While Malaysia has often been portrayed in the popular media as a progressive and pluralist country, some scholars have argued that an upsurge in religious conservatism — manifesting itself in exclusivist Islamist narratives — has created the conditions from which extremist ideas associated with ISIS draw support and sympathy. Yet even as legitimate concern for the appeal of ISIS and the return of foreign fighters grows, the very existence of these conservative and exclusivist religiopolitical narratives articulated by Malaysian Islamists operating in and referenced to a distinctly Malaysian context in fact limits the appeal of ISIS in Malaysia. By focusing specifically on the nexus between religion and ethnicity in Malaysia, and the historical development of a modern yet traditionally rooted expression of Malay-Islamic identity in contradistinction to “Westernization”, this article reveals the underpinnings of Malay Muslim religiopolitical legitimacy and contrasts them to the narratives of ISIS, outlining that ISIS’s failure to adequately contextualize its narratives has significantly blunted the terrorist organization’s appeal.


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pp. 86-113
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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