ICPVTR Webinar Series on Terrorism Landscape in Southeast Asia by Mr Savic Ali, Mr Akil Yunus and Mdm Amina Rasul-Bernardo
Countering Online Radicalisation in Southeast Asia
About the Series
The generally subdued security climate in 2020 in Southeast Asia (SEA) was breached by the suicide attack in Makassar, Indonesia on 28 Mar 2021. Until then, restrictive COVID-19 measures put in place by governments had seemingly arrested the mobility and planning abilities of jihadist groups in the region. Some observers had cautioned though that this security quietude was temporary and could represent a time for jihadists to lie low, regroup and review their ideological narratives, funding streams and operational plans before they spring back into action. In light of the latest attack, what lies ahead for the SEA terrorism landscape which had been with past attacks by local affiliates of the Al Qaeda and the Islamic State? In order to understand how the terrorism threat may unfold in the foreseeable future, ICPVTR is holding a series of webinars during the year to explore different aspects of the evolving threat picture in SEA. The series examines the dynamics of the region’s terrorism landscape, with in-depth discussions on the complexities and challenges in managing the return of foreign terrorist fighters, terrorism financing, latest developments in conflict areas which attract jihadists like Marawi, and the best practices and obstacles in countering online radicalisation.
In the final webinar of the series, Mr Savic Ali will assess the landscape of Indonesian radical Islamist websites and provide insights on how to counter them, based on his experience in running the popular moderate Islamic websites – NU Online and Islami.co. A simple Google search on “Islamic media” on the internet used to lead to a number of Islamist websites that often provoked hatred towards the “other” and justified violence on the pretext of propagating Islam. It was concerning that such websites were popular. Amidst this backdrop, Mr Savic and his colleagues have created and run a few websites and established a network of authors to disseminate moderate values of Islam to counter these radical narratives. Over the years, their efforts have borne fruit as more young people shifted away from radical websites and developed critical thinking in understanding religion.
Mr. Akil Yunus will draw on the Malaysian experience to discuss the appeal of social media as a tool for radicalisation and recruitment into terrorist groups, especially targeting the youth. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has somewhat reduced the activities of violent extremist networks, their ideologies and propaganda continue to proliferate openly online and have been adapted to prey on the fears, grievances, and disinformation resulting from worldwide lockdowns. The speaker will highlight some of Malaysia’s successes and challenges in countering online radicalisation to date, while briefly touching upon the idea of digital resilience as a more permanent and effective solution against online threats.
Mdm. Amina Rasul will analyse how the internet has revolutionised the way we communicate with each other. For the private and public sectors, it provides efficient and timely interaction. In the social sphere, it is an invaluable means of interaction. On the positive side, it connects us – linking children with their parents who are working overseas. On the negative side, it divides us – creating echo chambers that convince participants of one point of view, without the benefit of debate or access to fact-based analysis. The internet – social media – is a vehicle for good as well as bad. Mdm Amina will highlight how, in the Philippines, social media and the internet are used in the radicalisation of communities – whether it is for negative politicking or recruitment for armed conflict and violent extremism – and the problems faced by the government in countering this online radicalisation.
Savic Ali is the director of two Indonesian Islamic websites – NU Online and Islami.co – which have provided counter and alternative-narratives to Islamist extremism. The websites promote values of moderate and peaceful Islam as well as Islam’s multiculturality with the aim of establishing an inclusive and cohesive society. Under Savic’s helm, NU Online has emerged as the most visited Islamic website in Indonesia, a notable achievement amidst a surging popularity of exclusivist and conservative Islamic websites. Savic is also a member of the Gusdurian Network, a network of the followers of former President of Indonesia, Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur) that promotes inter-faith tolerance and conducts advocacy for the rights of religious minorities through grassroot-level activities across Indonesia.
Akil Yunus is a former current affairs journalist turned analyst specialising in security and preventing and countering violent extremism (P/CVE). He is currently an Assistant Director at the Southeast Asia Regional Centre for Counter-Terrorism (SEARCCT) under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Malaysia, where he focuses on developing programmes, campaigns, and digital products that counter violent extremist narratives online and offline. He also works with local and international partners to develop other P/CVE initiatives for Malaysia and the region. Prior to this, he was Research Manager at IMAN Research, where he headed the strategic planning and execution of research projects. His primary areas of interest include community-level prevention strategies against violent extremism, the rehabilitation and reintegration of former terrorists/foreign fighters, and gender-based approaches in P/CVE. Akil holds a Master’s degree in International Relations (Terrorism and Political Violence) from the University of Birmingham, United Kingdom.
Amina Rasul-Bernardo is the President of the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy. She is a member of the Board of Regents of Mindanao State University. Chosen as one of three Philippine representatives to the ASEAN Women for Peace Registry in 2018, she is one of the leading Muslim leaders in the Philippines working to strengthen peace and development as well as promote human rights, justice and democratic practices in Muslim Mindanao. She has spearheaded the capacity-building of Muslim women, particularly those who teach in the madrasah, for peace-building and prevention of violent extremism. Her efforts led to the establishment of the Noorus Salam (Light of Peace), an organisation of Muslim women active in Mindanao and Muslim communities in Metro Manila. She has developed an Islamic peace education programme in cooperation with Muslim religious leaders. She has been a Trustee and Vice-Chair of the Ramon Magsaysay Awards Foundation. She also has written and edited several books on the Mindanao conflict, Islam, and democracy such as Broken Peace? Assessing the 1996 GRP-MNLF Final Peace Agreement and The Radicalization of Muslim Communities in Southeast Asia. Amongst other key appointments, she was a member of the Philippine cabinet under former president Fidel V. Ramos, serving as Presidential Advisor on Youth Affairs and was appointed concurrently as the first chair of the National Youth Commission (NYC), which she organised. In addition, she has served as Commissioner of the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women, representing Muslims and was a member of the Board of the Mindanao Development Authority. In 2007, she received the Muslim Democrat of the Year Award from the Washington, DC-based Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID) and is recognised as one of the 500 Most Influential Muslims by the Royal Aal al-Bayt Foundation of Jordan.