Malaysian apathy about Islamic extremism worrying, says activist

siti kasim

PETALING JAYA: The apparent Malaysian apathy about the rise of Islamist extremism in Malaysia may indicate its institutionalisation, said activist lawyer Siti Kasim.

In a Facebook post today, Siti cited a report by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (Iseas), which pointed to the apparently growing appeal of Islamist extremism in Southeast Asia according to several surveys by the USA-based Pew Research Centre.

“There is little doubt that religious extremism in itself still lacks general appeal among the Muslim populace of Indonesia and Malaysia and indeed the entire ummah,” said the report.

“However, the relatively low level of concern over rising Islamist extremism among Indonesian and Malaysian Muslims indicates a worrying trend of institutionalisation of radical interpretations of Islam in the general Islamic landscape of both countries.”

Siti expressed her worries of institutionalised Islamist extremism following the recent report of children in a Sri Damansara kindergarten being photographed holding toy guns and dressed in military fatigues.

“A lot of Malays are not bothered that very young children are taught to hold weapons. We don’t know what else is being taught in the school or any other religious schools,” Siti said.

“I strongly believe this is where they sow the seeds of violent Islam.”

The Iseas report attributes this apparent shift towards radicalism to the “internalisation since the 1970s of the Wahhabi brand of Salafism among Southeast Asian Muslims”.

“Countering Salafisation is rendered difficult by the fact that influential Muslim personalities and elements within Muslim-majority states have themselves embraced aspects of Wahhabism,” the report states.

“Between Wahhabism and the Islamic State (Isis), which is but its violent manifestation, lies a short and slippery slope.”

Siti cautioned though that there was not yet any real concrete proof to openly back her beliefs, but said that the report was cause enough for the government to look into the matter.

“The problem is also that most Malays are not bothered to study the issues on their own, instead only listening to religious teachers,” she said in a phone interview with FMT.

“There should be a monitoring of religious schools to ensure that they are not teaching extremist views. I’m not against Islam being taught, don’t get me wrong. it’s the version of Islam being taught that I’m worried about.”

Iseas also cites credible news reports that indicate how Southeast Asian Muslims from seemingly harmless backgrounds have joined the ranks of Isis, even forming Malay-speaking chapters such as Katibah Nusantara and its rival Katibah Masyaariq.

Results of the Pew’s Spring 2015 Global Attitudes Survey show that a vast majority of Malaysian Muslims are not worried about Islamist extremism and Isis, and of that demographic, 11 percent even have a favourable view of Muslim extremist groups.