Bayan Lepas incident a case of terrorism, make no mistake - Commander S THAYAPARAN (Retired) Royal Malaysian Navy
Saturday, September 28, 2019
The place of the attack and killing
Malaysiakini : “Thoughts and ideas cannot be criminalised but when they are used
to groom and entice aggression to where beliefs turn into bullets, then
labels become of utmost importance.”― Aysha Taryam
COMMENT | I want to make this very clear. The man killed
in Bayan Lepas by police was a terrorist. He may have been mentally
disturbed. He may have suffered from depression. This should not
detract from the fact that he committed acts of murder and violence in
furtherance of whatever radical agenda he discovered online.
I get that some Malaysians take comfort in the possibility that he was
mentally disturbed or depressed, but the reality is that "something
dark this way comes".
You could refer to him as a “lone wolf”
terrorist - the Rand Corporation refers to them as flaming bananas - but
what we should not do is attempt to downplay his actions and normalise
these sorts of acts because Southeast Asia has become the new theatre of
operations for radical Islamic groups from the Middle East.
have written about this extensively because I consider extremism - more
than kleptocracy - as the existential threat facing this country. As
usual, because of the racial and religious polemics of this country, we
have become used to two disturbing narratives that cloud the issue.
first narrative is to ignore or downplay the event in hopes of not
creating an issue when it comes to religious extremism. This means that
the state security apparatus and political operatives downplay the
incident so as to not worry the rakyat. What we have here is an
individual who was radicalised (for whatever reasons) by what he saw
online and the powers-that-be attempt to reassure the public that all is
copacetic when it comes to the racial and religious political terrain
in this country.
The second narrative is the one promulgated
by the likes of Puteri Umno, for example. This is to latch on to the
incident as a means to galvanise support amongst the Malay/Muslim base.
The allegation that this act was done in the service of protecting the
sanctity of religion is the go-to strategy of extremists groups (here
and abroad) when it comes to securing support.
Indeed as reported in the Straits Times: “Malaysia has arrested
16 people on suspicion of terrorism, including a person said to have
been plotting attacks on unnamed politicians and non-Muslims.
16 suspects - 12 Indonesians, three Malaysians and one Indian - were
nabbed between July 10 and Sept 25 in Sabah, Selangor, Sarawak, Penang,
Pahang, Kuala Lumpur and Johor.
"One of the Malaysian suspects had
planned to stage attacks in the country following 'negative comments'
allegedly about Islam and insulting to the Malays, said
Counter-terrorism Division chief Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay."
to the inspector-general of police (IGP), clips of the “Middle East” on
social media influenced the suspect. In other words, he was radicalised
by online material and carried out murderous acts he believed would
further whatever cause he subscribed to. The IGP said that these clips
on social media had nothing to do with Malaysia.
I beg to differ.
This has everything to do with Malaysia. The way how political elites
promote and propagandise events in the Middle East as a means to rally
support among the Muslim base helps further the narratives of victimhood
and oppression. The political and religious rhetoric of state actors
further calcifies religious dogma in our public institutions and
radicalises a segment of the population into believing that theocratic
impulses trump democratic norms.
But it goes further than that. Two years ago, I wrote a piece
arguing that the cultural and political ethos of this country is
conducive to the kind of Islamic state religious dogma that finds an
audience with disenfranchised youths looking to change the political
paradigm through religious violence. In it, I referenced a piece by
Shmuel Bar of the Brookings Institute which bears repeating:
“Facing the radical weltanschauung,
the moderate but orthodox Muslim has to grapple with two main dilemmas:
the difficulty of refuting the legal-religious arguments of the radical
interpretation and the aversion to - or even prohibition of - inciting
an Islamic kulturkampf which would split the ranks of the ummah.”
other words, besides attempts to downplay incidents like these, the
state through its religious bureaucracy continues to demonise “moderate”
Muslim voices (like Sisters in Islam, for instance, or individuals like
the late Kassim Ahmad) thereby creating a toxic atmosphere. In an
atmosphere like this, worse impulses of religious dogma are explored and
validated while the country gets lost in the endless new cycle of
corruption cases and race-baiting.
Observe the false narrative on terrorism as propagated by Umno. In Umno Online, Umno Youth exco member Najmil Faiz Mohamed Ari claimed that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was a threat
to national security. He claimed that the LTTE had a base of operations
here and that it included sympathisers like (Human Resources Minister) M
Kulasegeran. He urged the authorities to “investigate”.
is so worried about the LTTE, which has been branded a terrorist
organisation by Western bodies, why not worry about the Islamic groups
which have been branded the same by those same sources he quotes?
why not worry about the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS)
in which PAS leader Abdul Hadi Awang has a prominent role and which
Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain have called a terror group.
From their public statement:
“The two listed entities are terrorist organisations working to promote
terrorism through the exploitation of Islamic discourse and its use as a
cover to facilitate various terrorist activities.” Is this a threat to
Puteri Umno vice-chief Nuril Amal Mohd Fauzi in praising the Bayan
Lepas “martyr” because of his acts in retaliating against “insult to the
Prophet” is merely another strand in the narrative of the way how the
political apparatus in this country gives legitimacy to acts of
extremism while denouncing non-Muslim terror groups as a threat to
But why even think this is out of the ordinary? Read Malaysiakini’s interview with the ex-ISA detainee and bombmaker Yazid Sufaat. Or
consider the views of the then home affairs minister Hishammuddin
Hussein who lamented the death of terrorist Nordin Mat Top whom he
believed could have been rehabilitated.
Or our history of reclaiming the bodies of extremists who fought in the
Philippines and now, allowing Islamic State fighters to return to this country.
the narratives that Islam is under threat. Or the numerous pressure
groups which claim that liberalism is a threat to Islam. Or mainstream
political groups that want to impose syariah law on non-Muslims. Or the fact that the state has been implicated in the disappearance of Pastor Raymond Koh and activist Amri Che Mat?
How does it go again? The first step in solving a problem is recognising there is one.