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  • A Handbook of Terrorism and Insurgency in Southeast Asia
  • Paul J. Smith (bio)
A Handbook of Terrorism and Insurgency in Southeast Asia. Edited by Andrew T.H. Tan. Glos.: Edward Elgar Press, 2007. Hardcover: 491 pp.

Immediately after the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States, Southeast Asia began to be characterized by various media reports as the “second front” in the American-led “war on terrorism”. At a news conference held in 2007 in Washington, D.C., Brigadier General John Toolan, Principal Director for South and Southeast Asia, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense, described Southeast Asia as a “crucial front in the long war” against violent extremism. Recent mass casualty attacks in the region, such as the 2002 Bali bombing (which killed more than 200 individuals) and the 2004 sinking of the MV Superferry 14 in the Philippines (which killed more than 100 individuals), have bolstered fears that terrorism has become entrenched within the region. However, the recent proliferation of terrorism-focused scholarly literature, public discussions and government warnings regarding terrorism in Southeast Asia has been criticized by some as excessively alarmist and focused exclusively and unjustifiably on Islamist-related terrorism. The recently-published Handbook of Terrorism and Insurgency in Southeast Asia seeks to address these concerns by providing a full-spectrum approach to terrorism and insurgency in the region.

This edited book is divided into six sections, each focusing on a particular theme of terrorism. Not only does the book cover Islamist terrorism — with extensively detailed chapters focusing on various jihadi groups — but it also highlights other non-religious terrorism (such as classic separatist insurgencies), and also includes an extensive analysis of terrorism emanating from the state itself, perhaps the most horrific form of terrorism in terms of scale of violence and numbers of individuals tortured and killed.

The first section of the book is written solely by the editor and provides a broad overview of terrorism in the region. Among other things, he argues that the persistence of terrorism and other substate violence in Southeast Asia can be attributed to “low levels of governance, ineffective institutions and a high level of corruption” (p. 17). The editor also proposes a useful four-class division model for analyzing different types of terrorist groups or terrorism-generating movements in the region, including (1) separatist insurgencies; (2) armed anti-government political opposition groups; (3) radical Islamist groups which aim to overthrow the central government [End Page 155] by force; and (4) an amorphous mix of mostly overt and currently legitimate radical organizations “that have known sympathies for radical Islamist ideology, but which are seen by governments to possess the potential for violence” (p. 45).

The second section focuses on the contemporary challenge of radical, militant Islam. A theme that emerges in many of the chapters is the connectivity between local movements and the larger, global Islamist-jihadi movement. For example, Australian analyst Greg Fealy asserts that an organizing theme found within most militant Muslim groups is a persistent narrative of humiliation and vulnerability fostered by the “ruthless manipulation and exploitation by the Christian and Jewish-controlled West, which is inherently hostile to Islam” (p. 65). This narrative can be found among disparate groups in the region, which may explain some instances of trans-regional cooperation among certain groups. This theme of connectivity between local and global terrorism trends is explored further in Adam Dolnik’s examination of suicide bombings in Southeast Asia, which he characterizes as “not surprising” given the fact that “suicide bombings have become the most influential and fastest-spreading terrorist tactic in the world” (104). Dolnik notes that the planners for the various suicide attacks in Indonesia were pro-Al Qaeda members of Jemaah Islamiyah, thus reinforcing the theory of strong connectivity between local and global organizations. Dolnik ominously predicts that the tactic may likely spread into Southern Thailand and the Philippines in the near future.

Elena Pavlova provides a comprehensive look at the ideology underpinning Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), and particularly the group’s doctrinal document known as Pedoman Umum Perjuangan Al-Jama’ah Al-Islamiyah (PUPJI) which, she argues was instrumental in refashioning JI as an “alternative community of believers” (p. 99...


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pp. 155-158
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