Saturday, September 3, 2016

Batam-based Radio Hang’s dangerous network of Islamist extremists ― Mohamed Nawab Mohamed Osman and Aida Arosoaie


SEPTEMBER 3 ― The recent arrests of two Singaporeans planning to join the Islamic State group has cast a spotlight of a Batam based radio station, Radio Hang, which according to Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), radicalised the two individuals.

Two others placed on Restriction Orders were also found to have been radicalised by Radio Hang, highlighting the blurred lines between violent and non-violent extremism, and a growing network of transnational Islamist extremism detached from power dynamics.

Radio Hang was founded by former bank officer Zein Alatas in 2002 and was given a licence to operate a regular radio station. In 2005, Zein was influenced by the ideas of Ustaz Abdul Hakim Amir Abdat, a puritanical Indonesian Muslim scholar, and started airing the lectures by Hakim Abdat.

A decision was made about a year later to cease airing music largely due to the puritanical belief that music is prohibited in Islam. The station began exclusively airing Islamic sermons and lectures by puritanical scholars from Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and visiting scholars from the Middle East.

It has a following in the Riau Islands, southern Malaysia and Singapore.

In response to MHA’s statement, Zein Alatas has vehemently denied that Radio Hang promotes terrorism and radicalisation. Yet, a closer scrutiny of the sermons and of scholars featured on Radio Hang has revealed the opposite.

 Promoting intolerance and violence

The preachers of Radio Hang are known for their vilification of other Muslim sects that do not subscribe to their conception of Islam. Hakim Abdat is known for denigrating the minority Shia Muslim sect, referring to them as infidels and warning radio listeners about the purported threat posed by Shiahs to Islam.

In the same vein, Rasul Dahri, a Singaporean preacher who is currently jailed in Johor for teaching Islam without accreditation, accused those who celebrate the birthday of Prophet Muhammad (long a practice among South-east Asian Muslims) as having committed a sin bigger than murder. Such intolerant views are common themes discussed on Radio Hang and it is disingenuous for those running it to disavow its links to extremism.

This is because the station’s exclusionary and dogmatic discourse insidiously creates a systematic classification of the world in binaries of good and evil which condones the use of violence in particular circumstances.

In this context, as the sermons aired by the radio station vilify other Muslim sects such as the Shias, the undertone of their message justifies attacks against Shias in certain circumstances.

The juxtaposition of the preachers’ supreme authority in Islam and consistent push for puritanism command their followers to adjust their behaviour in response to the alleged threat to their religion.

This can be read as an unconditional readiness for violence. Furthermore, some of the preachers who go on air explicitly call upon individuals to take up arms in the name of Allah.

In a broadcast in October 2013, Ustaz Abu Saad, a freelance preacher who is featured regularly on Radio Hang, encouraged his listeners to embark on a “violent struggle” in Syria.

He referred to the act as the highest form of worship. Abu Saad has been active in fund-raising efforts for radical groups in Syria and has travelled there to disburse these funds and carry out humanitarian activities.

It must be qualified that the preachers on Radio Hang have openly criticised Islamic State and referred to the group as a divisive, deviant one.

But this is not due to their aversion to violent ideology of IS but rather because of their ideological leanings which are in line with other violent groups linked to al-Qaeda.

What is perhaps more worrying is that while the preachers on Radio Hang are actors with clear political allegiances, their followers appear to form a more loose movement detached from these power networks.

The case of Radio Hang shows the transnational network of puritanical Muslim scholars. In 2011, Singaporean preacher Rasul Dahri organised a fund-raising dinner in Kuala Lumpur for Radio Hang, aimed at sustaining its operational cost and building a secondary school to teach puritanical Islamic teachings.

Fathul Bari, a key leader of the youth wing of United Malays National Organisation (Umno) and a popular Muslim preacher, also supported these fund-raising efforts for Radio Hang. Both have spoken about the important role of the station in spreading the puritanical Islam teachings in Singapore and southern Malaysia.

Unlike the clerics, however, their followers’ penchant for the Islamist extremist rhetoric is based on a religious morality which bypasses political and strategic concerns.

The choice of joining IS in spite of the explicit pro-al-Qaeda rhetoric of Radio Hang indicates that these individuals are disinterested in the political divides that separate the two groups.

Since it was IS, not al-Qaeda, which claimed to have re-established the Caliphate, these individuals oscillated towards the former based solely on the group’s alleged association with the perceived righteous form of Islam.

Most South-east Asian individuals who joined IS in the past two years cited the purported creation of the Caliphate as the seminal factor in their decision to join the group.

As such, the politically-motivated Islamist extremist discourse employed by Radio Hang clerics has created an Islamist extremist movement which is governed solely by uncritically hateful beliefs.

The current trajectory of radicalisation in the region is worrying because of two important reasons.

First, the increasing number of a bottom-line transnational Islamist extremist movement that transcends political calculations will certainly bring along the increase of reactionary Islamophobic discourses throughout South-east Asia.

Secondly, the emergence of these parallel networks will make it increasingly difficult for both security advisers and policymakers to tackle the threat of violent extremism.

While established networks of Islamist extremists are easier to track, the seemingly autonomous Islamist extremist network which takes up arms based on individual considerations will be much harder to trace and tackle. ― TODAY

* Mohamed Nawab Mohamed Osman is assistant professor and coordinator of the Malaysia Programme in S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) and Aida Arosoaie is a senior analyst at the Malaysia Programme, RSIS.

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