RSIS Book Launch Webinar of “Extremist Islam: Recognition and Response in Southeast Asia” by Assoc Professor Kumar Ramakrishna, Associate Dean, RSIS
About the Book
This book seeks to understand why, despite almost two decades of strong law enforcement and security force pressure since the October 2002 Bali terror attacks, terrorist networks in Southeast Asia motivated by violent extremist interpretations of Islam remain resilient and dangerous. Arguing that focusing on the physical threat posed by terrorism has failed to address the totality of the problem, the book—through detailed case studies of four Southeast Asian extremists—encourages a shift away from the threat groups themselves, to a focus on the wider ideological ecosystems of closely interlocking persons, places, and platforms that sustain such groups and their acolytes. Challenging controversial notions that Islam per se is a “religion of violence,” the book argues that the theological-ideological amalgam of what has been called “Salafabism” is the more useful lens for recognizing closed-minded extremist currents in Islam. It argues that supposedly nonviolent, soft Salafabist Islamists do not actually counter, but complement and potentially sustain, violent hard Salafabist, Salafi Jihadis—because both constituencies share a common extremist ideological DNA. That said, the book carefully distinguishes between relatively open-minded Salafabist radicals—whom governments and civil societies can co-opt and embrace—and the system-subverting, closed-minded Salafabist extremists of the aforementioned soft and hard varieties, who should rightly attract policy concern. The book concludes by outlining a comprehensive strategy for promoting theologically sound yet culturally authentic alternative narratives to Salafabist extremism—thereby defending the complex, richly textured tapestry of the moderate Islam Nusantara of Southeast Asia.
About the Author
Kumar Ramakrishna is a tenured Associate Professor, Provost’s Chair in National Security Studies, Associate Dean in charge of Policy Studies, as well as Head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS). Prior to this appointment he was Head, Centre of Excellence for National Security (CENS) in RSIS (2006-2015), and Head, National Security Studies Programme (NSSP) from 2016 to 2020. He remains as Research Adviser to NSSP. He obtained a First Class (Honors) in Political Science from the National University of Singapore in 1989 and a Masters in Defence Studies from the University of New South Wales in 1992. He went on to secure his PhD in History from Royal Holloway and Bedford New College, University of London, in 1999. His current research interests include British propaganda in the Malayan Emergency; propaganda theory and practice; history of strategic thought; and counter-terrorism with a focus on radicalization. He was an Asia Foundation (US) Freeman Fellow in June 2002 and a Visiting Research Fellow at the Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University, Washington, D.C., from April to June 2003. He was an Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) Special Visitor in March 2003, and an International Visitor for the Australian Attorney-General’s Department in 2012. In 2008 he was appointed as a Senior Advisor to the Trusted Information Network on Extremism and Transnational Crime in Southeast Asia and Australia, a joint project of The Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C., and The Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney, Australia. In July 2015 he served as a member of the External Reference Group for the United Nations Secretary-General’s draft Plan of Action for Preventing Violent Extremism. In “recognition of the international contribution” he has made to research into violent extremism, in January 2016 he was appointed as a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for the Resolution of Intractable Conflict, Oxford University, UK. In November 2020 he was appointed Visiting Professor at the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, Coventry University, also in the UK.
Ramakrishna has been a frequent speaker on counter-terrorism before local and international audiences, a regular media commentator on the issue and published in numerous internationally refereed journals. He has co-edited two well-received books on counter-terrorism, The New Terrorism: Anatomy, Trends and Counter-Strategies (2002) as well as After Bali: The Threat of Terrorism in Southeast Asia (2004). His first major single-authored book, Emergency Propaganda: The Winning of Malayan Hearts and Minds, 1948-1958 (2002) was described by the International History Review as “required reading for historians of Malaya, and for those whose task is to counter insurgents, guerrillas, and-terrorists”. His most recent book, Radical Pathways: Understanding Muslim Radicalization in Indonesia (2009) was identified by Perspectives on Terrorism in May 2012 as one of the top 150 books on terrorism and counter-terrorism as well as “an important and insightful case study on the pathways to extremism and violent jihad in Indonesia”. His two most recent books are Islamist Terrorism and Militancy in Indonesia: The Power of the Manichean Mindset (2015), Original Sin? Revising the Revisionist Critique of the 1963 Operation Coldstore in Singapore (2015) and Singapore Chronicles: Emergency (2016).
Apart from serving on the international boards of a number of peer-reviewed scholarly journals, he has served as a member of the Singapore Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) Resource Panel on Home Affairs and Law; the Board of Trustees, the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, the Board of Governors of the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) Academy, and the Executive Committee of the Political Science Association (Singapore). He has also been inducted into the Executive Boards of the Philippine Institute for Political Violence and Terrorism Research as well as the Council for Asian Transnational Threats Research, a US-led network of think tanks and research institutions engaged in terrorism and transnational threats research.