soft ap­proach needed on rad­i­cal­ism

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - CHRIS­TINE T. TJANDRANINGSIH news­room@mm­times.com

THE five-month bat­tle in the south­ern Philip­pine town of Marawi be­tween the govern­ment and Is­lamic State-linked mil­i­tant groups was re­cently de­clared over.

But the threats posed by rad­i­cal­ism and ex­trem­ism to South East Asia are not likely go­ing to end, while the is­sue of Ro­hingya Mus­lims in Myan­mar has added to the com­plex­ity.

Soft ap­proaches, as well as well­moni­tored hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance sent to Ro­hingya refugee camps in Bangladesh and re­con­struc­tion of Marawi, are needed to block rad­i­cal groups from spread­ing their in­flu­ence across the re­gion, an­a­lysts said.

“The links be­tween In­done­sian and Philip­pine ex­trem­ists go back a long, long way, and they are not go­ing to end sim­ply with the lib­er­a­tion of Marawi,” said Sid­ney Jones, di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute for Pol­icy Anal­y­sis of Con­flict, a re­search in­sti­tute based in Jakarta.

In May, mil­i­tant groups that pledged al­le­giance to IS seized con­trol of a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of Marawi, a pre­dom­i­nantly Mus­lim city of over 200,000 on Min­danao, the Philip­pines’ south­ern­most ma­jor is­land.

In the declar­ing the end of the bat­tle late last month, the govern­ment said it had suc­cess­fully con­cluded “the most se­ri­ous threat of vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism and rad­i­cal­ism” in the Philip­pines and in the re­gion.

Al­most 50 civil­ians, nearly 170 troops and over 1000 mil­i­tants died in the fight­ing.

The fight­ing to­tally dev­as­tated Marawi, and the Philip­pine govern­ment has be­gun the process of re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and re­con­struc­tion, as­sisted by some other coun­tries and in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions.

Jones, how­ever, warned that un­hap­pi­ness over the process of re­con­struc­tion, if it is not go­ing on well, may lead to fur­ther rad­i­cal­i­sa­tion.

On Sun­day, In­done­sian, Malaysian and Philip­pine for­eign min­is­ters held a tri­lat­eral meet­ing on the side­lines of the ASEAN sum­mit in Manila to dis­cuss the lat­est sit­u­a­tion in Marawi.

Dur­ing the meet­ing, In­done­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Retno Mar­sudi ac­knowl­edged the Marawi lib­er­a­tion “is not an end, but a be­gin­ning of a big­ger task – cre­at­ing sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment and peace in Marawi and in the re­gion.”

She reaf­firmed In­done­sia’s com­mit­ment to sup­port­ing the process of re­con­struc­tion and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and at the same time, as­sist­ing Manila to deal with the roots of the prob­lem in Marawi “to pre­vent the re­cur­rence of the tragedy” in other ar­eas in the re­gion.

In­done­sia, ac­cord­ing to Retno, is ready to help Manila in de­vel­op­ing a cur­ricu­lum for Is­lamic re­li­gion classes in Is­lamic schools in Marawi, as well as send­ing Mus­lim schol­ars with ex­per­tise in Is­lamic law and the­ol­ogy to spread mod­er­ate Is­lam there.

Jones stressed, how­ever, that the cri­sis of the Ro­hingya, a state­less mi­nor­ity Mus­lim group in pre­dom­i­nantly Bud­dhist Myan­mar, has al­ready been “af­fect­ing the re­gion in many ways.”

“Anger against the treat­ment of Ro­hingya Mus­lims has grown very high, es­pe­cially in Malaysia and In­done­sia,” she added, say­ing that it may be­come “a fac­tor that will in­crease rad­i­cal Filipinos to try build­ing co­op­er­a­tive links with their col­leagues in Malaysia and In­done­sia.”

“One big ques­tion is: Is there any pos­si­bil­ity that In­done­sian and Malaysian ex­trem­ists could hook up with the Arakan Ro­hingya Sal­va­tion Army?” Jones said, re­fer­ring to Ro­hingya mil­i­tants who al­legedly killed Hindu vil­lagers in Myan­mar’s strife-torn Rakhine State dur­ing the lat­est round of vi­o­lence in the area in Au­gust.

On Mon­day, speak­ing be­fore a ple­nary ses­sion of the ASEAN lead­er­ship sum­mit, In­done­sian Pres­i­dent Joko “Jokowi” Wi­dodo called for the group­ing’s sol­i­dar­ity to deal with the hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis in Rakhine.

“The longer the prob­lem is go­ing on, the big­ger the im­pacts will be for re­gional se­cu­rity and sta­bil­ity, in­clud­ing with the emer­gence of rad­i­cal­ism and traf­fick­ing in per­sons,” Jokowi said.

What ASEAN needs to watch, ac­cord­ing to Jones, is hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance sent to Rakhine by rad­i­cal groups from In­done­sia and Malaysia, as it may be­come a way for mil­i­tant groups to build com­mu­ni­ca­tions with ARSA and set up an al­liance.

The In­done­sian For­eign Min­istry, to­gether with some In­done­sian non­govern­men­tal and re­li­gious or­gan­i­sa­tions, joined in the so-called In­done­sian Hu­man­i­tar­ian Al­liance for Hu­man­ity have so far be­come the only group sanc­tioned by the Bangladesh govern­ment to dis­trib­ute aid for Ro­hingya refugees in Bangladesh.

“What the In­done­sian For­eign Min­istry is do­ing is so im­por­tant be­cause they are try­ing to con­trol the hu­man­i­tar­ian aid go­ing into (Bangladesh’s district of) Cox’s Bazar and other towns in Bangladesh,” Jones said.

“But, de­spite their ef­forts to try to en­sure that this group is the one that is of­fi­cially sanc­tioned to dis­trib­ute aid, we have seen Salafist (pu­ri­tan­i­cal Mus­lim) groups, for ex­am­ple, es­tab­lish their own con­nec­tion to some of the camps in Bangladesh,” she added.

“That’s what to watch for, to look at whether the hu­man­i­tar­ian aid from rad­i­cal groups is reach­ing or not reach­ing the camps,” she said.

In­done­sian ter­ror­ism ex­pert Bonar Tigor Naipospos of non­govern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tion Se­tara, mean­while, un­der­lined that the con­flicts in the south­ern Philip­pines and Rakhine State have cre­ated an open­ing for IS to en­ter be­cause lo­cal rebels need sup­port, ei­ther in fi­nanc­ing, weapons or train­ing.

“If ASEAN wants to be sta­ble, it must give pri­or­i­ties to the con­flict ar­eas,” he said. – Ky­odo

Photo: AP

Sid­ney Jones, di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute for Pol­icy Anal­y­sis of Con­flict, talks to jour­nal­ists in Manila, Philip­pines, on Novem­ber 8.

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