While the Islamic State (IS) has had the most success in the Arab Islamic heartland of the Middle East, the fact that half of the world’s Muslims are in Asia has caused considerable trepidation among governments in the region, reports The Economist (June 20). The Muslims of Central Asia seem the most open to IS’s message, where political and sometimes radical Islam often serves as an alternative to “nasty authoritarian regimes, and an estimated 2,000-4,000 people are among the 20,000 foreigners who have joined IS,” according to the magazine. Even in China, where only a small number of Muslim Uighur minorities have joined IS, the government’s attempt to root out extremism has fueled resentment at what Uighurs see as “colonial oppression by the Chinese state and its ethic-Han majority.” Even in Southeast Asia, where the numbers of IS recruits is far smaller, the question of how to respond to the threat has had political repercussions. In the Philippines, peace between the government and Muslim rebels on the island of Mindanao is “threatened by extremist groups that have pledged fealty to IS.”
In democratic Malaysia, new anti-terrorism legislation, including the refusal of detainees to have a trial, has angered Islamists and opposition politicians. In a similar way, Australia’s “several dozens” of radicals who have joined IS, as well as a bloody siege by an apparently deranged gunman with IS sympathizers, had the nation to plan to strip citizens with dual nationality who are “known terrorists” of their Australian papers. Singapore, another country with a low number of extremists, there is the fear that the Internet is reaching those with ears to hear the IS message. Because the nation is surrounded by largely Muslim Indonesia and Malyasia, IS has claimed that it wants to establish a province of its caliphate in Southeast Asia, leading Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to speculate that the terrorist state could start a base somewhere in the region. For these reasons, Singapore and Australia are contributing to the anti-IS coalition in the Middle East.