THE Malaysian intelligence agencies and police are rightly alarmed about Malaysian militants forging links with terror networks operating in Syria.
The potential for violence on Malaysian land is real given the history of Malaysian militants who fought in Afghanistan and their record of continuing radicalisation and violence upon returning to Malaysia.
But what is even more disturbing today is that while the first generation of jihadists went abroad to kill “infidels”, this new generation of young Malaysian militants in Syria now finds it justifiable to kill fellow Muslims in what is really a sectarian war.
Everyone seems focused on the threat these home-grown terrorists pose to national security.
For me, the more urgent and immediate issue that the government and its intelligence and security services should be understanding is the link between terrorism and extremism.
How and why did these young Malaysian men get indoctrinated into extremist ideology that justified the killing of not just their usual enemies of Christians and godless Communists, but now fellow Muslims of a different sect?
What ideas and ideologies did former PAS Ulama Council member and Kedah Youth leader Mohd Lotfi Ariffin imbibe in his journey from a childhood in Kedah to a madrasah in Pakistan to acts of terror in Afghanistan and Tajikistan, to five years of ISA detention, and now on to Syria to join Sunni jihadists in a sectarian war against a Shiite-led government?
Where and how was Lotfi indoctrinated into extremist ideology?
What are the narratives that led him to leave home this time, leaving behind a wife and eight children, the youngest only two months old when he left?
Mohd Lotfi is just the most high profile of supposedly up to 30 Malaysian jihadists, or even more, in Syria. Many more are being recruited and trained, ready to be sent off to expand and extend the front lines of the so-declared “Islamic Caliphate”.
There is a reality here that we are not dealing with in Malaysia – the link between the upsurge in the Malaysian public space of intolerance, demonisation, bigotry and hate speech that began in the mid-2000s and how they feed the radicalisation process.
The situation is even more distressing for many Malaysians today because of the deafening silence of the top political leadership and the critical role they should be playing in delegitimising these extremists and their brazen display of bigotry.
Nay, some Cabinet ministers even echo these extremist idealogues for their own short-term political gain.
Constant exposure to extreme opinions and ideologies in a toxic public space, without any engagement with counter arguments, can radicalise vulnerable young minds, and reinforce and provide validation to those already converted to the extremist cause.
It is the propagation of extremist narratives of bigotry, intolerance, violence and martyrdom at many sites – universities, mosques, mainstream media, online chatrooms and websites – that provides fertile ground for radicalisation to grow and thrive.
Vulnerable radicalised young men searching for a cause and a meaning to life then become easy consumers of online jihadist literature out to recruit “martyrs” for the cause of Allah.
But the radicalisation of jihadists, much research shows, begins offline, not online.
Online jihadist sites only further reinforce the indoctrination begun elsewhere.
It is high time that the government took action to delegitimise the extremist language of supremacist groups who hog the headlines with their narratives of hate, bigotry, threats and fears.
It is high time government-linked media stopped their incitement with provocative front-page headlines and projecting belligerent supremacists on national news as if they represent the voice of the whole community.
It is high time those Cabinet ministers who have been echoing the intolerant and exclusivist language of these non-state actors took a step back and think through the consequences of their action.
It is high time that the rule of law was upheld and decisions and judgments were made on the basis of justice, fairness and what serves the best interest of society as a whole, rather than on sectarian and political grounds.
And it is high time that we stopped demonising the Shia, declaring them deviants and a threat to national security. It is Malaysian Sunni Muslims who are committing acts of terror in Syria and probably by now in Iraq, not the Malaysian Shia.
How can it be good for the peace and stability of Malaysia that on a daily basis we are assaulted by extremist and intolerant views, by a breakdown in the rule of law and back-door rewriting of the Constitution, by more and more manufactured threats from both state and non-state actors?
It is their views that seem to prevail in newspapers and on television as if they represent the majority, while the voices of moderate Malaysians and Muslims determined to live together and share the nation are sidelined.
Counter terrorism research has found that while not all extremism leads to terrorism, all terrorist acts are inspired by extremist narratives, that ideas and ideologies that sow discord, hate and bigotry contribute to justifying acts of terror, and therefore cannot be left unchallenged in society.
This constitutes a battle of ideas. Where are the counter arguments and counter narratives from those in authority if they are so alarmed about the militants in our midst?
How could it be that a nation that has eschewed extremism since its birth, and adopted the politics of accommodation in managing an ethnically divided society, is today gripped by so much intolerance and supremacist thinking?
And exporting terrorists who claim to fight in the cause of Allah?
How could it be that under a government that has adopted a 1Malaysia slogan, this society is more divided than ever before?
It is time we all screeched to a halt and thought through where we are heading and the kind of Malaysia we all want to live in.
Not for the first time, I am saying bring back the objectives of the Rukunegara to heal the wounds and bring us together.
There was a time when we believed that the only way our country could survive was if all the races could get on together and eschew a zero-sum game.
That was the national narrative adopted by the political leaders in government and opposition and supported by the rakyat.
That was how we survived and thrived all these decades while other ethnically divided countries fell apart.
So can we stop and ponder on the objectives of the Rukunegara:
> to achieve a greater unity of all her peoples;
> to maintain a democratic way of life;
> to create a just society in which the wealth of the nation shall be equitably shared;
> to ensure a liberal approach to her rich and diverse cultural traditions;
> to build a progressive society which shall be oriented to modern science and technology.
I believe the overwhelming majority of Malaysians continue to believe in these values.
Before it is too late, let’s focus our energy on working out how best this inter-communal national consensus on principles and objectives can be reflected in our laws, policies, and daily practices. ainah Anwar is the internationally acclaimed and award-winning co-founder and former executive director of Sisters in Islam (SIS Forum) and the co-founder and director of Musawah, a global movement for equality and justice in the Muslim family. She is a former member of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam). The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own. ZAINAH ANWAR The STAR Home > Opinion > Columnists Sharing The Nation Sunday July 6, 2014 MYT 7:29:30 AM