Religious and Ideological narratives of the violent extremists in South East Asia

Al-wala wa’l-bara (the extremist Islamist doctrine of loyalty and disavowal) polarizes the world between Muslims and non-Muslims but it has no place in the mainstream, pluralistic and peaceful Islamic traditions…..

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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 the West is corrupt, and the only rightful path is through the way of Islam.

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.       The concept of jihad as necessarily associated with violence, fard al-ayn.

This concept is often coupled with the theme 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.”

2.       The concept of al-wala wa’l-bara, which polarizes the world between Muslims and non-Muslims

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.”

In similar fashion, Daesh narratives emphasize the urgency of the situation in Syria and Iraq, arguing that Muslims are being slaughtered now, and that the Crusaders, the Jews, the kuffar (infidels) and the rafida (apostates, referring to Shi’a Muslims) and their “tyrannical puppet regimes” are to blame.15 Similarly, the brother of the founder16 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.

The religious narrative is perhaps the most common narrative type 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.

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