International cooperation is crucial to countering the “scourge” of the Islamic State extremist group, Malaysia, one of three new members of an anti-IS global coalition, told a meeting of world leaders in New York on Tuesday.
“My region, Southeast Asia, has not been spared this threat,” Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said during the Leaders’ Summit on Countering ISIL and Violent Extremism, at the United Nations. ISIL is another acronym for the Islamic State group.
“Because we have fortunately not suffered a major terrorist outrage in Malaysia, some appear to believe that we are not afflicted by this scourge. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Malaysia has arrested more than 100 people suspected of links to IS, and the country is now looking to marshal international support to establish a “regional, digital counter-messaging center,” because Southeast Asia lacks such an overarching program, Najib said.
“This could not be more important, for the lies that IS employs are insidious,” Najib told leaders of more than 100 countries.
“IS has harnessed a highly effective approach to communication and messaging. The so-called online terrorists have been deployed to devastating effect, inspiring too many impressionable, the vulnerable and excluded, to join their ranks,” he added.
Abdul Qayyum Jumadi, a 24-year-old Malaysian, said young people had a valuable role to play in helping affected countries counter IS’s ideology.
“Youth can spread awareness about the message of Islam … The youth don’t want to think about IS, but actually youths have the biggest reach to influence people to have a counter narrative about what IS is doing,” Abdul, a law graduate who works as a writer in Kuala Lumpur, told BenarNews.
“Youth can speak to youth, they can’t be the total actors but are an important factor in pursuing a counter narrative. IS is on the social media every day, trying to put out the message, and the youth need to do the same because they are the ones on social media a lot,” he added.
Abdul was among two Malaysians and two Indonesians who attended a Global Youth Summit Against Violent Extremism on Monday on the sidelines of the 70th U.N. General Assembly meeting.
The event, featuring young leaders and activists from across the globe, was co-hosted by the Counter Extremism Project, an international policy organization, and Search for Common Ground, a U.S. non-governmental organization focused on conflict resolution.
American tech giants Facebook and Microsoft also put on presentations at the youth summit.
The youthful gathering culminated in a four-page “Youth Action Agenda to Prevent Violence and Promote Peace,” which was handed over to the leaders taking part in Tuesday’s summit at the U.N.
“A sense of disengagement and marginalization, despite the inter-connected world we live in, leaves young people vulnerable to recruitment wherever they are,” the agenda read.
The threat posed by IS, it said, represented “the defining challenge of our generation.”
“More than ever before, the response to violent extremism needs meaningful youth participation at all levels …. Our generation, like the generations before us, challenges the status quo and demands new ideas and systems,” the Youth Action Agenda went on to say.
Obama: ‘A long-term campaign’
U.S. President Barack Obama, who chaired the meeting of world leaders, welcomed Malaysia, along with Nigeria and Tunisia, as the newest members of the global anti-IS coalition.
But, the president cautioned, it could take a long time to defeat the jihadist group.
“There are going to be successes and there are going to be setbacks. This is not a conventional battle. This is a long-term campaign not only against this particular network but against its ideology,” Obama said in his opening remarks, which like Najib’s speech, were broadcast on the UN Web TV channel.
Part of this non-conventional warfare requires an active role by civil society, because force alone isn’t enough to counter the jihadist threat, Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla said at the meeting.
“Engagement with civil society is critical in supporting the effort of the government to strengthening the voice of the moderates,” he told the summit.
“Promotion of tolerance and moderation is critical, particularly for our younger generation, in order to prevent them from becoming radicalized.”