Amalina Abdul Nasir
Amalina Abdul Nasir and Kenneth Yeo
Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs has publicly reported four cases of
teenage radicalization. All four teenagers identified were radicalized by
acquaintances online and displayed sympathy to a foreign conflict in “jihad”
zones like Syria and Iraq. Other countries globally, and in Southeast Asia,
have also seen the same trend of teenage radicalization, which continues even
after the demise of the so-called Islamic State (IS) caliphate. This has prompted the question of why teens
are susceptible to the Islamic State’s narratives. Are there common driving
factors radicalizing teenagers in Southeast Asia, in particular?
demonstrated its prowess and mastery over social media since 2014. Around 1,000
Southeast Asians were reported to have traveled to Iraq and Syria to become
foreign fighters. Many were driven by networks and propaganda forged primarily
through social media, primarily Facebook and Telegram. IS propaganda
capitalizes on two factors to radicalize teens: atrocities against Muslims
globally and the heroism narrative.
groups and channels directed at Southeast Asians often exploit global
atrocities to invigorate local grievances. While most IS propaganda centers
around conflicts in the Levant, IS exploits the “unfair” treatment of Muslims
in the region to drive an “us-vs-them” narrative. This includes the treatment
of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, China, and Rohingyas in Rakhine state, Myanmar. IS is
capitalizing on foreign conflicts to mobilize aspiring militants locally.
factor that drives the radicalism of teens is the narrative of heroism promoted
by IS. Most IS content on Telegram is publicity of its tactical successes to
portray the image of victory. Professionally curated images, videos, and gifs
coupled with religious justification of brutality were widely shared within
their networks to raise the morale of their sympathizers and militants. This
narrative capitalized on the allure of battle, which seemed to have attracted
young aspiring militants.
radicalization of teenagers in this region is not new. In Malaysia alone, there
have been at least eight secondary school students involved in IS-related
activities since 2017. In countries like Indonesia and the Philippines, IS
commonly recruits teens in institutes of higher learning and religious study
circles, also known as usrah and halaqa.
countries in the region, lack of empowerment is one of the factors of
radicalization amongst teens. Job insecurity and low incomes give rise to
grievances that could be mobilized for violence. In some cases, some may
rationalize their current adversity (whether economic or social) as a result of
misalignment with tenets of their religion. This encourages them to resort to
“Islamic purification” as a means to reconcile with their difficulties.
The lack of
a strong identity, ethnocentrism, and perceptions of social and political
exclusion have also been cited in several studies as crucial drivers of
radicalization among youth. Extremist ideologies have found traction, to some
extent, by claiming to provide vulnerable teens with guidance, direction, and a
sense of belonging.
while most teenagers do not condone violence carried out IS, radical appeals
from groups like IS can influence vulnerable youth populations.
publicly released cases, the drivers of general radicalization in Singapore are
very different. Neither socioeconomic backgrounds nor educational attainment
seem to have influenced the radicalization of Singaporeans.
for teenagers, the moral outrage stems from external elements consumed via
Facebook and YouTube, often riding on the concept of ummah — a sense of
communion that binds Muslims across the globe. The aforementioned narratives of
persecution in Xinjiang and Rakhine challenge their brotherhood ties, which
compels them to protect members of the community and ultimately Islam, which is
perceived to be “under siege.”
further misguided or swayed by narratives that are based on erroneous
interpretations of the religious text. Possibly compounded by the thrill of
combat and the “eye for an eye” principle, some vulnerable teens have bought
into the Islamic State’s use of violence and binary worldview.
globalization of social networks continues, local mechanisms curtailing the
threat of teen radicalization in cyberspace are insufficient. Hence, it would
be useful to align regional efforts to prevent and counter violent extremism
social network disregards sovereign borders. As such, cross-border cooperation
must be improved. Governments must build a PCVE network to weaken the IS
network. In this regard, a multiagency approach is required to (i) halt the
exploitation of global atrocities to invigorate local grievances; (ii) identify
and address local socio-political grievances; and (iii) match community assets
to community needs.
this, regional collaboration should be fostered to inculcate values of
inclusiveness and tolerance on the ground. Countries must collectively push for
stronger social integration policies to eradicate barriers and ignorance of the
“other” in pluralistic societies. Over
time, the goal is to build social resilience and a collective narrative of
peace and inclusion in the digital and physical domain.
country, it is crucial for governments to develop early intervention and
community rehabilitation capabilities. Here, rehabilitated extremists can be
recruited to engage teenagers. Having walked through a similar path, narratives
of the rehabilitated extremists are more likely to resonate with and be
accepted by sympathizers, guiding young people in their search for identity in
a plural society.
exploit foreign narratives to indoctrinate young minds in Singapore and the
region. While regional governments have continuously fortified counterterrorism
measures to prevent devastating attacks, we must adopt a multilateral,
whole-of-society approach to curtail radicalization in the region.
Abdul Nasir and Kenneth Yeo are Research Analysts from the International Centre
for Political Violence and Terrorism Research (ICPVTR), a specialist centre
based in the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang
Technological University (NTU), Singapore.
Headline: Southeast Asia’s Teenage
Source: The Diplomat