The threats of terrorism over Southeast Asia has never been new to the region, but with such groups like ISIS, this is another question to answer over what is going on in the region. In fact, the rise of ISIS in Southeast Asia seriously threatens the security of all regions in the area.
So why does it happen?
Islam has been introduced to the region at 13th century following the arrival of Indian, Arab and Persian traders into the region. It was the core of converts to Islam in the massive region known as today’s Pattani (Thailand) and mainland Malaysia; Aceh, Borneo (Indonesia); Mindanao (Philippines), Arakan (Myanmar) and the Mekong Delta (Cambodia and Vietnam).
At the 15th century, there even existed some Islamic empires, notably was the Bruneian Empire as its expansion surround Borneo, Mindanao and even extended to Luzon in today’s Philippines. Some Sultanate states were formed in what would be today’s Thai-Malaysian border. There was even an attempt to convert Cambodia into an Islamic country.
The expansion of Islam was not welcomed by some other countries in the region, nor even later European colonizers. After Spain conducted mass conquest in Luzon and Visayas, they also started to provide Christian (Catholic) missionary into the Philippines, and the destruction of mosques and Islamic rule. Spanish expansion even came to Mindanao, a traditional homeland of the Moros, a Malay-related Muslim people, making them become a minority. In Cambodia, after Ibrahim Ramathipadi came to power, he tried to force Khmers, whom mostly Buddhists, going to Islam, thus Vietnam decided to intervene and overthrew the Cambodian Sultan due to sparking fears over Islamization of Vietnam. Siam later invaded and defeated Malay states in the South, annexed it into Siamese territory. Burma has a long time of persecution of Muslim minority, due to the fears of Islamization, through the Taungoo and Konbaung Dynasties.
Later European colonization of most Southeast Asia also continued to a long time anti-Islamic rules in most of Southeast Asia. No matter which one rule, Islamic resistances followed with more persecution. Hence, some Muslim people felt that they were left behind. They engaged in some Islamic unrests, however, they were mostly suppressed. Not all Muslim people were taken over, such notably Malaysia and Indonesia still remain Muslim majority, however, the hatreds has undergone for many centuries.
The core of modern hostilities
Hence, because of difficulties, some Muslims found there was zero hope to believe on peaceful negotiation. They went armed struggle and still go armed rebellion against some countries in the region. Through time, with the expansion of Islamic terrorism led by Al-Qaeda and Taliban groups, some emerged into Islamic radicalism such as Abu Sayyaf to Jemaah Islamiyah.
Most of these groups used the waves of anger of some Muslim peoples (Moros) or radicalized Indonesians, Malaysians to even Rohingyas and Chams so they can advocate into Islamic rebellions. In turn, they attacked civilians, with a wrong faith that killing more people would lead them to paradise.
ISIS has emerged as a more dangerous and cruel than Al-Qaeda. Daesh, with a strong propaganda and terror plans, has gained many footholds backing them behind. Thus, even they are getting crushed days and nights by the anti-ISIS coalition, they can still count on smaller organizations. Southeast Asia, with large Muslim population, is attracted for.
Due to the existence of some Islamist militant groups like Jemaah Islamiyah, Abu Sayyaf and even now, Maute, this led them to be more cruel, more hostile, savage and deadlier. ISIS’s influence spreads quickly among many Islamic militants. They seem to have prepared for an alternative situation over their destruction in Syria and Iraq.
The attack by an advocated ISIS groups, the Maute and the Abu Sayyaf in Marawi City; then a series of bombing by ISIS members in Jakarta show that ISIS is not easy to give up at all. In fact, ISIS has never stopped to seek places to establish its Caliphate. And their strikes in Southeast Asia is just the beginning for a new safe house of ISIS.
How does Southeast Asia prepare for it?
It’s unknown how the ASEAN countries get a touch over ISIS, but there has a serious change. Duterte, after cutting his tour in Russia, has announced martial law in all Mindanao and deployed military to fight the ISIS-led Maute rebels. In Indonesia, President Widodo has called for terrorism law reforms. In Malaysia, security is tied to a high level. In Thailand, the Thai Government has been seriously following the situation in Southern Thailand where exists series of Malay Muslim unrest in the region.
There also has been an increasing of military cooperation and security ties between so many countries in Southeast Asia in the wake of Islamic terrorism. And this is how to combat with the threats of ISIS rising in the region when Daesh is losing in Syria and Iraq. Virtually, most Southeast Asian nations seem to be aware of it.