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Battling Islamic State Influence




By Marina Mahathir

April 23, 2015

If at home we don’t have any tolerance for people who disagree with us, how do we explain how IS treats differences in beliefs and views so violently?

A BRIGHT spark in our Cabinet recently said that women joined the Islamic State (IS) because they were lonely. Actually women join all sorts of things if they are lonely – gyms, clubs, mosques and churches, amongst others, that are usually within their own vicinity. It doesn’t explain, however, why there are a lot more men joining IS than women. Could they be even lonelier?

The Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) has declared that they will now go on an all-out war against IS’ influence. Of course this is a good thing and should be supported. But for any outside observer, it is too easy to see how Jakim’s good intentions will fail. The gap between such intentions and reality is simply too large.

Jakim may think that issuing a fatwa against IS is the right move. In fact, it makes hardly a dent. For one thing, most people are not aware of any such fatwa. Secondly, such a fatwa is going to be ignored by IS recruiters because they obviously do not respect Jakim’s authority anyway. And their own Fatwas, or opinions, on why it is a good thing to join IS are far more seductive to certain impressionable people, male or female.

Saying that it is un-Islamic to take up violence is certainly correct. Wanting to die a martyr’s death, especially by suicide and killing others at the same time, is also forbidden in Islam. But it is not enough to stop at defining a terrorist merely as one who takes up arms and violence. We need to look more holistically at the issue of IS and who it directs its terror at.

For a start, who is IS fighting and inflicting violence on? Thus far they have terrorised just about anyone who disagrees with them, whether they are other Muslims especially Syiahs and other Sunnis who don’t agree with them, non-Muslim civilian populations such as the Yezidis and Christians, foreign humanitarian workers, journalists and just about anybody who refuses to pledge allegiance to their cause.

So, the first thing we have to teach young people is to learn to accept that people have different views and beliefs. How do we do this when every day someone of a different opinion or faith is being persecuted just for disagreeing with the dominant faith or government or, for that matter, just being different? If at home we don’t have any tolerance for people who disagree with us, how do we explain how IS treats differences in beliefs and views so violently?

What is the difference between the way IS treats Syiahs in Syria, for instance, and the way we do here, except for the degree of violence?

This violence has forced huge numbers of ordinary Syrians to flee their homes. More than three million have fled to neighbouring countries, increasing the burden on their already strained societies.

Another six million people are internally displaced, meaning that they are forced to leave their homes to look for shelter from IS within their own country. But as IS expands the territory under its rule, these people have to constantly move to look for safety.

Think of what this feels like, to be constantly afraid, to be unsure of how to feed their children, to have no access to healthcare, schools and jobs. IS has also done a good job of destroying infrastructure in Syria so that humanitarian aid cannot even reach these beleaguered civilians.

Why have we said nothing about these refugees? Why have we not extended help to them? And while we extend our sympathies to similar situations nearby, why then do we treat refugees in our own land so badly?

Then there’s the way IS treats women. There is a horrific Human Rights Watch report based on interviews with women and girls who have escaped IS, telling of the systematic abductions, rape, torture and murder of women in the IS-held territories.

Most of the women were Yezidi, a small community in Syria, but some were also Muslim. Some of the horror stories involved girls as young as 12, raped by gangs of IS fighters. Many were sold as slaves, with IS claiming it is Islamic to do this to prisoners of war.

To counter IS at home, we thus need to teach our young to respect women and girls. We should have zero tolerance for violence against women and girls, regardless of what they wear, say or do.

How do we do this when Jakim is silent when women are threatened with rape for giving a different opinion on issues? Why are women constantly attacked just for speaking up?

This is why Jakim’s ‘war’ against IS will fail. As the Malay saying goes, ‘cakap tak serupa bikin’ or ‘not walking the talk’. But there is another word for this: hypocrisy.

Marina Mahathir is a human rights activist who works on women, children and HIV/AIDS issues. Her column in this newspaper goes back 25 years and has likewise evolved because, in her own words, “she probably thinks too much for her own good.” Marina continues to speak out and crusade for causes that she passionately believes in. The views expressed here are entirely her own.