As ISIS is a social media phenomenon, it has to be confronted in this way.
Its recruitment videos and marketing are slick; offering far higher production value across every conceivable media platform than any ham-fisted government counter-narrative. Simply blocking websites or demanding YouTube take down videos is doomed to failure; there are too many easy technical workarounds. Indonesian authorities recently reversed the blocking of 22 sites due to freedom of speech issues. Reducing appeals involve taking on the narrative head-on using the very same mediums.
Recently, Indonesia arrested a disillusioned returnee from ISIS. Rather than arrest him, he should be actively promoted in discussion forums, social media and being allowed to lecture at mosques and prisons. Other disillusioned ISIS vets have been squandered by inept security forces, who prefer additional powers.
The governments also need to confront growing religious intolerance within their own societies and the policies that create the context for ISIS to be so appealing. The region's growing religious intolerance makes it fertile ground for ISIS' virulent practice of takfir. The radical anti-Shia-ism and sectarianism of ISIS resonates across Southeast Asia. ISIS’s brutal attacks against the Shia are inspiring attacks where there is a similar desire to "cleanse" their religion.
The governments’ declaration of sects "deviant," as in Indonesia’s 2008 decree, has provided carte blanche to fuel hatred. The Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace has reported a threefold increase in the number of attacks on Shia between 2012 and 2013 in the region.
According to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, between 2008-2013, some 62 Ahmadiyah mosques were attacked or destroyed, 45 of which were forcibly closed in Indonesia alone. Malaysia’s record is not much better, with the country ranked as ‘highly restrictive’ on religious freedom by the Pew Center and institutionalized bans on Shia well established. While the Philippines is confronted by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Front, which has pledged bai’at to ISIS, and is poised to capitalize should the Bangsamoro peace process fail.
There has been little done to change mindsets of intolerance. A new survey of high school students in Jakarta found low levels of support for ISIS (7%) though awareness of the group was growing. More disturbing, was increased intolerance of sects like Shia and the Amadiyah; 43.8% said that they should be banned. Ironically, the same religious institutions used to "treat" members of these "deviant sects" are the same that are charged with disengaging militants.
Part of this problem lies with the embedded intolerance within religious authorities, who are promoting division rather than dignity. Even Malaysia’s Special Branch has acknowledged that religious authorities are sympathetic to ISIS, highlighting that the problem with ISIS lies less with the laws but with changing the attitudes of those implementing them.
Targeted action is required. The governments should devote more resources for disengagement programs in prison, which are some of ISIS' most fertile recruiting grounds Indonesia's program has long been under-funded, but it is at critical juncture today, especially as some 200 members of JI are due to be released in the coming few years. Malaysia’s prisons do not meet international standards and similarly serve as breeding grounds of anger. It will only get worse should POTA be abused for political purposes.
The threat of ISIS is real. The chlorine bomb in Jakarta is indicative of ISIS’ brutal ideology and bloodlust. Governments already have significant powers and tools at their disposal for effective law enforcement. Indeed, it was Jakarta’s lack of an ISA-type law and their reliance on the courts that so effectively delegitimized JI.
Simply giving security forces more powers that can be abused while ignoring the context of ISIS recruitment and sources of ISIS' appeal will do little to stem the movement. In fact the new laws will create a false sense of security. – Rappler.com
Abuza is an independent analyst, specializing in Southeast Asian politics and security issues. He is also the author of Militant Islam in Southeast Asia: Crucible of Terror.
Bridget Welsh is a Senior Research Associate at the Center for East Asia Democratic Studies of National Taiwan University. She specializes in Southeast Asia politics, particularly Malaysia, Singapore and Myanmar.