Home Contact Us  

Radicalism - Articles

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
#4748, 19 November 2014
Myanmar: Why the Islamic State Failed Here
Aparupa Bhattacherjee
Research Officer, SEARP, IPCS
E-mail: aparupa@ipcs.org

The Islamic State (IS) unilaterally declared an ‘Islamic Caliphate’ in Iraq and Syria in June 2014. This has resulted in the increase in the numbers of radicalised Muslims from all over the world travelling to the region to support the IS, and Southeast Asia is no exception. 

According to reports, there are roughly 30 Malaysians, 60 Indonesians, 50 Filipinos, one Cambodian and a few Singaporeans have already joined the IS. However, there are barely any reports that cite Muslims from Myanmar having joined terrorist group. Why is that the case? Why are there low or negligible numbers of radical Islamist jihadists joining the IS from Myanmar? What are the general sentiments the Myanmarese Muslims foster towards the IS?

The Anti-Muslim Sentiment Factor
The growth of anti-Muslim sentiment in Myanmar to some extent thrives on the misinformed notion that most Muslims encourage terrorism. The presence of militant and secessionist groups such as Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (RSO), the Arakan Rohingya National Organisation (ARNO) and a newly formed fundamental group called the Arakan Mujahedeen (AM) have resulted in the development of such a perception. Muslims in Myanmar are aware of this notion and that radical Buddhists misuse the sentiment.

Thus, Myanmarese Muslims know and feel that any news of anyone from their community’s involvement in any kind of terrorist activity would worsen the already bad situation for them; especially given their small number (approximately four per cent) in comparison to the majority Buddhists (approximately 89 per cent).

Although there are grievances among Muslims over the use of violence against their community in various riots that have taken place since 2012, most of them feel that violence is not a good medium of response. 

This became clear when the London based Myanmarese Muslim association became the first to announce their denial to support any al Qaeda dream to “raise the flag of Jihad” across South Asia, and stated that Myanmarese Muslims will never accept any assistance from a terrorist organisation. 

Lack of Vanguards?
In Southeast Asian countries, most jihadist recruiters are home-grown terrorist organisations. In Myanmar, both the RSO and the ARNO are too weak to play this role.  The AM, although armed, so far claims to want to achieve political emancipation of the Rohingya Muslims via political means as opposed to resorting to violence.  The RSO, which shifted its base to Bangladesh after the 1977 Nagamin operation in Myanmar, has thrived due to support from the Islami Chhatra Shibir, a wing of Bangladesh’s Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) and also from Jemaah Islamiya (JI).  Heavy crackdowns by the incumbent Awami League government in Dhaka, both on the JeI and the RSO, and the disintegration of the JI into several smaller and weaker groups are among the reasons for present state of the RSO.

Significant numbers of Myanmarese Muslims are naturalised citizens of the country; and even for those who are full citizens, restrictions are placed on travel simply because they belong to a minority religion. Thus, travelling to Iraq and Syria is only possible via Bangladesh, and that too, only illegally. This is no other viable option given Dhaka’s strict vigilance measures. Furthermore, the lack of support from recruiters too deters most radicalised Myanmarese Muslims from traveling to unknown lands to wage jihad.

Lower Levels of Ideological Indoctrination?
Both the RSO and the ARNO were formed with an aim to create a separate state for Rohingya Muslims as opposed to waging jihad. Economic and political segregation were the bases of the formation of these groups. They were introduced to the concept of ‘global jihad’ only after their link up with al Qaeda and the JI.

However, both organisations were not influential enough, and not based in Myanmar, resulted in their failure to instil their extremist ideology among the locals. Thus, unlike other terrorist organisations in Southeast Asia, the RSO and the ARNO did not manage to anchor the extremist ideology in their home ground. 

The large numbers of Southeast Asian Muslims who travelled to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia for Islamic education in 1990s were the ones who brought the seeds of radical Islam to the region.  Myanmar was an exception in this case. Factors such as globalisation, urbanisation, and westernisation that, in the 1990s, led other Southeast Asian Muslims to travel abroad to study religion, did not influence the Myanmarese.  This was because Myanmar, during that period, was under the military Junta rule, and as a result, was cut off from the rest of the world. 

Many madrassas in Indonesia, Malaysia and southern Thailand also function as media for the dissemination of jihadist ideology. In Myanmar, the presence of such madrassas preaching radicalised interpretations of Islam are only restricted to the northern areas of the Arakan province; and here too, the numbers are trivial. Thus, it appears that Myanmar so far lacks the necessary apparatus key to create a conducive environment for the growth and grip of radical Islam – which also explains the limited influence, the IS’s propaganda for ‘global jihad’ has had on Myanmarese Muslims.

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
IPCS Columnists
Af-Pak Diary
D Suba Chandran
Resetting Kabul-Islamabad Relations: Three Key Issues
Can Pakistan Reset its Relations with Afghanistan?
The New Afghanistan: Four Major Challenges for President Ghani
Big Picture
Prof Varun Sahni
Understanding Democracy and Diversity in J&K
When Xi Met Modi: Juxtaposing China and India
Pakistan?s Tactical Nuclear Weapons: The Inevitability of Instability

Dateline Colombo

Asanga Abeyagoonasekera.
Sri Lanka: Moving Towards a Higher Collective Outcome
The Importance of Electing the Best to our Nation's Parliament
Sri Lanka: Toward a Diaspora Re-Engagement Plan
Dateline Islamabad
Salma Malik
Pakistan's Hurt Locker: What Next?
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
India-Pakistan Relations in 2015: Through a Looking Glass
Dhaka Discourse
Prof Delwar Hossain
IPCS Forecast: Bangladesh in 2015
18th SAARC Summit: A Perspective from Bangladesh
Bangladesh in Global Forums: Diplomacy vs. Domestic Politics
Eagle Eye
Prof Chintamani Mahapatra
India-US: Significance of the Second Modi-Obama Meet
Has President Obama Turned Lame Duck?
Modi-Obama Summit: Criticism for Criticism?s Sake?

East Asia Compass
Dr Sandip Mishra
India-Japan-US Trilateral: India?s Policy for the Indo-Pacific
China-South Korea Ties: Implications for the US Pivot to Asia
Many ?Pivots to Asia?: What Does It Mean For Regional Stability?
Himalayan Frontier
Pramod Jaiswal
Nepal?s New Constitution: Instrument towards Peace or Catalyst to Conflict?
IPCS Forecast: Nepal in 2015
Constitution-making: Will Nepal Miss its Second Deadline?

Prof Shankari Sundararaman
IPCS Forecast: Southeast Asia in 2015
Indonesia's Pacific Identity: What Jakarta Must Do in West Papua
Modi in Myanmar: From ?Look East? to ?Act East?
Sushant Sareen
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
Islamic State: Prospects in Pakistan
Pakistan: The Futility of Internationalising Kashmir

Looking East
Wasbir Hussain
Myanmar in New Delhi's Naga Riddle
China: ?Peaceful? Display of Military Might
Naga Peace Accord: Need to Reserve Euphoria
Maritime Matters
Vijay Sakhuja
Indian Ocean: Modi on a Maritime Pilgrimage
Indian Ocean: Exploring Maritime Domain Awareness
IPCS Forecast: The Indian Ocean in 2015

Nuke Street
Amb Sheelkant Sharma
US-Russia and Global Nuclear Security: Under a Frosty Spell?
India's Nuclear Capable Cruise Missile: The Nirbhay Test
India-Australia Nuclear Agreement: Bespeaking of a New Age
Red Affairs
Bibhu Prasad
Countering Left Wing Extremism: Failures within Successes
Return of the Native: CPI-Maoist in Kerala
The Rising Civilian Costs of the State-Vs-Extremists Conflict

Regional Economy
Amita Batra
India and the APEC
IPCS Forecast: South Asian Regional Integration
South Asia: Rupee Regionalisation and Intra-regional Trade Enhancement
South Asian Dialectic
PR Chari
Resuming the Indo-Pak Dialogue: Evolving a New Focus
Defence Management in India: An Agenda for Parrikar
Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan: Implications for Asian Security

Spotlight West Asia
Amb Ranjit Gupta
Prime Minister Modi Finally Begins His Interaction with West Asia*
A Potential Indian Role in West Asia?
US-GCC Summit: More Hype than Substance
Strategic Space
Manpreet Sethi
India-Russia Nuclear Vision Statement: See that it Delivers
Global Nuclear Disarmament: The Humanitarian Consequences Route
Nasr: Dangers of Pakistan's Short Range Ballistic Missile

The Strategist
Vice Admiral Vijay Shankar
Jihadi Aggression and Nuclear Deterrence
The Blight of Ambiguity
Falun Gong: The Fear Within

OTHER REGULAR contributors
Gurmeet Kanwal
Harun ur Rashid
N Manoharan
Wasbir Hussain
Rana Banerji
N Manoharan

Ruhee Neog
Teshu Singh
Aparupa Bhattacherjee
Roomana Hukil
Aparupa Bhattacherjee

Related Articles
Sushant Sareen,
"Islamic State: Prospects in Pakistan," 17 November 2014
Rajeshwari Krishnamurthy,
"Islamic State and Foreign Fighters: Jihadists from Central Asia," 27 October 2014
Aparupa Bhattacherjee,
"Islamic State and Southeast Asia: Answering the Call for Jihad," 30 September 2014
Aparupa Bhattacherjee,
"Anti-Rohingya and Anti-Muslim Sentiments in Myanmar: Mutually Reinforcing?," 24 September 2014

Browse by Publications

Issue Briefs 
Special Reports 
Research Papers 
Seminar Reports 
Conference Reports 

Browse by Region/Countries

East Asia 
South Asia 
Southeast Asia 
US & South Asia 

Browse by Issues

India & the world  
Naxalite Violence 
Suicide Terrorism 
Peace & Conflict Database 
Article by same Author
IPCS Forecast: Myanmar in 2015

Myanmar: Violence in Rakhine State and a Way Forward

Myanmar's Ashin Wirathu: Five Reasons for His Rise

Islamic State and Southeast Asia: Answering the Call for Jihad

Anti-Rohingya and Anti-Muslim Sentiments in Myanmar: Mutually Reinforcing?

India-ASEAN FTA: Gap Between Expectation and Reality

Myanmar: How Free is the Contemporary Media?

Myanmar’s National Census: Fuelling Ethnic Crises

Thailand: Why is History Repeating Itself?

Myanmar: Peace in Kachin State?

Indonesia: The 2014 Legislative Elections

China, Myanmar, and the Myitsone Dam: Uncertain Future

Thailand: Challenges to Democracy?

Philippines: Recovering from Typhoon Haiyan

Philippines and Thailand: Need for Regional Peace Initiatives

Human Trafficking in Southeast Asia: A Crime Against Humanity

Myanmar: The New Tourism Brand

India and Thailand: Bilateral Trajectory after the Indian Prime Minister’s Visit

IPCS Discussion: Society, Politics, Governance & Security in Indonesia

Malaysia: A Race to the Finish Line

Thailand: The story after the Peace Deal

Laos: Liberalisation at the Crossroads

Thailand: A Peace Deal with Insurgents

Indonesia: “Unity in Diversity”?

Y! MyWeb
Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
Year 2018
 January  February
 2017  2016  2015  2014  2013  2012  2011  2010
 2009  2008  2007  2006  2005  2004  2003  2002
 2001  2000  1999  1998  1997

The Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS) is the premier South Asian think tank which conducts independent research on and provides an in depth analysis of conventional and non-conventional issues related to national and South Asian security including nuclear issues, disarmament, non-proliferation, weapons of mass destruction, the war on terrorism, counter terrorism , strategies security sector reforms, and armed conflict and peace processes in the region.

For those in South Asia and elsewhere, the IPCS website provides a comprehensive analysis of the happenings within India with a special focus on Jammu and Kashmir and Naxalite Violence. Our research promotes greater understanding of India's foreign policy especially India-China relations, India's relations with SAARC countries and South East Asia.

Through close interaction with leading strategic thinkers, former members of the Indian Administrative Service, the Foreign Service and the three wings of the Armed Forces - the Indian Army, Indian Navy, and Indian Air Force, - the academic community as well as the media, the IPCS has contributed considerably to the strategic discourse in India.

Subscribe to Newswire | Site Map
18, Link Road, Jungpura Extension, New Delhi 110014, INDIA.

Tel: 91-11-4100-1902    Email: officemail@ipcs.org

© Copyright 2018, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.