While concern for the atrocities committed by Israel in Gaza reaches an all-time high, a far more insidious threat is growing, and cannot be ignored any longer.
In Syria and Iraq, a war is being fought by the Islamic State, formerly known as Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), to establish a new caliphate in the Middle East and, by extension, over Muslims worldwide.
Led by the enigmatic Abu Bakr al-Baghadi, who claims to be a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, ISIS in its original form comprised several Sunni insurgent groups supported by Al-Qaeda.
In 2006, ISIS announced its rulership over the governorates of Baghdad, Anbar, Diyala, Kirkuk, Salah al-Din, Nineveh and Babil in Iraq, before realising that an opportunity lay in the 2013 Syrian Civil War to expand its reach.
ISIS currently controls the following provinces in Syria: Al Barakah, Al Kheir, Ar-Raqqah, Al Badiya, Halab, Idlib, Hama, Damascus and the Coast, and boasts a fighting force of an estimated 4,000 jihadists.
But its ambitions extend much further than that, as it looks to dominate the Levant, which includes Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Cyprus, and parts of southern Turkey.
The actions of ISIS militants have become so extreme that the group has been denounced by al-Qaeda.
And with its claim as a Salafist regime that practices a harsh brand of Islam and Islamic law, it looks to cull non-Muslims and Muslims that do not adhere to the policies of the new caliphate of blood and violence.
Between January and July of this year, the violence caused by ISIS in Iraq caused some 5,500 civilian deaths and 11,660 more wounded.
The horror stories that come out of the region tell of acts that we had hoped and prayed humanity would be incapable of.
Videos circulating on the Internet show civilians and soldiers being beheaded even after succumbing to coercion to convert to Islam. Tales of crucifixion of Arab Christians abound. Minorities are forced to flee their homes or be slaughtered.
And all over the world, images and reports of bright young Muslims seduced into migrating and joining the jihad send chills up the spine of their governments.
Even more chilling, perhaps, is ISIS’s trumpeting of its actions, recently seen in its Twitter boasts of executing as many as 1,700 prisoners, posting gruesome pictures as proof.
“That is scary,” you may say, “But what does all that have to do with Malaysia?”
A lot more than you may think. Just a few days ago, buried under news about the current Selangor political crisis, was an interview in the South China Morning Post with Ayub Khan, the senior counter-terrorism division official at Bukit Aman.
In that interview, Ayub revealed that some 19 Malaysian jihadists captured had confessed that there are plans to storm Putrajaya and replace the government with an Islamic Syariah government through armed warfare.
Along with that, they also planned to attack a disco, a Carlsberg factory and several pubs.
Are you starting to feel scared yet?
That’s just the tip of the iceberg, however. To date, some 30 Malaysians have flown to the Middle East to join ISIS’s cause, and last May, Ahmad Tarmimi Maliki was celebrated by ISIS on its website as Malaysia’s very first suicide bomber.
In an article titled “Mujahidin Malaysia Syahid Dalam Operasi Martyrdom”, ISIS detailed how the 26-year-old, who received militant training in Port Dickson, rammed a military SUV crammed with explosives into a SWAT headquarters, preceding an attack by other jihadists. He reportedly killed 25 Iraqi soldiers in his suicide charge.
Tarmimi is not alone. According to Ayub Khan, the number of actual militants currently looking to overturn our country’s government is probably much higher than the 19 already captured.
For a nation like Malaysia that touts itself as a successful moderate Muslim nation, this news is cause for panic.
Moderation is the better option
The rise of extremism in recent years is a worrying phenomenon, with groups like ISMA declaring that the Chinese are nothing more than migrants and should be treated as such and demanding additional taxation on those they deem have grown fat on the wealth of the land. This not so far from ISIS’s demand that non-Muslims pay a tax, be executed, or leave their territories.
Add to this the fact that our young men and women are now wilfully going through training to become militant jihadists, no time has ever been riper for Malaysia to return to the middle ground.
Despite one glaring black spot in our history and the occasional tension since, our society has been plural, accepting, inclusive and peaceful.
The days are not so far gone that we do not remember visiting our friends’ homes on cultural celebrations, sharing food with them, or roving through malls and streets speaking Malay despite our different skin colours.
The rise of extremism by nature demands that such behaviour be curbed in recognition of the “superiority” of a given ideology, and that is the way of life that we are in danger of losing should we continue to allow this miasma to creep its way into our society.
That way of life is Malaysia’s pride, as well as it’s biggest strength. The pluralistic society we live in has garnered praise and is looked upon as a model for other nations experiencing the phenomenon of multiculturalism.
The acceptance and respect of other beliefs and practices is one well-rooted in the teachings of Prophet Muhammad, who strove to govern his people with fairness and equality.
Prophet Muhammad’s covenant with the Christians in Madinah is astounding to read about. It’s no wonder that the rulers that followed his path closely led Islam into a stunning era of artistic and scientific advance. And that should be our goal as well.
Friends, we need each other. No person is an island unto himself. And Malaysia, as a nation, is no different. We should return to the principles that made this country great.
It’s time for the majority as one voice to speak out against extremism and the threat it holds against our very way of life because if we stay silent, we will have only ourselves to blame when groups like ISIS begin to wage their war on our shores.
“By the grace of Allah, you (Muhammad) are gentle towards the people; if you had been stern and harsh-hearted, they would have dispersed from round about you.”—The Quran, 3:159