Dealing with ISIS, Salafism and G25: The Star columnist

T-shirts with ISIS themes being displayed openly at a shop in Bandar Baru Bangi in Selangor.
T-shirts with ISIS themes being displayed openly at a shop in Bandar Baru Bangi in Selangor. PHOTO: THE STAR/ ASIA NEWS NETWORK

(THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - My friend Dr M (not former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad) sent me a video recently of a senior-ranking police officer giving a lecture on a topic of immense interest to me, and I believe to many Malaysians too.

From the way he looks and speaks, he is probably from Penang and possibly from the police force's Counter-Terrorism Unit. His lecture was about the dangers of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Shias and Salafis who use violence to achieve their aims.

He warned his audience that Malaysia must not become another failed state like those that litter the Middle East, and that we must therefore ensure that our enemies are defeated.

I was encouraged to hear him talking about curbing the growth of groups such as ISIS, since they use violence and kill their enemies. But what I found disturbing was how the police officer identified such groups alongside Shias and even liberal organisations like G25 (an informal group of civil servants seen as expressing a liberal view of Islam).

It's one thing to eliminate groups like ISIS or other offshoots of Al-Qaeda, but in doing so, we must not become too repressive of others in the country. That might only increase the number of enemies we have to deal with.

It's dangerous and unnecessary to lump these groups under one category with ISIS and other Muslim militant "warriors". Shiite Muslims and groups like G25 are peaceful, even though they may not agree with the views of the police or local Islamic development agencies such as the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim).

It's not true that Shias and Sunnis cannot coexist without wanting to kill each other. In America and in Europe, they live side by side without one group oppressing the other.

In fact, Muslims of other denominations have proven they can live peacefully with each other, thriving in business and using their money to establish charities, schools and hospitals around the world.

Incidents of violence and killings between Sunnis and Shias only happen in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan because of local politics. Violence comes from those in power wanting to destroy another group.

The police officer should think carefully about what strategy to use with regard to Shias. Should he adopt the religious authorities' approach or should the police have their own way of dealing with the situation? If he wants peace and stability in the country, then he must be a policeman rather than a Sunni cleric.

During his lecture, the police officer made a mocking reference to G25 and their stand on the issue of khalwat. He seems to think that G25's suggestion to do away with khalwat as an offence will lead to a new proposal for legalised brothels.

G25 members and liberals like me have ideas that are different from the police officer, but none of these ideas ever advocate violence. The police can ignore them and the country will not suffer.

The police must not be afraid of those with different ideas. Good ideas make us think and bad ideas make us stupid - that's all.

Ideas don't kill. The police only need to deal with those who want to kill, maim and destroy property and lives.

If we want to deal with violence - and we must do so if we want the country to remain peaceful - we must first reject violence in all its forms.

Violence is not just about chopping off heads, blowing up supermarkets and killing civilians for no reason. There are many kinds of violence.

Violence takes place when leaders threaten or ridicule others, when a proper explanation or rational statement would have sufficed.

It happens when people are not given the freedom they need to practise their religious faith.

It happens when people are punished disproportionately for doing things other countries would normally allow.

It happens when those in power only know how to deal with dissent by oppression.

It happens when the court system issues sentences that don't relate to a basic sense of justice, and when it lacks the courage to rectify existing wrongs in the laws of the land.

The police officer must know that the best solution can only be found after we have correctly identified the problems. Let's not oversimplify the causes behind IS, al-Qaeda and all the other violence in the world.

Let's not use standard templates of questions and answers because the issues are more complex. Even America suffers from violence, and that includes the emergence of Donald Trump as a front runner in the upcoming presidential race.

We all need to help the police officer understand the nature of the problems so he can find the solutions. Malaysia has its own unique issues, but we must not create a situation where the system has failed, so much so that people feel that they have lost everything and have nowhere else to go. If we reach that point, then violence becomes not an option, but the only thing left.

The writer, Malaysia's former legal consultant, is now a legal consultant. The views expressed are his own.