LAST_UPDATEMon, 24 Oct 2016 11pm

Rising Concern Over Malaysian Youths Joining ISIS, What Can We Do To Curb This Extremism?


There are about 450 Indonesians and Malaysians, including children and women under fealty to Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria today. The analysis report by the Rajaratnam School of International Studies highlights the growing movement’s attractions to not only Malaysians who are educated and mature - but the young as well.

It was only days ago that reports of two Malaysians killing 33 others in the Middle East in suicide bombing missions for the ISIS surfaced, as confirmed by Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, raising anxiety over the radicalisation of Muslims in Malaysia.

Prolonging that anxiety came the news of eight Malaysian children who had been groomed as ISIS fighters, according to Bukit Aman Special Branch director, Datuk Seri Mohamad Fuzi Mohd Harun. Although police did not have the complete information, investigations found the children were being trained at the camps.

Previously, senior counterterrorism official Senior Asst Comm (SAC) Datuk Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay had said Malaysian children had being trained by ISIS for future attacks in two training camps in Syria, along with 500 children from various countries. He confirmed that those who migrate together with their entire family may have joined these camps.

Despite the Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar saying the force will try their best to assist in bringing the children back, and carry out early prevention measures by monitoring and stopping any attempts for children to be taken to the conflict areas, the worry is that such determination will lead more youths joining the movement.

Police and security agencies are also expected to brief school students on the dangers of ISIS this year because students are “being easily influenced by terrorist ideology,” after various reports highlighted that militant groups, including ISIS, had been targeting Malaysian students in higher education.

With new developments of terrorism in the country, and with estimates suggesting that over 150 Malaysian citizens have been arrested thus far for terrorism-related activities since the formation of the ISIS, how far will we be able to prevent more youths from joining ISIS? An academician, the former IGP, and a religious scholar all share their thoughts with Malaysian Digest.

ISIS Actively Recruiting Youths On Social Media

An estimated 75 percent of new Islamic State group supporters in Malaysia are recruited online, the country’s home ministry said, according to reports.

Many youths are lured by militant groups online, and reports have also suggested signs of those who might be involved are those who have shown an interest in ISIS activities, constant talk about it online and spend hours on social networking sites.

Last year, Ayob Khan was quoted as saying in the New Straits Times that terror organisations would not spare young Malaysians, adding that police were trying to educate students by telling them that joining them was a "one-way ticket" – means there’s no turning back, and that it would be hard to leave once they are there.

He also claimed, “The trend to recruit youngsters between the ages of 15 and 30 through Facebook is worrying. We are aware that some secondary school students have jihad tendencies and have been persuaded through Facebook.”

In February last year, a 14-year-old Malaysian girl was arrested as she was about to board a Cairo-bound flight at the KL International Airport. The IGP said the girl planned to marry a 22-year-old Malaysian student in Cairo and would go to Istanbul before securing passage to Syria.

She was influenced to join ISIS through propaganda on social network site Facebook. Investigations by the special branch revealed that the Muar-born girl’s trip was funded by a man in the city as she received RM2,000 and the plane tickets and was about to leave the country on the pretext of furthering her studies in Egypt, according to a report by an English news daily.

How can Malaysia curb the spread of militant propaganda on social networking sites and prevent our youths from further getting influenced?

 University of Nottingham Malaysia Assistant Professor Guy Burton, a researcher with an interest in the politics of the Middle East, tells Malaysian Digest, “ISIS has targeted children to be trained from young because they are easily influenced.

“Technologies enable frustrated individuals, especially those who are vulnerable, to reach out and make contact with others who feel the same; social media like Facebook, WhatsApp, online forums are all means of communication.

“Radicalisation is especially prevalent among younger individuals, who are more liable to see the world in black and white, to have a sense of idealism in stark contrast to the grubby realism and pragmatism of the day to day world.

“The radicalisation that occurs can sometimes be a form of misplaced idealism - but an idealism which they act upon.

“It may be seeing starving children in the Syrian civil war, the aftermath of a US drone strike in Pakistan, which prompts a sense of outrage and pushes such people towards messages by those groups and preachers whose statements and ideologies echo their sense of rage, and offer a 'neat' solution to the world's problems,” Burton explains.

The Professor illustrates the time when three Bangladeshi British schoolgirls who disappeared to join ISIS last year confounded the parents who had no idea what had been happening to their daughters before they left.

“In part that was because there wasn't much inter-generational communication taking place. Perhaps the girls felt they couldn't have such conversations with their parents; perhaps their parents couldn't imagine their children holding such views, or simply thought that stating something was unacceptable was enough.

The three schoolgirls Amira Abase, 15, Shamima Begum, 15, and Kadiza Sultana, 16, from east London, have all married ISIS fighters after being given a catalogue of extremists to choose fromThe three schoolgirls Amira Abase, 15, Shamima Begum, 15, and Kadiza Sultana, 16, from east London, have all married ISIS fighters after being given a catalogue of extremists to choose from

“Friends and family should talk with each other and discuss what is going on in the world. Parents should take an interest in what their children are doing, engaging with them over these difficult issues, talking about what is the appropriate way to deal with them and related actions,” said the former British political lobbyist.

He then encouraged more communications with disaffected youths, and for parents to take an active interest in what the youth are doing, saying: “It's a challenge communicating with young people, like teenagers. They are at a period in life where they are less receptive to adults and probably at their most idealistic stage in life.”

Former Inspector-General of Police, Tan Sri Musa Hassan echoed the same, “Parents need to supervise their children well, and monitor any content browsed by the children over the Internet.

“If parents do not supervise their children on the use of their Internet, we are afraid that it might be misused.

“We have to be more watchful and the authorities should monitor all Malaysians, especially youths who want to go to Syria on the grounds of jihad (martyrdom).

“The government and the religious authorities should provide an explanation on the true views and meaning of jihad, to ensure youths do not misinterpret its meaning and become influenced by ISIS,” he told Malaysian Digest.

Ahmad El-Muhammady, a lecturer from the International Islamic University Malaysia, and one of the panellists in the White House summit on countering violent extremism, also agrees that the family institution plays a key role in preventing youngsters from being exploited as family is the closest entity to them.

"They can detect changes in their thinking and behaviour. Parents also need to monitor their children’s Internet activities.

“Second, their peers also can play a role in detecting changes in behavioural orientation. They have to report this matter to the relevant authorities, especially police for further investigation," he told a local daily.

Youths Influenced By The Wrong Idea Of Jihad

Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia (Abim) president Amidi Abdul Manan had said that parents and teachers had to ensure youths understood that jihad, or holy struggle, did not mean taking up arms and using force against others.

“They must explain that jihad means to strive, and should be practised in all aspects of our lives. If we strive to become better people, and understand Islam, that is already jihad.

“So the parents and teachers must teach this, but they must also understand the teenager’s spirit and deal with it wisely. Teenagers tend to be idealistic and stubborn, and are still considered children,” he told a local daily.

In our interview with Ustaz Mohammad Mustaqim from the Federal Territories Mufti’s Office, he explains that ISIS has made enemies of everyone, including Muslims and non-Muslims, and scholars around the world have agreed that their cause is wrong, as the terror group uses Islam’s name for violent means such as the Taliban.

“Many studies have been carried out by the government in detail, including by the security forces, if ISIS’ working is in accordance with the ‘Hukum Syarak’ (Islamic Law according to any recognised Mazhab).

“But this group clearly does not come from Islam and their cause is misguided. ISIS’ involvement in activities such as prostitution, drugs and other vices, are contrary to Islamic teachings.

“Their role has nothing to do with what Islam brings, and especially in the Islamic context where we encourage the protection of our religion - they are terrorists,” Ustaz Mustaqim tells us.

“Youths who join the ISIS are radicalised, wanting to find shortcuts to heavenly rewards in the afterlife, and strive to become so-called “martyrs”.

“These individuals are usually vulnerable and easily influenced, and they are people who are frustrated with their lives.

“Individuals are mostly recruited online for easier communication with potential militants and to spread their propaganda, and youths have obvioulsy become an easy target,” he explained.

On the fundamental reason that ISIS’ methods are wrong, the Ustaz clarifies the main concepts of Islam and how ISIS is working against that.

“Islam comes in five forms that is to (i) preserve the religion, (ii) protect our descendants - especially in terms of marriage, and we have members of ISIS marry a woman for a short period of four hours for the sake of sex; (iii) maintain the sanctity of lives whether they be a Muslim or not as there is no reason to kill them without cause; (iv) maintain the purity of mind - and we do that by not consuming alcohol, drugs or anything else prohibited in Islam, which the ISIS group allows its members to do so; and (v) protecting your faith and religion,” he shared.

The Malaysian Government Is Committed To Fighting Terrorism - Are You?

The Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said the government remained committed in fighting any form of terrorism and racial attitude as well as religious extremism as such efforts were important to preserve peace, harmony and security in the country.

The IGP also said the Royal Malaysia Police had raised the country's security alert warning to the highest level to avoid such incidents from occurring in Malaysia and that the police will not hesitate to utilise all existing laws, including preventive acts, in their fight against terror.

Deputy education minister Chong Sin Woon stated the education ministry will raise awareness on the issue of terrorism in schools. He was quoted as saying in a local daily, “Together with the police and security forces, we will start disseminating information in schools this year.”

But security measures and education alone are insufficient to deal with the threat the country is currently faced with. As Malaysians, all of us play an active role in communicating and changing society’s views, speaking and acting against extremist ideologies, for the future of our children. And most importantly, families and friends play a key role in preventing youths from being lured to insidious organisations such as ISIS.

Let this video be a reminder to all Malaysians, to not let our children grow up to be terrorists. Let's preserve their innocence, and shield them from any ideas of extremism starting from now.