Bangkok - In several parts of Southeast Asia, Internet literacy among the youth is considerably high - making the World Wide Web the perfect vehicle for militants to spread their extremist religious ideology. Yet, even in this post-911 world, little has been done to scrutinise how the Internet has been mobilised by extremist ideologues for their own political ends. As such, it is time for the authorities to take the ideological war against terror into cyberspace, says a commentary in the Bangkok Post.
Writer Nazry Bahrawi notes that militant groups from the Middle East, such as the Jihadist Information Brigade, have embarked on a full-scale online effort to win supporters.
"The lure of the borderless online continent is so lucrative that even the elusive Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man, has reportedly switched his modus operandi, spreading his notorious bloodcurdling brand of terror online by starting an Internet magazine sometime in early March," writes Mr Nazry, managing editor of The Muslim Reader magazine published in Singapore.
There are now some 5,000 Internet mailing lists pertaining to Islam, with some having over 2,000 members spread over the globe.
In the wake of the Dec 26 tsunami disaster, emails were spread through these various mailing groups, carrying the message that the tragedy was a divine punishment for those who perished.
"If left unchallenged, such exclusivist messages can sublimely influence impressionable minds of the Muslim young into thinking that those who died deserved it. Luckily, moderate voices sought to rebut such damaging messages offline."
With the growing popularity of blogs, Mr Nazry believes that it will only be a matter of time "before dubious individuals vying to promote radical ideologies to impressionable juveniles across the Muslim world will ride on the bandwagon".
To counter the growing radicalisation among Muslim youths in Southeast Asia, the writer suggests that regional leaders may want to examine closely a 60-page report published by the Dutch Intelligence Service (AIVD) late last year in the wake of the brutal slaying of filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a Muslim militant.
The report details the spread of anti-Western and anti-democratic notions to young Dutch Muslims over Internet websites and online chat-rooms. It also points out that the authorities must not ignore the social-economic-political context that might spur young Muslims to "embrace extremist tendencies garbed within the ongoing fervent Islamic discourse, within the vast expenses of the virtual global continent of ‘Cyberia’ ".
* Challenging the slew of online militants (Bangkok Post, July 27)