Monday, 4 January 2016

Our national security illusions - Nurul Izzah

THE world is witnessing unprecedented rising violence although formal declarations of war are few. Terrorism continues to claim an ever-greater number of lives. It seems to be spreading, irrespective of religious, national or cultural identity.

Customarily, our immediate response to threats and incidents of terrorist violence is to enhance "security" measures with the hope of containing violent extremism. Unfortunately, terrorism continues to morph into newer niches, rendering many counter-measures largely ineffective.

This failure reminds us that perhaps we have not fully grasped the multiple dimensions of the "security" challenge.

Instead, we have largely defined it in terms of the prevention of violence and associated physical harm.

The multi-billion dollar security industry subscribes to a "military" definition, and seems uninterested in a more holistic solution to the problem. Undoubtedly, a military dimension is relevant when human life is threatened. But is this adequate?

This dilemma makes me recall an experience when I was arrested last March for remarks made in Parliament despite having parliamentary immunity.

During this episode, I met a 14-year-old girl detained at Jinjang police station. She was there after her attempted departure for Syria was intercepted. The police sought my help to counsel the young girl.

To my utter surprise, during her month-long detention, she had never been queried about her motivation for travelling to Syria to join Islamic State (IS). Contrary to the common presumption that indoctrination at some religious schools drives such individuals to violent extremism, the girl explained that what she had learnt on the internet had influenced her.

Poverty has often been touted as a reason for people turning to extremism. Of the more than 30,000 people, including women, who have joined IS from Western countries, many are not desperately poor, compared to the destitute in poor countries.

If religious indoctrination and economic deprivation contribute to terrorist recruitment, the motivations are more subtle, requiring more nuanced understanding, analysis and action.

Unfortunately in Malaysia, we are lagging behind both in the "military" aspect with regards to the border-security measures and also remain uninterested with regards to other dimensions of the cause and effect of terrorism namely education.

Not much has been disclosed in Parliament with regard to at least 70 members of the Malaysian armed forces having ties to IS.

The beheading of Malaysian hostage, Bernard Then Ted Fen, by a splinter terrorist group in the southern Philippines has revived concerns about inadequate border security measures.

He was kidnapped from Sabah and later murdered despite reports of ransom having been paid.

The long coastline of east Sabah is supposed to be secured by the Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) covering a 1,400 sq km area. It is huge area to manage, and we must ensure that we adequately address the needs of the security officials tasked by Esscom.

Such perceptions of lax security, including allegations of complicity by some from within our borders, have economic consequences. Already, tourist visits to Malaysia have significantly declined, further reducing foreign exchange earnings from tourism despite the attraction of the weak ringgit. Such reductions in revenue have led to budgetary cuts, undermining development and the welfare of the people.

Sweeping claims and statements by some officials on enhancing security guarantee nothing and mean even less.

Unless we develop a balanced and comprehensive understanding of what contributes to extremist violence, we will not be able to ensure a safe and secure life for all our citizens.

Better identification of the real factors behind terrorist violence should guide us towards more realistic and hence effective national security policies. And for this we need timely and transparent disclosure of our security apparatus at work and not the National Security Bill.

More powers accorded to the head of the executive further blur the focus on understanding the root causes of terrorism.

The politics and intermingling of "protecting the state" with "protecting the party in power" blunts any effort to secure our borders – from within as well as without.

It is indisputable. Comprehensive and holistic security measures are required and prevention is best done through the structured and orderly approach of all agencies working in concert to combat terror.

The writer is the member of Parliament for Lembah Pantai. (The Sun Daily)

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