Many CVE observers in the South East Asia are not cognizant enough of the various violent extremist narratives that are being widely disseminated. To many government leaders and citizens in the region, the narratives they hear are about peacekeeping, humanitarian aid and conflict intervention. But the followers of the ISIS/al-Qaeda ideology strongly believe that the conflict there is lumped together with Rohingya (Myanmar) and Kashmir. The narratives they tell are about oppression of Muslims, which is either portrayed as being ignored by the governments or worse still, carried out by them.

To counter such narratives, it is critical to know which aspects of al-Qaeda’s ideological appeals are working. It has been demonstrated in both extensive empirical research and first-hand experience in investigations, these themes and concepts are persistently recurring. The ideology can be outlined, as below, in some recurring themes that need to be addressed.

There are two main religious narratives utilized by violent extremists that have particular application to South East Asia. Each is described below, followed by examples from the region.

1. jihad and hijrah as fard-ul-ayn coupled with the victimhood narrative
The concept of jihad and hijrah is often coupled with the narrative of victimhood: that Muslims are being victimized “at the hands of a perceived global war on Islam.” Jihad, according to violent extremists, is a necessary and obligatory fight to defend fellow Muslims from injustice. For example, former JI member Ali Imron stated in his memoir that the most persuasive narrative was that of religious duty, and that jihad was necessarily violent.

Similarly, Daesh narratives emphasize agency of the average Muslim to participate in violent jihad as an individual and civic duty. When it comes to Daesh narratives, another common theme is to highlight the victory or success of their violent war campaigns as proof of their “divinely sanctioned authenticity.”

1. The ideologies of takfir and al-wala wa’l-bara which polarize the world between Muslims and non-Muslims
In similar fashion, extremist narratives emphasize the urgency of the situations in Palestine, Kashmir, Syria and Iraq, arguing that Muslims are being slaughtered there, and that the Crusaders, Jews and the kuffar (infidels) and the rafida (apostates, referring to Shi’a Muslims) and their “tyrannical puppet regimes” are to blame.

Similarly, the brother of the of the Abu Sayef Group (ASG) in the Philippines, Qadhafy Janjalani, references Surat At-Tawbah (29) and Surat Al-Anfal (39) to justify the concept of violent jihad, including against non-Muslims as well as those who “Claimed themselves to be Muslims” and civilians.
Associated with this concept is the idea of takfir, or declaring someone an “apostate” or non-Muslim. For example, according to Imron’s memoir, the Bali attacks were “directed at the perpetrators of disobedience and the kafirs, so they would quit bad habits and stop damaging human morals.”

Internet radicalization in South East Asia
The extremist religious narratives are perhaps the most common when it comes to the context of South East Asia. According to a report on internet radicalization in South East Asia, the primary Bahasa Indonesia and Malay language websites propagating Jemaah Islamiyyah (JI) and Al-Qaeda material include “carefully selected Quranic verses, as well as academic articles and news reports… bearing messages that revolve around the theme of a victimised global Muslim community that is under attack, urging the necessity to fight back.”

Similarly, the Mujahidin Syura Council in Thailand has utilized their online media platform Khattab Media Publication to translate religious opinion of Abdullah Azzam (Palestinian intellectual behind Al Qaeda), and has significantly contributed to the mass dissemination of this religious justification of violence and terrorism to the Malay-speaking communities.

These types of narratives utilize religious or ideological concepts or elements to justify the terrorist organization’s end goal as well as the use of violence to achieve that goal. Religious components of the narrative ascribe divine legitimacy to the story, which in turn reinforce the narrative for those receiving it. Included in this categorization of narrative, for example, is a moral narrative by which democratic system of governance is corrupt, and the only rightful path is the ‘Islamic state’.

Ghulam Rasool Delhvi