‘The Economist’: While Indonesia fights Islamic State, Malaysia politicises Islam

Indonesian policemen with weapons and an armoured vehicle guard in front of a Starbuck cafe at Thamrin business district in Jakarta, January 14, 2016. — File pic
Indonesian policemen with weapons and an armoured vehicle guard in front of a Starbuck cafe at Thamrin business district in Jakarta, January 14, 2016. — File pic

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KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 24 ― Indonesian social movements are attempting to counter jihadist influence, but the Malaysian government has completely politicised Islam until there is little space for more peaceful interpretations, The Economist said.

In an analysis of the Jakarta bombings published yesterday, the London-based weekly publication noted that supporting or joining the Islamic State (IS) is not illegal in Indonesia, though the Indonesian government is considering preventive detention laws to curb terrorism.

“The country’s two biggest Muslim social movements — Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama — have been trying to counter jihadist propaganda.

“In Malaysia, however, the government itself has thoroughly politicised Islam, leaving little room for dissent from its harshest rules. A study last year found more than 70 per cent of Malaysia’s ethnic-Malay, Muslim, majority support hudud laws such as stoning for adultery. Another found that 11 per cent of Malays viewed IS favourably,” said The Economist in an article titled “After Jakarta.”

Religious authorities in Malaysia have been promoting an increasingly conservative interpretation of Islam, while the ruling Umno has welcomed a relationship with PAS that seeks to enforce hudud in Kelantan. Umno has also repeatedly demonised the DAP as being anti-Islam.

A survey by local pollster Merdeka Center released in 2014 found that 71 per cent of Malays polled supported the Islamic penal code that imposes punishments like amputation for theft.

A Pew Research Centre study last year on the attitude of Muslims towards IS showed that 11 per cent of Malaysians supported the Muslim militant group that has claimed responsibility over the January 14 bombings in Jakarta, Indonesia, that killed four civilians and four terrorists.

The Economist reported that authorities believe an Indonesian named Bahrun Naim, who leads a South-east Asian unit fighting with IS in Syria and Iraq, had planned the Jakarta attack from Syria.

Sidney Jones, who runs the Institute for Policy Analysis and Conflict in Jakarta, reportedly said Bahrun had used encrypted messages on social media in a bid to inspire attacks in Malaysia.

The police recently arrested a 28-year-old man at an LRT station here, who was suspected of travelling from Terengganu to stage a suicide attack at a karaoke outlet or a pub in Kuala Lumpur.

Two Malaysian suicide bombers blew themselves up separately in Iraq and Syria earlier this month, killing more than 30 people.

The Economist noted that counter-terrorism strategies that worked before may not be as effective against transnational bodies like IS that it said inspired online self-radicalisation and lone-wolf attacks.

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