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To understand more about why you are so important to our member-supported initiative, we encourage you to read the following from our managing editor ~ Read more

The Globe as you know it is changing.

Since 2007, Southeast Asia Globe has been a space for some of the region’s best writers and photographers to take our readers behind the headlines into the stories that shape people’s lives. Every month, you could expect to pick up our latest print edition and find high-quality journalism, analysis and artwork waiting on every page. And since 2007, we’ve fought to uphold our promise of quality and independence to you, our readers.

But, like we said, the world is changing. Print publications just aren’t reaching the audiences they need to fulfil their promise of informing, educating and entertaining the public. Advertisers continue to invest in digital platforms while printing costs creep ever higher. Print may not be dead, but it’s fighting for its life. And we’re tired of waiting by a sickbed for its condition to improve. We want to be present at the birth of something new.

That’s why Southeast Asia Globe is relaunching as a member-driven platform featuring daily long-form features combining world-class journalism with enthralling art design and data-centered tech. Through our core pillars – Power, Money, Life and Earth – we are focusing in on the central issues that our readers have always engaged with most, with the same in-depth coverage of politics, business, social affairs and the environment that you’ve come to expect since 2007.

But leaving print behind us doesn’t just save our backs from lugging stacks of magazines across Southeast Asia. It opens up a global readership who don’t just want to read the news, but have a say in the stories that we tell and the way that we tell them. We’re not asking you to take out another magazine subscription – our stories are open to all. What we’re offering our members is a space where they can pitch and vote on the stories that they think deserve to be told. We want to inspire an engaged and active community of members who vote for, comment on and contribute to the stories that matter most to them. We want to work with our members to curate the way they engage with the news – not just as readers, but as an active extension of our editorial team.

That’s how we’re changing to bring you great stories. Here’s how we’re not.

We’re independent. Always have been, always will be. We’re not owned by any corporation or aligned with any state. We choose the stories that we tell, and the way that we tell them.

We’re creative. We’re not interested in churning out breaking news stories on the hour, every hour. We believe that the best stories are the ones that come alive on the page, digging deeper into the issues that shape Southeast Asia – and bringing you along for the ride. From our dedicated designers to our new software development team, our commitment is to constantly challenge ourselves to find new ways of reaching out to our readers.

We’re open. Challenging governments, NGOs and businesses to be transparent with the public means nothing if we keep our own readers in the dark. That’s why we will be completely open about why we tell the stories that we tell – and how we pay for them. Work with us to build something that endures where many media fail, and decide with us exactly where that money is going.

Above all, we’re optimistic. And yeah, we know what you’re thinking. Faced with impending climate collapse, the rise of right-wing authoritarian governments across the world, widening wealth and income inequality and deepening divisions rooted in race or gender or creed, it’s hard not to open the papers and feel the weight of the world pressing down. But we wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t believe that when people work together, they can make their little corner of the world a more just, open and equal place.

And that’s why we can’t do this without you. We believe that across the globe is a community of people who care deeply about social justice, environmental action and press freedom – and who will join in to help make those ideals a reality. We’re not just holding our hand out – we need your voice to play a vital role in building Southeast Asia Globe into a leading space for progressive causes in the region. Tell us what stories the mainstream media is missing. Share with us the causes that matter most to you, and how we can champion those causes not just across Southeast Asia, but the world.

Our vision is clear. By 2025, we want to be recognised for building a great space for outstanding journalists from across the region to explore new ways of telling Southeast Asia’s most vital stories. Let’s bring together a community of engaged and loyal members who want to help reshape the media rather than just read it. And we want to reach a point where our readers, not advertisers, are the ones working to support our shared vision of an inclusive media.

We can’t do this without you. Let’s get together and build something that we all believe in.

If you’re interested in joining us, sign up to our newsletter, like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter. And watch this space.

Is Malaysia a world leader in the deradicalisation of Islamist miltants?

By: Daniel Besant - Posted on: January 14, 2016 | Current Affairs

Malaysia claims great success in deradicalisation and is offering its expertise to other nations. But questions remain over the scope of the programme’s achievements and the legislation that underpins it

In the wake of November’s terrorist attacks in Paris, the threat of Islamic State (Isis)-inspired attacks in the region has hardly left the headlines, not least in Malaysia.

ISIS, Islamist, malaysia
Poster boy: a protester during a rally in front of the Petronas Twin Towers, the venue of the 27th Asean summit in Kuala Lumpur. Photo: AP

Fifty thousand Malaysians support Isis, claimed Liow Tiong Lai, the country’s transport chief and head of the Malaysian Chinese Association – a key component of the ruling Barisan National coalition – at a security conference in Kuala Lumpur on December 12. “If only 1% of these sympathisers turn radical, and if they attack any part of Malaysia, we will be in trouble,” the minister said in a speech widely reported by the nation’s news outlets.

According to police figures, about 100 Malaysians have travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight. And in November, 2,000 police were deployed in Kuala Lumpur’s city centre after intelligence reports indicated that ten suicide bombers were at large and planning to attack an Asean conference, a threat that failed to materialise.

Although Malaysia has, in recent decades, been spared carnage on the scale of Indonesia’s Bali bombings or the protracted insurgencies by Muslims seeking autonomy in the Philippines, Paris-style attacks are a threat, according to the government. “I think the Paris situation can also be transplanted here, in Southeast Asia, where we also have fertile ground for recruitment of such operatives who will receive directives from Syria to carry out attacks,” Nur Jazlan Mohamed, the country’s deputy home minister, told Reuters in November.

And last month, in a speech launching the Islamic State Seminar: Jihad vs Militancy in Kuala Lumpur, Mohamed announced that 24 local deradicalisation and counter-terrorism experts had been appointed to help address radicalism and militancy nationally and overseas. He went on to say that, as suggested by the seminar’s title, jihad doesn’t necessarily involve militancy and that Malaysians should concentrate on “knowledge, religion, economics, Islamic laws and morals that could elevate the contributions of Muslims in the eyes of the world”.

In September, the country joined the US-led Global Coalition to Counter ISIL (an alternative acronym for Isis), mostly in a counter-messaging role exposing the extremists’ messages of violence and hate and presenting an alternative, inclusive path. Since 2010, Malaysia’s prime minister, Najib Razak, has been touting the Global Movement of Moderates, an initiative aiming to bring together Muslim scholars and experts from around the world in order “to define what an actual Islamic State should look like based on centuries of Islamic thought, emphasising principles such as justice, compassion and humility”, the Diplomat reported.

Over the years, Malaysia has claimed great achievements with its decades-old deradicalisation programme. Most recently, in October, Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi claimed that “our success rate is 95%”.

While that figure is unverifiable, Malaysia does appear to have built upon and modified its experience in designing rehabilitation programmes in order to respond to the current generation of Islamist militants, said Kumar Ramakrishna of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore. “There is a continual exchange of ideas on deradicalisation and rehabilitation both within and outside government with neighbouring Southeast Asian countries as well as with partners further afield,” he said.

This month Kuala Lumpur plays host to the International Conference on Deradicalisation and Countering Violent Extremism. Western nations have been closely watching Malaysia’s efforts and, in December, Hamidi said that experts from the Royal Malaysian Police, Prisons Department and the Malaysia Islamic Development Department would be travelling to Australia to conduct training sessions on their methods.

This followed a trip by Michael Keenan, Australia’s justice minister, to Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines to meet counterparts there and discuss counter-terrorism. In a statement, he said: “Relationships with traditional and non-traditional allies are more important than ever because terrorism – particularly the movement of foreign fighters – is a threat to us all.”

Malaysia’s deradicalisation programme has roots in the country’s fight against a communist insurgency from the late 1940s until 1960. Following revisions of its Internal Security Act in 1960 in order to prevent future insurgencies, Malaysia introduced extrajudicial powers to hold potential security offenders for 60 days without trial and issue renewable two-year detention orders to those prisoners it decided not to release. In parallel with this, a deradicalisation programme was initiated with the aim of countering the political leanings of captured terrorists through counselling sessions and by offering support to their families, thereby lessening their sense of marginalisation.

ISIS, Islamist, Malaysia
On guard: members of the military and police patrol outside the venue for the 27th Asean summit in Kuala Lumpur in November. A police memo leaked before the event warned of ten suicide bombers planning to attack the gathering. Photo: AP

In a 2013 paper entitled Rehabilitating Islamist Extremists: Successful Methods in Prison-Centred ‘Deradicalisation’ Programmes, Marc Jones from the University of Leeds in England outlines the four-point programme used by Malaysia. Firstly, detainees are offered daily religious classes providing Islamic studies. Then comes a rehabilitation component that focuses on individuals who have responded well to the first phase and expressed a desire to give up militancy. In this part, prisoners attend an intensive course “built around discussion and debate with Islamic clerics” in small groups of five to seven people. Thirdly, there is an evaluation and monitoring programme, run by the police, “who conduct continuous checks in order to assess whether the programme is being conducted correctly”. In conjunction with this, the Malaysia Islamic Development Department holds twice-yearly evaluations of participants who have been released. And lastly, the spouses of detainees are engaged by officials and clerics in order to discuss the difficulties they face while their partner is detained.

Post-release, former detainees are given financial assistance, so they do not rely on handouts from Jemaah Islamiyah, the Southeast Asian militant Islamist group that is most active in Malaysia. And they are paid a basic salary by the state to help their transition. Crucially, police closely monitor anyone who leaves the programme.

The Internal Security Act, under which those deemed a threat to security could be detained indefinitely, was repealed in 2012 but, since then, equally draconian legislation has been brought in under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), and the government now has even wider-ranging security powers following last month’s National Security Council Bill. The POTA reintroduced preventive detention for suspected terrorist offenders without trial for up to 59 days. Under POTA, instead of judicial review, two-year extensions or termination of detentions of individuals will be decided by a Prevention of Terrorism Board.

According to Ramakrishna, Malaysia’s rehabilitation and deradicalisation processes are tried and tested and “generally fine”. But, when asked about the claimed 95% success rate, it was “hard to say” if it was true as “information is hard to get”. Southeast Asia Globe contacted both the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Malaysia Islamic Development Department for interview and clarification on the 95% figure, but received no response.

Zachary Abuza, an expert on Southeast Asian politics and security issues at the National War College in Washington DC, said that programmes such as Malaysia’s can work, but he is suspicious of claims of great success.

“I completely reject Malaysia’s assertion of a 95% success rate,” Abuza said. “Remember, anyone who goes through their programme is detained indefinitely under [security legislation]. Thus the programme is the only chance people have to get released.”

For Abuza, ‘deradicalistion’ is the wrong word to describe the programme. “Disengagement” would be his choice. “Most people who go through these programmes are still quite radical in their beliefs,” he said. “They’re not going to come over to join you for a [Jewish] Passover Seder.”

While Singapore follows a programme similar to Malaysia’s, Indonesia has a detainee-based initiative that does not rely on legal coercion, although this is not funded by the state on the same scale as the other two. Under this system, Indonesia’s recidivism rate is estimated at 15-20%, but Abuza has more confidence in it because as “all those in prison are serving sentences, they’ll be released regardless of whether they go through the programme”.

Furthermore, under Malaysia’s strong security laws, the same legislation used on Islamist militants is applied to detain and dissuade apostates and Shia Muslims, with Sunni Islam being the official religion of the Malaysian federation, despite freedom of religion being enshrined in the constitution. It is a system “terribly abused” by the government, said Abuza.

Meanwhile, Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch points to the fact that the ISA was previously used “to intimidate and silence political activists raising questions the government doesn’t want to answer” and that the government has granted itself these powers again through the POTA.

Although Western nations such as Australia may be looking to learn from Malaysia’s experience in deradicalisation, many are at a distinct disadvantage: they are not Muslim nations. “Remember, Malaysia has an increasingly Islamist society, and part of their success is that they can point to the fact that they have a shared destination,  but differ on the speed to get there. Australia doesn’t have that,” said Abuza.

Underlining this, in recent months, Prime Minister Najib Razak has been drawing the opposition Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS) ever closer, courting their support as he scrambles to retain power while under pressure from the fallout of financial scandals and widespread dissatisfaction with the government. The PAS advocates the application of sharia law and the introduction of an Islamic state, and has a strong power base in northern Malaysia. It may be that the shared Islamic destination could be reached sooner than previously thought.

Whatever the successes of the deradicalisation programme Ramakrishna notes that, lately, more funds are being put into counter-messaging programmes, something he supports and believes are fundamental tools.

“There are signs that Isis ideology is making inroads in Malaysia, including in problematic sectors such as the armed forces,” said Ramakrishna. “This trend needs stemming. To this end, making use of returning Malaysians disillusioned with life in Isis territory in Syria needs further exploration as a potential counter-messaging and counter-radicalisation tool.” 

Keep reading:
A country in crisis?” – Scandals, disasters and financial mismanagement have hit Malaysia hard in recent years. Southeast Asia Globe finds that the nation’s young people are beginning to talk of a country in crisis