Changes needed at home to beat ISIS

DISPLACED: A Kurdish refugee washing dishes at a refugee camp in the Turkish border town of Suruc on Feb 2. ISIS' violence has forced many ordinary Syrians to flee their homes. The writer asks: While we extend our sympathies in response to similar situations nearby, why do we treat refugees in our own land so badly?
Changes needed at home to beat ISIS

NABBED: A 14-year-old Malaysian (left) was arrested on Feb 17 before she could board a Cairo-bound flight at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. She was suspected of attempting to head to Syria and join ISIS.


    Apr 24, 2015

    Changes needed at home to beat ISIS

    A BRIGHT spark in Malaysia's Cabinet recently said that women joined the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) because they were lonely.

    Actually, women usually join all sorts of nearby communities - like those of gyms, clubs, mosques and churches - if they are lonely.

    It does not explain, however, why there are a lot more men joining ISIS than women. Could they be even lonelier?

    The Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) has declared that it will go on an all-out war against ISIS' influence. This is a good thing and should be supported.

    But for any outside observer, it is too easy to see how Jakim's good intentions will fail. The gap between such intentions and reality is simply too large.

    Jakim may think that issuing a fatwa, or Islamic edict, against ISIS is the right move. In fact, it hardly makes a dent. For one thing, most people are not aware of any such fatwa.

    Second, such a fatwa is going to be ignored by ISIS recruiters because they do not respect Jakim's authority anyway. And their own fatwas, or opinions, on why it is good to join ISIS are far more seductive to certain impressionable people, male or female.

    Saying that it is un-Islamic to take up violence is certainly correct. Wanting to die a martyr's death, especially by suicide and killing others at the same time, is also forbidden in Islam.

    But it is not enough to stop at defining a terrorist merely as one who takes up arms and violence. We need to look more holistically at the issue of ISIS and who it directs its terror at.

    For a start, who is ISIS fighting and inflicting violence on? Thus far, it has terrorised just about anyone who disagrees with it, regardless of whether they are other Muslims - especially Shi'ites and other Sunnis - non-Muslim civilian populations such as the Yazidis and Christians, foreign humanitarian workers, journalists or just about anybody who refuses to pledge allegiance to its cause.

    So, the first thing we have to teach young people is to learn to accept that people have different views and beliefs. How do we do this when every day, someone of a different opinion or faith is being persecuted just for disagreeing with the dominant faith or government or, for that matter, just being different?

    If at home, we do not have any tolerance for people who disagree with us, how do we explain how ISIS treats differences in beliefs and views so violently?

    What is the difference between the way ISIS treats Shi'ites in Syria, for instance, and the way we do here, except for the degree of violence?

    This violence has forced huge numbers of ordinary Syrians to flee their homes. More than three million have fled to neighbouring countries, increasing the burden on their already strained societies.

    Another six million people are internally displaced, meaning that they are forced to leave their homes to look for shelter from ISIS within their own country. But as ISIS expands the territory under its rule, these people have to constantly move to look for safety.

    Think of what this feels like, to be constantly afraid, to be unsure of how to feed your children, to have no access to healthcare, schools and jobs. ISIS has also done a good job of destroying infrastructure in Syria so that humanitarian aid cannot even reach these beleaguered civilians.

    Why have we said nothing about these refugees? Why have we not extended help to them? And while we extend our sympathies in response to similar situations nearby, why do we treat refugees in our own land so badly?

    Then there is the way ISIS treats women. There is a horrific Human Rights Watch report based on interviews with women and girls who have escaped ISIS, telling of the systematic abductions, rape, torture and murder of women in the ISIS-held territories.

    Most of the women were Yazidi, a small community in Syria, but some were also Muslim. Some of the horror stories involved girls as young as 12, raped by gangs of ISIS fighters. Many were sold as slaves, with ISIS claiming it is Islamic to do this to prisoners of war.

    To counter ISIS at home, we thus need to teach our young to respect women and girls. We should have zero tolerance for violence against women and girls, regardless of what they wear, say or do.

    How do we do this when Jakim is silent, when women are threatened with rape for giving a different opinion on issues? Why are women constantly attacked just for speaking up?

    This is why Jakim's "war" against ISIS will fail. As the Malay saying goes, "Cakap tak serupa bikin" or "Not walking the talk". But there is another word for this - hypocrisy.


    The writer is a human rights activist who works on women's, children's and HIV/Aids issues.