photo 2016 09 27 09 53 02Senior Officers,
Seminar Participants from various countries,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

1.    Firstly, I would like to thank the Malaysian Armed Forces and especially the Chief of the Malaysian Army, for inviting me today to share my views on our topic, “Unity of Effort: Building Civil-Military Partnerships to Counter Violent Extremism”.

2.    It is an honour for me to address such a distinguished gathering, consisting of a wide spectrum of vocation as well as expertise. Moreover, the subject we are deliberating is current, one which has been weighing heavily of the minds of security policy makers and practitioners the world over. I do not believe it is an exaggeration to say that confronting and countering violent extremism is one of the greatest challenges of our time.  

The Current Threat of Violent Extremism

Ladies and Gentlemen,

3.    Multi-fold shifts in technology and societal behaviours have created an increasingly unpredictable security threat environment globally. Security threats – whether traditional or non-traditional — now evolve rapidly, more often than not outpacing our abilities to find suitable solutions. In short, we are living in dangerous times. To cite just one example, nation states today are much less threatened by one another than by non-statist, often international entities, from religious extremists to cyber terrorists.  

4.    We have to accept that uncertainties are the new normal, which makes our jobs a lot more challenging and complex. It is no longer sufficient for us to simply build models, extrapolate data and make guesstimates of what is to come, especially when lives are involved.  We must instead learn to somehow keep pace with the ever-changing global security landscape, mapping out stakeholders and issues related to them.

5.    I would argue that the more dynamic and hence serious of the new threats is extremism or radicalization, and more importantly that of violent extremism. Extremism in both thought and action has cloaked the globe in constant fear. Of course, this is not a new phenomenon. However, the rapid traction with which such actions has gained currency as of late is indeed alarming. From “lone wolf” attacks to group led violence, these attacks are serious and disturbing. Malaysia, sadly, has not been spared from this menace. The recent attack in Puchong, although small in scale, is a warning of what will happen if we fail to combat extremism within our borders.     

Understanding The Root Causes Of Violent Extremism

Ladies and Gentlemen,

6.    While extremism transcends religion and culture, the regrettable fact is that such acts purportedly in the name of Islam have captured the world’s headlines. I am of course referring principally to the cowardly and barbaric actions of the so-called “Islamic State” or DAESH.

7.    The DAESH has been able to not only conduct horrific acts of violence and carnage. It has also shattered the already fragile relations between the faith civilizations of this world, to say nothing of those between the different denominations of Islam. DAESH is hence not only just a terrorist group but a real menace to peace and unity to the world as well as the global Ummah.

8.    What is more disquieting is the fact that its activities seem to have a hypnotic effect on young Muslims. It is insidious because DAESH exploits the fault lines that are created by religion, race, and socio-economic differences. At the same time, like a deadly predator, it preys on the most vulnerable, including the disenfranchised and disaffected. Malaysia is at risk given that we are surrounded by an increasing number of hotspots around us such as Southern Thailand and Mindanao in Southern Philippines.

9.    Defeating the DAESH therefore must involve cutting off the very source of its hold over their imaginations, that is to say the grievances of the Muslim world today. At any rate, Malaysia and its neighbours must remain vigilant against the spread of DAESH’s hateful ideology and practices to our shores.

10.    This does not only involve stopping terrorist attacks but also ensuring that its ideas are comprehensively and effectively rebutted. Tens of thousands of foreign fighters, including hundreds of Malaysians, have been radicalised by DAESH’s false ideology and have headed for Iraq and Syria.

11.    To our great unease, several of these are or have been security personnel.  This is indeed alarming, as we can ill-afford to lose the public’s confidence in the very people entrusted to protect and defend our nation. Given this realization, the Malaysian Government is taking the lead in pioneering a movement to de-radicalize those who are identified as extremists and potential terrorists.

12.    But the fact of the matter is that radicalisation is a slow process. No one becomes a terrorist from the start. Yet more and more people are being recruited by the day. That so many countries across the world are still grappling with this highlights the potency and urgency of this threat.

13.    Apart from that, the need to ensure political stability will always be a preoccupation for nations in this region, particularly multi-religious and multi-ethnic countries like ours. The violent upheavals that have ensued as a result of the Arab Spring are a salutary lesson on the price that countries will pay for failing to integrate their peoples, of denying them both rights and dignity, of what happens when states are more concerned with the rule by law rather than the rule of law.

14.    Leaders who love their country should understand that the forces of extremism I have just spoken on find most fertile ground where the people’s voices and aspirations are not heeded. We should never confuse liberty with licence, but we must also realize that all power must be held accountable.

15.    Striking a balance between these two competing imperatives will be one of the great quandaries of our age. While I am sure that there are always shades of grey in the problems countries like us face in this regard, the fact is that extremism simply breeds more extremism and a successful nation can never be built on hatred, fear and prejudice.

16.    One thing that I find very interesting is that groups like DAESH tend to thrive in countries where the basis of nationhood is very weak. It seeks to heighten tensions in societies which are divided and where communities have had lingering suspicions of others for decades. It has exploited weak states whose leaders are more concerned with feuding with each other than creating a better life for all.

17.    Defeating them therefore requires us to realize that “nationhood” is not only a question of “hardware”, that is to say, things like clearly-defined borders or a national flag. It is also a question of “software”: Do the people share a sense of togetherness and belonging? Are they integrated, hopeful and have a common vision for the future? The DAESH will crumble if and when we can ensure the countries of the world have these things.

Confronting Extremism:  Strengthening Civil-Military Partnership

Ladies and Gentlemen,

18.    I am sure that we all agree that it is necessary for extremism and its roots to be confronted at every turn. However, the burden of this mammoth task cannot rest on our military and security personnel alone. Malaysian history — including our successful battle against the Communist insurgency — teaches us that threats are best defeated when all sectors of our society stand together. It may be alarming to some in a functional democracy, that we seek to empower the military in what essentially is a socio-political inflicted problem. In many countries and instances, the military has given in to the allures of power and control. But in Malaysia, we place our full trust in the military to uphold and defend our democracy.  Moreover, the challenges of today have assured us that we need a comprehensive solution involving all parties. It is usually the case that no one is responsible for security, until a tragedy strikes.

19.    It is my personal belief, informed by my experiences both as Home and Defence Minister, that the key to diffusing the threat of violent extremism is to integrate our country and the way it is defended better. We need to urgently heal the cracks within society that have led many individuals to succumb to radicalization. We must relentlessly combat the silo and turf mentality at all levels of our bureaucracy as well as security apparatuses. Achieving this will require us to undertake four inter-connected approaches which I have advocated in my capacity as the Defence Minister, namely:

a) Strategizing comprehensive and inclusive inter-agency solutions that tackles extremism and its root causes;

b) Engaging and educating wide-ranging internal and external stakeholders in the security domain;

c) Anticipating trends through improved intelligence networks;

d) Leadership at all levels to execute the plans

20.    The core of the first approach that I outlined is ‘Strategy’. As I noted earlier, radicalization is a process. Defeating it likewise will also require a gradual, targeted approach. We must identify entry and escalation points, the upstream and the downstream of people being turned into extremists and deal with these accordingly. The fundamental part of this strategy must be inclusiveness. This is what the Malaysian Government is currently pursuing, which forms the bedrock of our comprehensive strategy to deal with extremist threats. Through initiatives such as the National Blue Ocean Strategy, we are promoting civilian and military partnerships through inter-agency collaboration to deal with extremist threats. For example, joint patrols between the Malaysian Armed Forces and the Royal Malaysian Police have been on-going in potential hotspots identified around Kuala Lumpur. We have also, as much as possible sought to involve the public and civil society in these initiatives.

21.    The second is ‘Engagement’ with wide-ranging stakeholders both internal and external. Internal engagements within the government should be intensified first before executing the broader strategy. Agencies should be on the same page and trust one another to tackle threats. Once we are united and solid internally, engagements with external stakeholders such as non-governmental organisations should be activated and maintained. This should be driven by the realization that we need to educate the public of the looming threats as well the need to gather feedback and designing approaches that work.

22.    When these all are in place, our ability to ‘Anticipate’ trends will be greatly enhanced. This leads me to my next point, namely that the gathering and sharing of information within agencies should be better, especially if turf war mentality minimized. The engagement channels with the society when activated should provide resourceful insights into what is going on the ground level, especially regarding public sentiment. Also, international engagements through military diplomacy which is also part of my priorities in MINDEF will allow us to share intelligence better. I cannot highlight more the importance of a concerted international effort to combat extremism. As I have stressed time and time again, we live in global village — events in one part of the world can impact people thousands of miles away. We must take cognizance of this and respond accordingly. Apart from international engagements, continued investment in technology despite the tough global economic environment will allow us to be ahead of the curve in terms of intelligence-gathering.

23.    Finally, we have to realize that even the best-laid plans will fail with the absence of ‘Leadership’. This ties all the other approaches together and admittedly is a rather abstract concept. But to me at least, leading, means being at the front. It means uplifting your subordinates rather than pandering to their baser instincts. It means never losing sight of the bigger picture and bringing everyone’s focus back to it. It means believing in something and giving your all to achieve it. Leadership requires vision and it demands loyalty. But it also is service. Leadership calls for cool-heads when crisis escalates and to strike when the time is right. Leadership is something we need in times when spin often overcomes substance and where everyone wants to be the “boss” but no one wants to pull their own weight. Leadership is also the willingness to sacrifice. The DAESH has for some reason thought it worthwhile to have me kidnapped or even worse. But such threats will not faze me or make me back down. And I hope you will not either. We must be worthy of our names as sons and daughters of Malaysia. We must defeat DAESH, bring succour to its victims and regain the narrative of Islam from those who would make it a byword for barbarity.

24.    Collectively- if we take these four approaches together: Strategize, Engage, Anticipate, Lead or, “S.E.A.L” as I call it, all the while united in our efforts based on the fundamental principal of strong civilian and military partnerships – we can counter violent extremism together. We must be tough on extremism in all forms and we must also be tough on the roots of extremism.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

25.    I have shared some basic thoughts about how we might go about defeating a great and looming threat to our way of life. Of course, actually following through on this will require hard work and perhaps even constant returns to the drawing board. But let us begin this task of ours and I hope that what I have said can somehow stimulate further discussion amongst you on this issue.

26.    As I have clearly stated at the beginning, we live in an uncertain world. However, let us not give in easily. If we are united in our purpose, resolute in our faith as well as comprehensive and inclusive in our approach, I sincerely believe that we can secure the peace and stability of the world we live in today. What is at stake? Quite simply, we are fighting for the right to plant the seeds of hope for a better, brighter future of our children and grandchildren.

Thank you.

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