25 July 2015
The increasing number of recruits from Indonesia and Malaysia to Islamic State reflects the evolving security threat to Southeast Asia. The emerging pattern bears lessons for countries in the region.
The threat of Islamic State (IS) is the latest rendition of extremism to wash up the shores of Southeast Asia. Several Indonesians and Malaysians have migrated to the Middle East to join the ranks of IS in Iraq and Syria, reflecting the new wave of the evolving security threat posed by the militant networks dedicated to the establishment of a pristine Islamic state and the “end-times” apocalyptic battle.
Religiously-inspired extremism, fanned by the Afghan jihad against Soviet occupation, emerged as a matter of concern in Southeast Asia in the 1980s and 1990s, not so much for the danger it posed to the stability of ruling governments in the region, but because it threatened to coalesce into a region-wide movement. For it was in Afghanistan that Southeast Asians from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Myanmar met and trained together, and built an incipient network. This fear became a reality at the turn of the century, when the Indonesia-based Jemaah Islamiyah, comprising many Afghan “alumni”, nursed aspirations to establish a regional caliphate with the use of force covering Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines, precisely through the mobilisation of these networks.
… Joseph Chingyong Liow is Lee Kuan Yew Chair in Southeast Asia Studies, Brookings Institution, and Dean and Professor of Comparative and International Politics, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. An earlier version appeared in The Straits Times.
RSIS / Online
Last updated on 27/07/2015