A Square Peg in a Round Hole: Radical Islam in Insular Southeast Asia
NAVAL POSTGRADUATE SCHOOL MONTEREY CA CENTER FOR CONTEMPORARY CONFLICT
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Radical Islamic movements in the Muslim world are a serious threat to our nation and our allies. These movements have been present in continental Eurasia and Africa for decades, and have become an emerging threat in Southeast Asia. These movements are a particular threat in Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines, three regional neighbors with significant Muslim populations. The severe impact of the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis on these nations economies, domestic ethnic and religious conflict 1999-2001, and popular opposition to the GWOT campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq have created the right atmosphere for radical Islamic organizations to flourish in these countries. However, against all expectations, these countries have instead gained momentum towards economic recovery, democratization, and religious tolerance. In this article, the author analyzes the diverse underlying reasons why the Indonesian, Malaysian, and Philippine people have been unreceptive to imposing Shariah Law, and have rejected the idea of establishing an Islamic government. Even though the present situation does not provide much support for radical Islamic movements, immunity is not assured. Recent economic declines have fueled ethnic and religious tensions that have cost thousands of lives. While these nations cultural and religious history will not change, economic conditions can change and can have a significant effect on their governments. Economic stability and growth may be the factors that do the most to strengthen the secular governments in Southeast Asia. This may be a model that could be extended into Eurasian and North African Muslim nations. Still, Southeast Asian nations must guard against any disruption that could result in the decline of living standards in the region, as that could plunge these nations into chaos and provide the support that radical Islamic groups have waited for so long.
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