The need for a holistic approach in combating terrorism

isis-terroristBy Iman Research

The recent case of Siti Aishah Atam highlights the issue of terrorism and the Malaysian government’s response in combating terrorism and the influence of Islamic State in the country.

Iman Research recognises the crucial role of the government and law enforcement agencies in tackling the threat of terrorism.

While traditional security measures that detect, deter, and disrupt terrorist activities are vital components in counterterrorism, a holistic approach is necessary to prevent this and violent extremism in the long run.

This combines “hard” measures – strictly military or law enforcement techniques, which include the use of force, intelligence and surveillance, as well as killing, capturing or detaining terrorists – with “soft” measures that seek to understand and moderate the radicalisation process by engineering the individual’s integration into society.

This means in-depth probing of their reasons for radicalisation, and divorcing them from their extreme beliefs and social contacts.

Another key component of a holistic approach is to understand the social, cultural, and political causes that “push” individuals towards terrorism and violent extremism, as well as the characteristics of extremist organisations that “pull” individuals to join.

Our research findings have shown that IS supporters in Malaysia come from diverse social, economic, educational, and religious backgrounds, and are influenced by a range of push and pull factors. Thus, any attempt to simply and narrowly profile specific groups, be it economic, social or religious, must be avoided.

In line with the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, respect for human rights and the rule of law, is the fundamental basis for the fight against terrorism.

A “hard” security-based approach that violates human rights and the rule of law may have immediate gains, but would be disproportionate and counterproductive to countering terrorism in Malaysia.

Strong armed measures by the government which contravene fundamental liberties and due process of law may further radicalise an individual, and feed into the ideological propaganda of IS as examples of state oppression which necessitate the need for violent “jihad”.

As mentioned above, the role of law enforcement agencies is crucial in combating terrorism.

Hence, it is important to create a trusting environment where law enforcement authorities are not feared but respected by the community. A healthy relationship between the authorities and local communities would not only deny terrorists physical and ideological refuge, but can also provide information on terror activities.

An approach to tackling terrorism can only succeed if it addresses the process that precedes acts of terrorism, not just the acts alone.

Building resilient communities must be at the foundation of every counter-terrorism strategy for it to be effective in addressing the problems of terrorism in Malaysia.

Iman Research is a not-for-profit boutique think tank.

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