Muslim Malaysia is trying to promote a positive alternative to extremism. Source: Flickr
Kuala Lumpur has recently hosted several large, regional summits and is claiming to be promoting a progressive alternative to militant Islam.
However, rigid security laws and an increasing number of arrests in the federation are raising concerns about how successful this strategy really is.
Malaysia will send experts next year to assist Australia in fighting militants amid the perceived rising threat posed by the Islamic State (IS), according to the country’s deputy prime minister.
After a meeting with Australia’s Minister for Justice Michael Keenan, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who is also home minister, said Malaysia had offered to send its experts to Australia in February to help the training of trainers (ToT) to extend their experience of rehabilitation.
“Through the ToT, Malaysia will also extend its own experience in rehabilitation efforts undertaken here to be implemented in Australia,” Malaysia news agency Bernama quoted Zahid saying.
“From our experience in facing terrorism from the communist insurgents and religious extremist groups, we offer to send our experts to [Australia]. Through the ToT, Malaysia will also extend its own experience in rehabilitation efforts undertaken here to be implemented in Australia.”
Zahid said it was a reaction to the rising threat faced by Australia from residents originating from the Middle East and immigrants entering the country.
Keenan, who has the portfolio of “minister assisting the prime minister on counterterrorism”, said last month that the security forces had foiled six “terror” attacks since September 2014, when the security level was raised to high.
Malaysia would send university lecturers, officers from the Royal Malaysian Police, prison officers and staff from its Islamic Development Department (Jakim), Zahid explained.
It is part of Malaysia’s wider effort to promote regional cooperation to tackle extremism and a reaction to the alleged intention of IS to establish a Southeast Asian caliphate.
Malaysia has arrested more than 100 citizens with suspected links to IS, claiming it has foiled several terror plots.
Kuala Lumpur’s role as chair of Asean this year meant it hosted several conferences, allowing it to focus on the supposed terror threat and trumpet its own success in de-radicalising former militants. It is planning a conference to train other nations’ security services in its techniques of rehabilitation.
Zahid argued that Muslim-majority Malaysia had first tackled a communist insurgency and now was having success in the fight against Islamism.
It has shared its knowledge through workshops and conferences on countering the internet narrative of violent extremism in an attempt to spread a more moderate, progressive version of what an Islamic state should look like.
A British citizen was among five suspects recently arrested in Malaysia on suspicion of being involved with terrorist groups, the national police chief said.
Inspector General Khalid Abu Bakar said the suspect was seized in central Kuala Lumpur last month and had been deported.
“He has links with al-Qaeda,” Khalid said. “He fought in Afghanistan and Bosnia.”
The police chief said he was a part-time teacher on the island of Penang. The other four men were a Nigerian, Bangladeshi, an Indonesia and a Malaysian with Kuala Lumpur saying all four had links with IS.
The Home Affairs ministry has said nearly 100 Malaysians have gone to Syria and Iraq to fight with IS.
Social activist Azrul Mohd Khalib writes: “Considering the raft of national security-related legislation that has been proposed and passed in Parliament over the past few years and the many allegations of threats to national security, you could be forgiven for asking yourself whether Malaysia is a safe country to be in.
“The Malaysian security apparatus seems to be working overtime to help provide the government with justification for the introduction of such laws. But they then casually dismiss concerns from foreigners regarding safety in this country or when organisers of an international sporting event are considering postponing their tournament due to those very same security fears.”
He contrasts this year’s Counter-Terrorism and Security Act in the United Kingdom which, despite being fast-tracked through parliament, took several months to be passed into law with Kuala Lumpur’s more rapid legislative process.
“A full month had been made available for parliamentarians in the House of Commons to scrutinise, examine and debate the details and proposed legislation during committee and reading stages.
“Amendments were proposed and made in committee, briefing papers provided and impact assessments on specific issues made available. It was only right that such a Bill received the full weight of serious consideration and deliberation from lawmakers. The legislation was fast-tracked and it took a month to get through that stage.
“In comparison, Malaysia’s National Security Council Bill took less than 48 hours to go through the Dewan Rakyat [similar to the House of Commons] from its tabling to the third and final reading. To call it absurd and shocking would be an understatement. It makes a mockery of the Westminster parliamentary system and the purpose for which there are representatives.”
Malaysia, it seems, is wrestling with the same debate that other nations struggle with where security concerns compete with the need to protect human rights and a way of life founded on tolerance and liberty.