do have systems of academic religious authority that are essentially based on peer-review. And that’s happened for well over 1,000 years. So by those sorts of systems, it’s quite well established what is considered to be mainstream Islam and what isn’t. And within that corpus, or within that collective, they’re going to be quite radically differing opinions. But they’re all going to be based on certain things, which makes them part of the broader collective.
When it comes to this question as to how much literacy actually applies to a lot of people that go into these radical groups but for really ideational reasons, they’re not educated in that mainstream version of Islam at all. That’s not what they get their ideas from. Where they’ll get their ideas are going to be– and they do get ideas. So it’s not that these ideas don’t exist, for them, they do. But they’re not from mainstream Islam. They’re going to be from unorthodox interpretations of Islam, which on a religious authority level are either severely criticised by mainstream religious authorities, or actually rejected in total.
And we can compare this to some other religious communities in the past, for example, what was called in the 1940s, positive Christianity. OK, this was a form of Christianity– and I’m loath to even call it that– that energised and had a following among the Nazis. And they used religious vocabulary, and claimed that they were following Christianity, et cetera. And they were defined as outside of Christianity by most churches and Christian communities. When we talk about them, in terms of Nazism and the history of the Second World War, et cetera, it’s very clear to everybody that this isn’t remotely mainstream Christianity at all. And thus we don’t blame Christianity for it.
We don’t do this when it comes to ISIS and radical groups of Muslims. And I really think we need to take a step back and see the different standards that we apply in that regard.

In this audio interview Hisham Hellyer, from the Royal United Services Institute in London, discusses the factors leading to violent radicalisation in Southeast Asia and provides his insights into the relationship between religion and radicalisation.

Do the views of Dr. Hellyer fit with what you already knew, and is there anything that you found surprising?

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Religion, Radicalisation, Resilience

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