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123 The Fluid Terrain of Islamism in Southeast Asia Joseph Chinyong Liow Joseph Chinyong Liow is Associate Dean and Associate Professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He specializes in Muslim politics in Malaysia and the insurgency in southern Thailand and has published widely in these topics. He is the author of two forthcoming books on political Islam in Malaysia and Islamic education in southern Thailand. He can be reached at . 124 Executive Summary This essay identifies and analyzes broad political trends emerging in Muslim Southeast Asia in recent years. Main Argument: The terrain of Islamist politics in Southeast Asia is dynamic in terms of its actors and activism. Muslim communities in Southeast Asia have been caught up in a global resurgence of Islamic identity that is increasing religiosity at an individual level. Consequently, Islam has become more politically salient, and Islamic credentials are becoming increasingly important for politicians to gain popular votes. This in turn raises questions regarding the prospects for pluralism and secularism. Additionally the region itself is undergoing a process of democratization that is increasingly giving voice to the masses and revealing alternative centers of power and legitimacy. Whether the two forces of Islamization and democracy will ultimately collide or coexist remains to be seen. Policy Implications: • Although supporters of the status quo far outnumber the champions of the Islamic state in Indonesia and Malaysia, there are likely to be shifts in this configuration in the not-toodistant future. These shifts must be detected and thoughtfully scrutinized. • Managing the growing salience of political Islam requires a nuanced and sophisticated approach. Clamping down on Muslim political assertiveness could put Muslims on the defensive and push them closer to the radicals and militants. • Moreover, secularism, which Muslims see as an anti-religious, Western concept, is not a viable model for governance. Muslim leaders who can respect Islamic orthodoxy while promoting a more progressive understanding of Islam are needed. • Given the increasing number of calls for the implementation of sharia, the ulama, who are gaining greater prominence, must have the sophistication to render Islamic law relevant in today’s globalized world. 125 liow T here are two contending schools of thought regarding the rise of Islamism in Southeast Asia.1 The first perpetuates the alarmist narrative that Islamist extremists and terrorists have come to dominate the political terrain of Muslim Southeast Asia since September 11, 2001. According to this school of thought, Muslims in Southeast Asia are increasingly embracing extremist religious interpretations that are largely militant in character.2 The second school of thought challenges this narrative. For example, one scholar recently argued that Muslim leaders in Southeast Asia are marrying Islam to economic development and democracy in an increasingly effective fashion.3 As a result, extremism—in particular violent jihad—appears to be on a downward trend in Southeast Asia. Although in many ways polar opposites, both schools of thought identify key trends that should inform an analysis of Islamism in contemporary Southeast Asia. This essay analyzes these trends—exploring both the rising conservatism of Southeast Asian Muslim communities as an expression of religious piety and the persistent threat posed by terrorism claiming religious justification. The essay stresses the need to properly appreciate the role global and local conditions play in framing our understanding of how Islamism is influencing political and security dynamics in Southeast Asia. This analysis proceeds by first examining trends in religiosity among Southeast Asian Muslims as well as the impact of the forces of transnational Islam. The next section then investigates these trends in terms of the configurations of politics and conflict in Indonesia, Malaysia, southern Thailand, and the southern Philippines. The essay concludes with an exploration of trends and policy implications. Terrorism, Heightened Religiosity, and Transnational Islam in Southeast Asia Most analysts agree that the threat of Islamist terrorism in Southeast Asia has been significantlyreduced.Withimprovedoperationalandintelligencecapacities,Indonesian authorities have crippled the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) terrorist network. A clear indication of this progress has been the relative silence in Poso, which formerly served as a major theater for JI activities in Indonesia. JI religious leaders are believed to have fled Poso, 1 Islamism, or political Islam, can be defined as the move to ascribe to Islam a greater role in the organization of society and politics (possibly with the formation of an Islamic state as its ultimate goal). 2 See Bilveer Singh, The Talibanization of Southeast Asia: Losing the War on Terror to Islamist Extremists (Westport: Praeger, 2007). Much...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781939131256
MARC Record
OCLC
868221262
Pages
160
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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