KOTA KINABALU: A think tank has urged Malaysian authorities to be vigilant against the possibility of Indonesian expatriates answering a rallying call coming from their home country for a jihad in Myanmar.
“The Rohingya crisis has become a rallying cry for jihad among Indonesian Islamist groups,” said Remy Mahzam, a research fellow with the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.
He said the jihad sentiment in Indonesia was so strong that there was every possibility of its spilling over into Malaysia to inspire Indonesians living here.
“There is definitely a need for the Malaysian government to take some form of ownership of the situation,” he told FMT. “Malaysia could push for a diplomatic solution and address the question of how the conflict can be resolved without the need for armed violence.”
A recent report co-authored by Remy, entitled “The Inevitable Jihad in Myanmar”, said the jihad advocated by hardline Islamist groups in Indonesia was essentially humanitarian and non-military, but it also said statements coming from recruiters and mobilisers indicated that armed action was possible.
The report quoted Ustadz Aka of the Front Pembela Islam (FPI) as saying “those volunteering must be willing to die for Islam.”
The group sets four conditions for would-be volunteers: that they have permission from their parents, are at least 21 years old, have martial abilities and are prepared to die in Myanmar.
In Malaysia, police recently detained two men believed to have been planning to go to Myanmar to take part in the armed resistance against government forces. One of the men is an Indonesian national.
“To date, there are over 10,000 people registered with the FPI who have indicated their interest to take part in the humanitarian jihad in Rakhine,” Remy said.
“FPI spokesperson Slamet Ma’arif asserted that there is a possibility of open war against Myanmar if the Myanmar government does not make any effort to stop the Rohingya crisis.
“Indonesians see the Rohingya crisis as a humanitarian catastrophe that needs immediate attention and a sustainable solution.
“There has already been pressure on the Indonesian government to take a proactive role to lead and initiate conflict resolution discussions with Aung San Suu Kyi and her Myanmar government.”
The report also said exhortations to mount an offensive against Myanmar had been evident in recent videos uploaded by several Islamist groups.
It referred to a video released early this month that shows a group of uniformed people from Aceh undergoing physical training without weapons and another video that introduces a battalion of hundreds of men shouting battle cries while supposedly getting ready for a journey to Myanmar.
A third video, similar to the second, identifies the characters in it as “Soldiers of FPI departing to Myanmar”.
“FPI has opened registration for 1,200 mujahideen volunteers to join in the humanitarian jihad in Myanmar,” the report said.
Malaysia’s counter-terrorism police chief has said that his department was on the alert for the possibility of would-be mujahidin travelling from Malaysia to Myanmar to join the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, a militant insurgent group.
Recently, a veteran journalist specialising in Myanmar affairs said his sources had told him that Malays, who could be Malaysians or southern Thais or both, were already in Myanmar to fight the government.
The Islamic State in Syria and Iraq has urged its supporters in Southeast Asia to raise arms in Myanmar in support of the Rohingya. Al Qaeda, the group responsible for the 9/11 attack in the United States, has made the same call.
Remy said the Malaysian government should take a holistic approach to preventing the radicalisation of Indonesians and Malaysians in the country.
“To avoid the possibility of an armed jihad, the government needs to look into identifying structural drivers of violent extremism and those who are at risk,” he said.
“There is also a need to provide socio-economic alternatives to violence for those at risk and promote dialogue with these groups.
“It is important to channel the energy coming from any group, including the Indonesians who feel deeply about the Rohingya crisis, to positive avenues such as promoting humanitarian efforts instead of waging an armed jihad.
“Malaysia would also need to work closely with neighbouring countries to develop constructive measures in tackling the emerging wave of ideologically motivated violence.
“Tighter border measures are needed in Malaysia to reduce the incidence of human trafficking.”
He also called for better attention to be given to Rohingya refugees in Malaysia.
“There is a need to look into the treatment of Rohingya asylum seekers in Malaysia by improving conditions at immigration detention centres,” he said. “Opportunities should be made for asylum seekers to receive basic rights to work and education.”
There are more than 59,000 Rohingya in Malaysia. Recently about 1,000 of them took part in a demonstration outside the Myanmar embassy in Kuala Lumpur.