On 22nd March 2019, the Asia-Europe Institute (AEI), in collaboration with the Centre for ASEAN Regionalism University of Malaya (CARUM) and the Department of International Relations and Strategic Studies, University of Malaya, organised the AEI Lecture Series on the topic of “Terrorism in Southeast Asia: Trends and Challenges”. The lecture series was presented by a panel of distinguished speakers that included Associate Prof. Dr Bilveer Singh, Mr Jasminder Singh, and Mr Muhammad Haziq Bin Jani, and moderated by Dr Roy Anthony Rogers from the Department of International Relations and Strategic Studies, University of Malaya. The lecture was held at the Asia-Europe Institute Auditorium. This being a trending topic, the lecture attracted a sizable audience of around 200 participants.
The first speaker, Associate Prof. Dr Bilveer Singh, Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Centre of Excellence for National Security (CENS) at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) and an Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science, National University of Singapore, spoke about a range of themes and issues with regards to terrorism in Southeast Asia. Citing example of the recent terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, he pointed out that every religion and ideology has had its fair share of violence. According to Dr. Bilveer, terrorism may be defined as an act of violence for political goals. It has been an old threat that has worsened further by new developments. Dr Bilveer also explained about the history of terrorism that could be divided into four waves - the anarchist wave, the anti-colonial or decolonization wave, the new left wave or leftist anti-Western sentiment and the religiously inspired wave. He went on to further explain about the two types of radicalisation - the non-violent radicalisation and violent radicalisation. Non-violent radicalisation is also known as passive radicalization where one only believes in radical ideology without taking any action. Violent radicalisation, also known as active radicalization, is where one acts out radically through violence or violence-related activities, including ideological support and recruitment for a particular group.
Further into the lecture, Dr Bilveer discussed the causes of terrorism and extremism, in general and in the context of Southeast Asia, in particular. He then provided an overview of the number of terror attacks that have been carried out by the different militant groups in Southeast Asia by exploring the landscape of the terror threats in the region. These involved countries such as Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines and Myanmar. Latest terror attacks that took place in 2017 and 2018 both in Marawi and Surabaya respectively were highlighted. Besides explaining about the many acts of terrorism, Dr Bilveer also analysed solutions to combating terrorism through counter-radicalisation and de-radicalisation. Counter-radicalisation refers to the efforts of preventing the process of radicalization by targeting societal elements that have not been exposed to radical ideology while de-radicalisation refers to the efforts aimed at reversing an individual who has already been radicalized or exposed to radical ideology. De-radicalisation is aimed at persuading an individual to renounce the radical faith, if not, at least, to renounce the use of violence as a mode of behaviour. In addition to counter-radicalisation and de-radicalisation, there are existing solutions that have been undertaken through both hard and soft measures. Dr Bilveer explained that hard measures mostly refer to tough legal actions where terrorists are detained and hard measures may also be undertaken through international cooperation. Soft measures, on the other hand, help in engaging with the former terrorists and also neutralising terror groups through persuasion and co-option. Overall, Dr Bilveer provided a very clear explanation on terrorism in general before going into the specifics in Southeast Asia and his vibrant and energetic approach was something that the audience thoroughly enjoyed.
Our second speaker, Mr Muhammad Haziq Bin Jani, a former Research Analyst, at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, talked about the issue of Islamic terrorism. Mr Haziq explained that Islamic terrorism has its presence in Southeast Asia and briefly touched on the challenges and trends of Islamic terrorism in the region. He went on to reiterate that terrorism is an act of violence that does not represent any particular religion..
Our third speaker, Mr Jasminder Singh, the former Senior Analyst at the International Centre for Political Violence & Terrorism Research (ICPVTR), S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, presented on the role of social media in contributing towards acts of terrorism. In his lecture, he explained the way ISIS disseminated their propaganda through publications on social media as well as the ways ISIS recruited their members through the use of new media. Mr. Singh mentioned that ISIS propaganda via social media was indeed compelling and convincing enough that enabled ISIS to recruit many young people. Even some who are considered unlikely, such as, academicians, have been influenced by their propaganda.
After each panel speakers completed their respective presentations, the session was followed by a Q&A with the audience. International participants in the audience talked about experiences in their own country as they stood up to have a conversation with the panel speakers. After the Q&A session, Prof. Dr Low Wah Yun, AEI’s Deputy Executive Director of Research & Internationalisation presented all the speakers and the moderator with a small token of appreciation. The Asia-Europe Institute Lecture Series ended with a group photo with all the speakers, the moderator, Prof. Dr. Low Wah Yun, Associate Prof. Dr. Jatswan Singh Harnam Singh, Deputy Executive Director (Academic) and Director for the Centre for ASEAN Regionalism (CARUM) as well as the Senior Lecturers at the Asia-Europe Institute, Dr Rahul Mishra and Dr Nurliana Kamaruddin.
Prepared by Aaron Denison Deivasagayam.