Sunday, 8 October 2017

Radicalizing ASEAN's Muslims: ASEAN's Myanmar problem

It is a sad day when in 2017 a Nobel Peace Prize winner presides over a process which the United Nations refers to as ethnic cleansing. Unfortunately, there is no doubting the harsh reality of the Myanmar government's actions in Rakhine province. They occur daily, within Singapore's neighborhood and by a fellow ASEAN member state.

Singapore continues to struggles with its response to Myanmar's attrocious behavior. Certainly, the 'ASEAN Way' suggests there should be no interference in the domestic affairs of another ASEAN member state. This is a wise principle. Until recently, the axiom has served ASEAN well and allowed the organization to grow roots.

An old photograph of a mosque in Akyab. Akyan is now known as Sittwe and is the capital of Myanmar's Rakhine province. (Source: Wikipedia)
However, the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar's western Rakhine province no longer an internal matter. It has transformed into a regional crisis. The events unfolding in Myanmar's Rakhine state have grave security implications for Singapore, Malaysia and other ASEAN states.

Consequently, the time has come for Singapore and ASEAN to take a bolder stand in its relationship with Myanmar.

ASEAN is no stranger to violence perpetrated by Islamic extremists. Indonesia's off and on problem with such violence threatens to hit the headlines on any given day. Indeed, the region's traditionally 'non-Arab' strand of Islam has weakened enough to make the threat of Islamist violence in Malaysia so pervasive that Malaysian authorities arrest potential 'Jihadis' with alarming regularity. Even at the fringe of the Malay world in southern Thailand, religious-ethnic violence is a disturbingly routine affair.

Nonetheless, it is the Philippines which takes the (Islamic extremist) crown. Despite a 'strongman' leader the country faces an Iraq-like scenario with militants apparently loyal to Islamic State (ISIS) having taken over Marawi - a mid-size city - and held it captive for the previous four months. The siege to recapture Marawi is ongoing at the time of writing.

A photo dating from British colonial days of a mosque in Akyab (now Sittwe) the capital of Myanmar's Rakhine province. (Source: Wikipedia)
The events in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Myanmar may seem far removed from the Singapore's CCTV flooded sterile streets. However, in today's global village they can neve be far from Singapore's shores. These Islamic extremists feed a deviant belief structure which menacingly lurks below Singapore's ostensibly calm surface. 

Starting with the 2001 plot to bomb Yishun subway station stretching to the recent arrests of an Islamic State radicalized female infant care giver and two auxiliary police officers Singapore is not immune to Islamic extremism. On the contrary, based on the number of arrests, the threat to Singapore from Islamic extremists has increased in recent years.

The Rohingya Crisis in Myanmar feed a sense of injustice within Singapore (and the region's) Muslim community. Furthermore, the Singapore government's lack of condemnation of the Myanmar government's brutal behaviour risks alienating Muslims from Singapore's Islamic establishment. Singapore may be one of the largest foreign investors in Myanmar hoping for the crisis to miraculously disappear; but Singapore ignores the Rohingya crisis at its own peril.

Imran is an adventurer, blogger, consultant, guide, photographer, speaker, traveler and a banker in his previous life. At the time of writing, Imran is living in Rashidabad until December 2017 while a volunteer at the SST Public School. He is available on twitter (@grandmoofti); Instagram (@imranahmedsg) and can be contacted at

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