•Muslims in the Philippines are far more receptive to violent methods to defend their religion as compared with those in Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia, according to a regional survey on susceptibility to extremism conducted between September last year and February this year.
Malaysia-based opinion research house Merdeka Center released the findings yesterday on the four countries which showed that support for local militant groups in the Philippines and Indonesia far outstripped that for foreign terror groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
But in Thailand, the "enormous economic bounty" handed by the government was cited by experts as a reason why groups in its restive south saw lower levels of support.
"The Thai government was much more successful under Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra in conceding autonomy," said Dataluminescence Research social psychologist Ananthi Al Ramiah, referring to the siblings who were former premiers.
Dr Ananthi and National University of Malaysia (UKM) Professor Faisal Hazis were lead researchers in the study. Dr Ananthi added the Philippine findings reflect abject poverty and that where "life seems to have less value", it results in violent extremism being more acceptable.
The survey of over 5,000 respondents, which also included non-Muslims, found that Filipinos had the highest tendency to dehumanise those of other faiths as compared with counterparts from other countries.
Fewer than 2 per cent of Muslims said they would use violence or join a violent organisation to defend their faith, except in the Philippines where 6 per cent said they would.
More than half of the Filipinos polled said they would justify acts like attacking the police, military or civilians, and agreed that waging war was the only way to conduct jihad (an Islamic term for holy struggle). The others measured 28 per cent or less agreement on this issue.
Malaysia, which has no known active domestic militant group, surprisingly scored the highest in terms of support for ISIS at 5.2 per cent, as well as for regional outfit Jemaah Islamiah (18.1 per cent), which aims to establish an Islamic caliphate in South-east Asia. Only Thailand showed more support for these international groups than for its local separatists in the south. Muslims in the Philippines (up to 30.5 per cent) and Indonesia (up to 21 per cent) far preferred local separatist groups.
UKM's Prof Faisal said the higher level in the Philippines was likely because reforms and devolution of power in Indonesia's Aceh have quelled the desire for an Islamic state. "In Manila, the local scholars willingly accepted the Philippines is the Mecca of terrorism and extremism. Of the four countries we looked at, it presents the best opportunity in the region to establish an Islamic state," he said.
He also cited Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's "tendency towards violence such as the war on drugs" and a history of government violence towards the separatist groups as "amplifying the tendency towards violence".
Along with the Merdeka Center, Prof Faisal and Dr Ananthi prescribed recommendations such as counter-narratives presented by former extremists, providing for the psychological need for significance and dignity, and auditing religious education as well as promoting multi-faith education.
Prof Faisal noted that contrary to widespread belief, "extremist tendencies tend to come from national rather than religious schools" as those teaching Islamic studies in conventional schools "tend not to be religiously grounded" and were using curricula that have "narratives that are more extreme".