Arrest Surge Of Violent Hate Crimes In Malaysia: A Five Point National Security Imperative

Malaysia has in recent months, witnessed a spike in extremist movements and violent crimes. Incidents unfolded in the last 48 hours such as the lone wolf attack on the Ulu Tiram police station and the capturing of two men with parangs at Istana Negara, highlight the urgent need to address the root causes of extremism and growing proliferation of xenophobic and supremacist thoughts and narratives in public discourse.

This is but a continuation from a long thread of incidences including an elected MP narrowly escaped death by arson, a senior academic escalates his anti multiculturalism spiel and gets massive media space, a matter of constitutional right settled by the highest courts of the land in vernacular schools gets its higher than perennial salience, the Bak Kut Teh issue and others; all happening in the last quarter of the year.

Incendiary Narratives Against “The Other”

The growing prevalence of racially charged and ethno-religious supremacist narratives in our public discourse is increasingly disconcerting. Often masquerading as religious doctrine or cultural preservation,these incendiary narratives rife in WhatsApp groups and social media platforms widen existing divisions and mistrust among different racial and ethnic communities. These environments of amplified and in some cases fabricated hostility and exclusion serve as a greenhouses for radicalization and the spread of extremist ideologies.

Malaysia’s multiculturalism and multi-religious identity has always been the source national strength. However, the rise in racial and religious hate speech and related propaganda threatens its very foundation. Political operatives and organisations, and their proxies that exploit ethnic and religious identities for political means deepen these tensions, creating social and political volatility conducive to extremism.

The Link Between Hate Speech And Extremist Violence

The connection between hate speech and extremist violence is well-documented. Hate speech dehumanises targeted groups, justifying violence against them. It is also often an exploitation of ethnic and religious issues to create a narrative that equates the dominance of one group with national security and prosperity, and the fabricated loss of dominance being a threat. This dangerous and confrontational conflation breeds an exclusionary and hostile environment.

As a Democrat, the writer values freedom of expression as essential to our maturing democracy. However its abuse to incite hateful violence transforms it into a national security threat. The recent incidents of violence are symptomatic of the unchecked spread of hate speech. The rise of extremist groups like Jemaah Islamiyah and increased instances of armed attacks signals an urgent need for robust measures to curb hate speech and extremist ideologies.

Malaysia can, and needs to draw on the experiences of other nations, particularly those with similar social demographics such as the Middle East and other Muslim-majority countries that have faced similar challenges. These national experiences offer valuable insights in balancing freedom of expression with the need to maintain national security and social cohesion.

Saudi Arabia’s De-radicalisation Programs

Saudi Arabia has implemented several successful deradicalization programs, notably the Mohammed bin Nayef Center for Counseling and Advice, which combines elements of security operations with social services. This program includes religious counseling, psychological support, and vocational training to help reintegrate individuals into society. Despite challenges, the program has produced a significant successes in reducing recidivism among former radicalised individuals.

Additionally, the “Sakinah Campaign”, that operates as an independent, non-governmental organisation, supported by the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs, which focuses on countering online radicalisation and recruitment through engaging with individuals on extremist forums and social media. It combines mapping extremist narratives and materials with direct online dialogues to debunk extremist ideologies and promote moderate interpretations of Islam.

Indonesia’s Counter-Radicalisation Efforts

Our neighbouring Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, has also put in place initiatives to combat extremism. Special units to monitor and counter hate speech online has been establish by the government taking cognisance of the role of the internet in radicalising individuals. The “Deradikalisasi” campaign, which involves comprehensive rehabilitation programs, includes religious re-education, psychological counseling, and community engagement to reintegrate former extremists into society. These efforts aim to address both the ideological and social factors contributing to radicalisation.

Policy Recommendations For Malaysia

Drawing on these international examples, Malaysia must adopt a multifaceted approach to address the surge in extremist movements and violent crimes. We must consider the following:

  1. Legislation Against Hate Speech: There is an urgent need for legislation that specifically targets hate speech and incitement to violence and not relying on existing sedition laws. These laws should focus on curbing speech that incites hatred and violence while protecting legitimate freedoms of expression and religious practice.
  2. Comprehensive De-radicalisation Programs: The government should invest in programs that offer religious counselling, psychological support, vocational training, and community reintegration. The strategic imperative should be to rehabilitate individuals influenced by or under the influence of extremist ideologies and prevent recidivism.
  3. Educational Initiatives: Prevention is better than cure. Educational curricula should emphasise values of multiculturalism, tolerance, and mutual respect. By educating our youths about the dangers and impacts of hate speech and the importance of social cohesion, we can build a resilient Malaysian identity.
  4. Community Engagement: Collaborating with religious leaders, scholars and NGOs to promote moderate, inclusive and hormonious interpretations of any given religion is paramount. Community-based initiatives can help counteract extremist narratives and foster social harmony.
  5. Ramp up Domestic Research on Terrorism and Radicalisation: The Southeast Asia Regional Centre for Counter-Terrorism (SEARCCT), under the purview of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has the capacity and institutional mandate to do all of the above; it just needs to be scaled up in depth and intensity. More funding and their increased integration into domestic counter terrorism efforts must be considered.

A National Security Imperative

Addressing the surge of extremist movements and violent crimes is not merely a matter of law enforcement; it is a national security imperative that requires a concerted effort from all sectors of society. By tackling the root causes of extremism and propagating an inclusive and tolerant public discourse, Malaysia can cultivate a safer and more cohesive nation for all its citizens.

Ultimately, the age old adage of “stronger together” has never been more important, with these undercurrents of hate spilling out to the fore. The very fabric of our peaceful and harmonious pluralistic nation is seeing the beginnings of an existential attack. We must come together to do nothing less than nipping it in the bud.