Countering religious fundamentalism: Lessons from Malaysia


Source: Channel NewsAsia

Malaysia police arrest 3 suspected Islamic State militants planning attacks on the eve of National Day. (Photo: Malaysian police counter terrorism unit)

Malaysia police arrest 3 suspected Islamic State militants planning attacks on the eve of National Day. (Photo: Malaysian police counter terrorism unit)

SINGAPORE: Individuals tend to be drawn to fundamentalist ideology out of a desire to escape personal, familial, or social problems, rather than out of religious piousness, said Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

This understanding can inform how authorities should counter the influence and spread of religious fundamentalism, noted Mr Zahid, who shared key lessons from Malaysia in a keynote address at the Asia-Europe Counter-Terrorism Dialogue on Tuesday (Nov 1).

“Young girls, as young as 14 years old, from Malaysia were also influenced. She was caught at the airport when she was about to board the plane. She was so attracted by the young, handsome, bearded potential husband,” he said, adding that the girl had been radicalised through materials on the internet.

“Why was she influenced? It’s not because of religious belief… It’s because of escapism, because they would like to get out of the problems that they are facing in their family, in the society, with employers.”


To curb the influence of the Islamic State or Daesh in the cyberworld, Mr Zahid says Malaysia works with ASEANAPOL (ASEAN police) and INTERPOL to monitor social media. In addition, Malaysia has established a counter-messaging centre(CMC) for the Southeast Asia region, in a collaboration with the CMC in the United Arab Emirates, the US State Department, and the FBI.

“Terrorists worldwide are well-connected. In this region, (terrorists from) Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Southern Thailand – they have launched Katibah Nusantara. This is a borderless terrorist organisation in this region. It is very dangerous, if something is not done to curb their activities,” he added.

Mr Zahid also emphasised that governments, enforcement agencies, and organisations must work together – through anti-money laundering laws and targeted financial sanctions – to prevent the financing of terrorism.


Beside prevention efforts, Mr Zahid also touched on what Malaysia is doing to rehabilitate radicalised individuals.

To date, 255 people have been detained in Malaysia for their involvement in “terrorist activities”, said Mr Zahid. Those detained between 2001 and 2011 totaled 240, and within this group, 234 have been successfully deradicalised, he added.

Mr Zahid said that these individuals – who have been released – are being tracked with electronic monitoring devices, and no reengagement has occurred.

“We are assimilating them back into society, back into their families, although they are facing a lot of problems. We are also providing them micro-credit facilities so that they are able to start a new life,” he said.

Terrorist recruitment is also happening in prisons, said Mr Zahid. In one recent example, a single detainee in Malaysia managed to recruit seven prisoners and seven prison wardens as his followers. These individuals have now been isolated in a separate rehabilitation centre, he revealed.

Mr Zahid also shared the experience of having to table a new Bill to claw back emergency security and enforcement powers it lost, after it repealed the Internal Security Act in 2012.

“It took me about eight hours and 38 minutes to debate (the Bill) in Parliament. It was very tough, because (it was challenged by) some good parliamentarians who are regarded as so-called human rights fighters… But what about the human rights of the victims (of terrorism), of enforcement agencies’ personnel?”

The two-day dialogue, organised by the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies at the Nanyang Technological University and the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung in Singapore, also saw the launch of a publication titled ‘Countering Daesh Extremism – European and Asian Responses’ by the two organisations.

– CNA/ll