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Asian Governments Confront Youth Radicalization

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Muslim Friday prayer in Tahrir Square, Egypt

Muslim Friday prayer in Tahrir Square, Egypt with women ahead of men. Photo: Lilian Wagdy.

Days after terrorists slaughtered 20 hostages in a Dhaka café last month, a ruling party politician wept in front of journalists because his son was among them.

“This is sorrowful, painful and embarrassing. I am a failed father. I apologize to all through you,” Imtiaz Khan Babul, an official with Bangladesh’s Awami League party, told reporters tearfully on July 5 as he spoke about his son, Rohan Ibn Imtiaz.

Imtiaz and some of the other young men who allegedly attacked the Holey Artisan Bakery on the night of July 1 were members of Bangladesh’s affluent class who had attended the nation’s top schools – and then gone missing.

The story of Rohan Ibn Imtiaz illustrates the challenge that nations like Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia and India face in trying to shield young people from the pull of extremist groups like the so-called Islamic State (IS).

Indonesia, India and Bangladesh are among five countries with the largest Muslim populations, according to Pew Research Center, a U.S.-based think tank.

Officials in these countries acknowledge that they have a tough fight ahead, but say they are committed to crushing the threat.

“It is without a doubt that this is a battle on all fronts – in cyberspace, on the ground and in the mind,” Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Zahid Hamidi told an international conference on de-radicalization in Kuala Lumpur in January.

“We must ensure the effectiveness of our rehabilitation programs, we must include all relevant parties,” Zahid added. “There is a very real need to engage and re-engage our youth.”

‘We should be worried’

Malaysia and neighboring Indonesia have implemented programs that aim to reform convicted militants. Their governments also are monitoring and clamping down on social media sites that promote radicalism.

In Malaysia, officials have visited campuses of schools and universities to give talks to dissuade students away from the extremist path.

“As far as sociological measures are concerned, a lot needs to be done,” Professor Zaini Othman, who heads the Strategic Security Research Center at Universiti Malaysia Sabah, told BenarNews.

Ahmad El-Muhammady, a counter-terrorism and intelligence expert at the International Islamic University Malaysia, says the government needs to be creative in countering the potent online narrative of IS and like-minded groups, such as by disseminating comic books that promote an anti-IS messages.

When there is “youth recruitment in a country, we should be worried” because radicalization spreads silently, he told BenarNews.

Indonesia has taken a multi-pronged approach in dealing with the problem, officials say.

The government has launched websites that promote peace, non-violence and a positive spirit among young Indonesians, and it won’t hesitate to block sites that promote the opposite, they say.

“We are using pictures, narration, advertisement and animation in media. We hope that it can counter radicalization of youths against the influence of IS,” Inspector General Arif Darmawan, the deputy head of head of the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT), told BenarNews.

The BNPT is turning to members of a young generation hooked on video games, mobile phones and computers, and who are skilled in information technology – including hacking – to help the government fight IS in cyberspace.

“[I]f we see children change in their behavior, then we approach them through soft ways. They usually cannot be directly deradicalized, because if we act directly and fast, they will run away and it’s a danger,” Arif said.

Officials in Malaysia and Indonesia for many months have warned of a threat of citizens who have joined IS launching attacks on home soil after returning from combat tours with the group in the Middle East.

In January, Indonesia suffered its first IS-claimed attack, a suicide-mission in downtown Jakarta that killed eight people, including the four attackers. In late June, Malaysia was hit by its first attack claimed by IS, when a grenade explosion injured several people at a nightclub on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur.

Approximately 568 Indonesians are now fighting in the conflict in Syria-Iraq, and an estimated 73 Malaysians have joined, or tried to join, militant groups in that region, according to the Terrorism Financing Regional Risk Assessment 2016 report, a document that was released this week and co-published by Indonesia and Australia.

IS has a Malay-language combat unit, known as Katibah Nusantara, for fighters from countries where forms of that language are spoken. The unit has posted propaganda videos online, including one that showed children undertaking military training and indoctrination.

Full story:

Imran Vittachi

Copyright ©2016, BenarNews. Used with the permission of BenarNews.

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