Asia-Pacific Nations Vow to Cooperate Against Violent Extremism

By BenarNews Staff
150612-OZ-hostage-620 An injured woman is carried away after Australian police stormed a café in Sydney at the end of a hostage crisis, Dec. 16, 2014.

At the close of a two-day summit in Australia on countering violent extremism, 24 Asia-Pacific countries on Friday agreed to deepen multi-lateral cooperation and enlist help from civil society and industry in staving off the threat.

Malaysia, Singapore and host-country Australia, which were represented at the ministerial level at the meeting in Sydney, were among the countries that issued a joint communique vowing regional action on the issue.

“The Sydney Summit aimed to improve regional coordination and build the capacity of governments, civil society and local communities to challenge violent extremism in order to prevent terrorism,” the communique said.

“Ministers agreed to ongoing actions to build international cooperation and collaboration ahead of a leaders-level [Counter-Violent Extremism] meeting planned for the margins of the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015,” it added.

The 24 countries agreed, among other action items, to work toward sharing information and research on counter-terrorism, supporting communities vulnerable to recruitment by extremist organizations, and increasing the role of civil society in online counter-propaganda efforts, including partnering with social media companies, according to the communique.

IS: At the heart of the matter

The communique noted that “terrorism and violent extremism cannot and should not be associated with any religion, nationality or civilization.”

Yet in his closing speech on Friday, Australian Attorney General George Brandis, the meeting’s co-chair, made it clear that the international threat posed by the Islamic State (IS) was central to the discussions in Sydney.

“Given the complexity of the issues, we need a multi-pronged approach.  We must commit to enabling and encouraging community engagement, promoting a narrative that amplifies positive content, and putting in place strong legislative frameworks and operational activities to halt the forward push of ISIS,” Brandis told the meeting, using another acronym for IS.

“… Governments cannot alone effectively meet this challenge – we must develop and sustain strong partnerships with industry and civil society to not only negate those who propagate violent extremism but offer viable alternatives.”

Australia is dealing with its own threat from Islamists on home soil. Last December, three people were killed during a standoff, when a lone Muslim gunman of Iranian heritage took hostages at a Sydney café.

Australia had earlier foiled alleged attempts by home-grown radicals to carry out abductions and IS-style public beheadings. In addition, many scores of Australian citizens reportedly have travelled to Iraq and Syria to fight alongside the IS ranks.

“The warped interpretations of a few cannot be allowed to drown out the majority and undermine Islam itself,” the Australian Attorney-General went on to say.

“We need to underscore the important and effective work that is undertaken by grassroots organizations across the region, often below the radar,” Brandis added.

“We recognize, as a region, the need to empower credible and resonant voices in our communities who can challenge terrorist narratives and promote powerful alternative messages that promote the positive values of our societies.”

Southeast Asian presence

Indonesia – the world’s largest Muslim country, and source of some 540 IS fighters in the Middle East – was represented at the meeting by its ambassador to Australia, according to Kompas newspaper.

Sources at Indonesia’s National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) said that it had sent an official to the meeting in Sydney.

As for Malaysian participation, Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi addressed the meeting on Friday.

He spoke about Malaysian measures to combat extremism, including the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), which the government has said is needed to combat a domestic threat from IS.

Malaysian lawmakers passed the law in April, but human rights advocates have raised concerns that it could trample on civil liberties, because POTA allows authorities to incarcerate suspected terrorist without trial for extendable two-year periods.

“In short, it shows we are serious in combatting and preventing any form of terror activities,” The Star Online quoted Zahid as saying in Sydney.

In his speech, he echoed that civil society had a big role to play in fending off extremism – and said this was already happening in his country.

“The National Fatwa Council has also clearly deemed involvement with the Islamic State as illegal as the terror group’s form of jihad is against Islamic teachings,” the home minister added.

“Every segment of society must work together to ensure that the IS does not gain a foothold in the country.”

Sydney hackathon

As the 24 countries met, a related hackathon – a technology-development competition among Silicon Valley start-ups and tech giants like Google, Twitter and Facebook – took place on the sidelines in Sydney.

More than 60 people competed near the Sydney Opera House to design new ideas, technology and digital apps that could be used as weapons in the cyber war against IS and its ilk, according to Agence France-Presse.

The Islamic State relies heavily on Twitter, Facebook and other social media for recruiting fighters.

"We marry innovation and the national security sector, with Silicon Valley ethos and start-up models to try and create very new, fast-paced, high-energy (projects)," AFP quoted hackathon organiser Quintan Wiktorowicz, as saying.

"No single prototype is a silver bullet to stop ISIS radicalization,” Wiktorowicz added.

“But it's the ecosystem that we're building by running these (hackathons) globally and connecting the networks all the time.”

Arie Firdhaus contributed to this report.


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