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Islamic Fundamentalism In Southeast Asia Politics Essay

5034 words (20 pages) Essay in Politics

5/12/16 Politics Reference this

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“The word fundamentalism has come to imply an orientation to the world that is anti-intellectual, bigoted, and intolerant. It is applied to those whose life-style and politics are unacceptable to modern, Western eyes . . . Against such people we lash out with a label that immediately delegitimises them, that immediately says these people are out of the mainstream and therefore deserve to be given ad hominem dismissal.”

– Jay M. Harris [1] 

1. Fundamentalism by definition is the strict adherence to a set of beliefs. This term is usually applied when discussing religious beliefs, and most major world religions bear forms of fundamentalism. Presently however, fundamentalism brings with it certain negative connotations, being almost freely interchangeable with extremism, radicalism or even terrorism. This has certainly been the case in the global mainstream media when the term ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ is used.

2. The ‘New World Order’ is also in itself an idea which invokes different meanings to different people. The global conspiracy theorists connect it with a secret movement aimed at controlling the world through nefarious means. However, it is more commonly used to denote the prevailing ideological notion of global governance. This term was first used in the Western world upon the establishment of the League of Nations at the conclusion of the First World War. More recently, the former US President, George Bush linked the First Gulf War to the setting up of yet another ‘New World Order’.

3. Within the past decade, major acts of terrorism have been committed by Muslim terrorists in Indonesia targeting foreign tourists. In the southern regions of Philippines and Thailand, Muslim separatist groups have been carrying out armed rebellions against their government, with acts of terrorism against citizens of those two nations occurring regularly and blamed on the Muslim rebels. At the same time, a vast number of Muslims in Muslim-majority nations like Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei are actively participating in the revival of Islam in all spheres of life including politics, economics and social. Therefore Islamic fundamentalism is playing a prominent and ever growing role in Southeast Asia.

METHODOLOGY

STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM

4. This paper seeks to determine the history and role of Southeast Asia’s Islamic fundamentalism in the New World Order.

STATEMENT OF OBJECTIVES.

5. To determine the true undistorted attributes of Islamic fundamentalism. To identify the present shape of the New World Order. To investigate the history of Islamic fundamentalism in Southeast Asia. To establish the role of Islamic fundamentalism in Southeast Asia. To analyse the impact of Islamic fundamentalism in Southeast Asia on the New World Order.

HYPOTHESIS

6. Islamic fundamentalism will continue to play a major role in Southeast Asia. Islamic fundamentalism in Southeast Asia will give a positive contribution in the evolution of a more peaceful and just world order.

JUSTIFICATION FOR THE STUDY

7. The Southeast Asia region is made up of eleven nation states with a total population of 593 million people (8.6% of global population) and total land area of 5 million square kilometres (3.3% of earth’s surface). All its constituent nations – Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor Leste and Vietnam – enjoy richly varying indigenous cultures. Through the past three millennia this region has been greatly influenced by the major world religions, with Islam currently being dominant in Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei and the southern regions of Thailand and Philippines.

8. Southeast Asia is part of the developing world, and many countries within it have been enjoying dynamic economic growth until the onset of the recent world economic crisis. It is blessed with rich mineral wealth and fertile conditions for agriculture. Its total nominal GDP for 2010 is USD1.8 trillion. Additionally, this region plays a major strategic role as the bridge between the Pacific and Indian Ocean regions.

9. Islam is the world’s fastest growing religion [2] in spite of, or perhaps even assisted by the adverse publicity generated on this religion post 9/11. Among the world’s Muslim-majority nations, Indonesia is the most populous while Malaysia is one of the most developed. India’s Muslim population is second in number only to Indonesia’s. Therefore there is concern on how the rising influence of Islamic fundamentalism in Southeast Asia will affect the New World Order.

SCOPE

10. This study concentrates on the history and present role of Islamic Fundamentalism in Southeast Asia and its implications on the New World Order.

11. The small Islamic monarchy of Brunei and the significant Muslim minority populations in Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore are influenced by trends and developments affecting Muslims in Malaysia and Indonesia. Therefore for the sake of brevity, this dissertation will focus primarily on the two leading Islamic nations in Southeast Asia which are Indonesia and Malaysia.

METHODS OF DATA COLLECTION

12. The data for this dissertation has been collected from a number of books, periodicals, magazines, newspaper and research journals, whether online or in printed form that are available in the Defence Services Staff College library. The Bibliography is attached as Appendix.

ORGANISATION OF THE DISSERTATION (CHAPTERISATION)

13. The subject is proposed to be dealt with in the following parts: –

(a) Chapter II – The true attributes of Islamic Fundamentalism.

(b) Chapter III – The present New World Order.

(c) Chapter IV -The history of Islamic Fundamentalism in Southeast Asia.

(d) Chapter V – The role of Islamic Fundamentalism in Southeast Asia.

(e) Chapter VI – Implications on the New World Order.

CHAPTER II

THE TRUE ATTRIBUTES OF ISLAMIC FUNDAMENTALISM

DEFINITION OF FUNDAMENTALISM

14. Oxford Dictionaries Online [3] provides two definitions for fundamentalism as follows:-

(a) A form of Protestant Christianity which upholds belief in the strict and literal interpretation of the Bible.

(b) Strict maintenance of the doctrines of any religion, notably Islam, according to a strict, literal interpretation of scripture.

15. Cambridge Dictionaries Online’s definition for fundamentalism meanwhile is “the belief in old and traditional forms of religion, or the belief that what is written in a holy book, such as the Christian Bible, is completely true” [4] .

16. In the military world, to become a good tactician, an officer must understand the fundamentals of tactics. Similarly, it is impossible to become a good scientist without mastering the fundamentals of science. Therefore a Muslim who believes in the absolute truth of Islam and aspires to be a good Muslim will strive to master the fundamentals of Islam and hence become a fundamentalist. However, a person who believes that Islam is a fundamentally flawed religion which advocates evil deeds will link Islamic fundamentalism to abhorrent acts such as terrorism.

HISTORY OF FUNDAMENTALISM

17. Fundamentalism when referring to religion was first applied to Christianity. The birth of Christian Fundamentalism can be traced to the United States in August 1909 with a sermon by A.C. Dixon in Chicago calling for bringing the Bible’s true message to Christians [5] . This sermon was later followed by the publication by oil millionaire Lyman Stewart of twelve paperback books between 1910 and 1915 containing the best teachings of the best Bible teachers. These books which were distributed free of charge to church people across America were eventually known as ‘The Fundamentals’ However, the term fundamentalism would only become popular beginning from the early 1920s.

18 Christian Fundamentalism has been potrayed to consist of a set of five basic beliefs, which are beliefs in the Bible’s infallibility, Christ’s divinity, his atonement, resurrection and second coming [6] . These five points were adapted from a 1910 declaration of the Presbyterian General Assembly.

WHY FUNDAMENTALISM IS VIEWED NEGATIVELY

19. As its influence grows, Christian fundamentalism became more prominently seen as a reaction against the political and social liberalism of that era as well as its rejection of the theory of evolution. This eventually led to major conflicts with the secularists, liberalists and Darwinists.

20. In July 1925, the Scopes trial took place in which John Scopes, a teacher in Tennessee was charged with breaking the state law by teaching evolution in public schools. A prominent Protestant fundamentalist who had been touring the United States to lead a crusade against the teaching of Darwinism in schools and colleges, William Jennings Bryan represented the prosecutors. Scopes was eventually convicted, but in the course of the trial, Bryan was exposed as a “bumbling, incompetent anachronism who was out of touch with the modern world” [7] while Scopes’ defence attorneys argued brilliantly for the importance of freedom to science.

21. From the fallout of the Scopes trial, the American media began condemning fundamentalism. Fundamentalists were described as the scourge of the nation and the enemies of science and freedom and who have no legitimate place in the world. From that time onwards, fundamentalism is viewed negatively in the media.

THE TRUE FUNDAMENTALS OF ISLAM

22. To properly understand Islamic fundamentalism, it is pertinent to determine the true fundamentals of Islam based on its original sources which are the Holy Quran and the Sunnah (Prophet Muhammad’s sayings and examples).

23. Islam is founded on the Five Pillars of Islam as follows [8] :-

(a) To testify that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and Muhammad is Allah’s Messenger.

(b) To perform the five daily prayers.

(c) To give Zakat (obligatory charity).

(d) To fast in Ramadhan.

(e) To perform the Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) if able to do so.

24. These five pillars clearly placed the importance of achieving peace at both the social and individual level. The individual level which is between the Muslim and God is highlighted through the first, second and fifth pillars. The fourth pillar is not just to train the Muslim’s own self in several virtuous attributes, but also to develop compassion to those in society who are less fortunate. The third pillar is similarly not just to cleanse one’s wealth, but also as a form of social contract in which the sharing of wealth will eliminate poverty and promote social equality.

POPULAR MISCONCEPTIONS ON THE FUNDAMENTALS OF ISLAM

25. Presently, Islam is suffering from several misconceptions regarding its true teachings, with the more common ones being:-

(a) Jihad.

(1) In the global mainstream media, the term ‘jihad’ has come to be known as something utterly negative. Jihad has been simplistically described as waging a holy war against infidels. Actually, in Islam, jihad consists of two dimensions: the inner jihad that seeks to restrain the self-destructive and negative forces within; and the external jihad which is a struggle against brutality and oppression, by means of actions and words. The former type of jihad in Islam is of more value and thus of more significance to a Muslim.

(2) Based on this true definition of jihad, any Muslim can conduct jihad at any time using any method available or convenient to him or her, hence making that person a ‘jihadist’. Regrettably, generalising all ‘jihadists’ as terrorists or extremists is becoming a more common practice by the media today.

(b) Terrorism.

(1) With many terrorist attacks in the recent past being carried out by Muslims, Islam has regularly been accused of advocating terrorism.

(2) The Islamic Rules of Warfare. Being a comprehensive way of life, Islam has laid down a strict set of rules and ethics for Muslims participating in war. These rules have been in existence since the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad, more than twelve centuries before the birth of the Geneva Convention. Adherence to these rules would clearly preclude Muslims from committing acts of terrorism. A few of these rules are as follows:-

aa. Innocent people or civilians are not to be killed. The Holy Quran (5:32) states that “Whosoever killeth a human being for other than manslaughter or corruption in the earth, it shall be as if he had killed all mankind, and whoso saveth the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind”.

ab. Children, women and the elderly are not to be harmed.

ac. Trees or fields yielding crops are not to be cut down while homes are not to be demolished. Prophet Mohammad said during the battle of Mu’tah in Sep 629: “Neither plunder nor conceal booty, kill no children, or women, nor an ageing man or a hermit be killed, moreover neither trees should be cut down nor homes demolished.”

ad. Places of worship such as mosques, temples or churches are not to be attacked.

ae. Dead bodies are not to be deformed or mutilated. Prophet Muhammad said: “Invade but do not exaggerate nor commit treachery. Never deform the corpse of a dead person or kill an infant child.”

af. Wounded persons or captives are not to be killed.

(3) The profiling of terrorists based on religions is considered by the United Nations to be a form of discrimination and is viewed by the world body with serious concern [9] .

(c) Suicide Bombing.

(1) An act of terrorism which is now made to be synonymous with Islamic fundamentalists is suicide bombing.

(2) However, research on all suicide terrorist attacks around the world between 1980 and 2005 has shown that over half of all those attacks are carried out by non-Muslims [10] .

(3 The data also show that the presence of foreign combat forces account for about 95 percent of all suicide bombing attacks across all religions. Therefore the primary motivation behind this type of attack is not religion but to cause armed forces belonging to modern democracies to withdraw from the territory that the terrorists perceive as their homeland.

(4) The most number of attacks were found to be carried out by the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka, which, if they declare their allegiance to any religion at all, it would certainly not be to Islam.

CONCLUSION

26. It is clear that in spite of its recent near-monopoly of the term fundamentalism in the global mass media, Islam did not give birth to this term. Rather, it was popularised by the American Protestants to identify themselves as separate from the mainstream Christians. This Christian revivalist movement subsequently gained infamy and found themselves out of the mainstream. All the negative connotations carried by this term was later heaped upon persons who uphold the fundamentals of Islam.

27. Nevertheless, the objections of Muslims the use of the ‘fundamentalist’ label is not because of its intimate connection to another religion. In Islam, Prophet Muhammad is deemed as the ultimate fundamentalist [11] whose traditions and examples are to be studied and emulated. Hence it is the aspiration of most Muslims to be as fundamentalist as he or she possibly can. Muslims object to this term only because of its derogatory inference when it is applied in the Western context of religious extremism, and not because of its meaning.

28. Therefore in subsequent discussions within this dissertation, Islamic fundamentalism will be used to denote the movement that calls for a return to the fundamentals of Islam in all spheres of life. Islamic fundamentalism does not at all equal extremism or radicalism in the name of Islam.

CHAPTER III

THE PRESENT NEW WORLD ORDER

DEFINITION OF THE NEW WORLD ORDER

29. Cambridge Dictionaries Online defines the ‘New World Order’ as “a political situation in which the countries of the world are no longer divided because of their support for either the United States or the Soviet Union and instead work together to solve international problems” [12] .

30. Oxford Dictionaries Online does not have any definition for the New World Order. However, it defines ‘world order’ as “a system controlling events in the world, especially a set of arrangements established internationally for preserving global political stability” [13] .

31. The ‘New World Order’ also refers to a long-running conspiracy theory in which a small group of people are said to be secretly plotting to rule the world politically and economically. Coincidentally, this theory is also partly based on Protestant fundamentalism in its speculation about the end of the world and the coming of the Antichrist [14] .

32. For the purpose of this dissertation, the ‘New World Order’ will denote the latest prevailing ideological notion of global governance.

EVOLUTION OF THE ‘NEW WORLD ORDER’

33. The term ‘New World Order’ was first formally used by the former United States President Woodrow Wilson when referring to the establishment of the League of Nations at the conclusion of the First World War. Wilson called for a ‘New World Order’ which is “sustained by procedures for the arbitration of disputes between nations, general disarmament, self-determination, and collective security” [15] .

34. The outbreak of the Second World War signified the failure of the League of Nations. In its wake, the United Nations was established, again with the aim to achieve international peace and stability. The United Nations Charter outlined the principles of that new world order – national sovereignty, non-intervention and international cooperation.

35. The era of the Cold War then brought in a new bi-polar world order in which the nations of the world can be considered to be either a part of the American liberal democratic camp or the Russian communist camp. Except for a number of local wars fought by opposing factions backed by the two super powers, a condition of global ‘cold war’ prevailed due to the nuclear arsenal of both nations that can cause mutually-assured destructions.

36. The collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s caused the emergence of the uni-polar world order which is dominated by the United States as the single super power. In March 1991, United States President George Bush in his State of the Union Address to the Congress celebrated the the conclusion of the First Gulf War by saying, “The world can therefore seize this opportunity to fulfill the long-held promise of a new world order – where brutality will go unrewarded, and aggression will meet collective resistance”. [16] 

37. This United States global hegemony is set to remain at least for the near future. China’s economy however is set to overake the United States as early as 2020 [17] . Additionally, Brazil, India and Russia which together with China make up the the informal group BRIC are all emerging economy powerhouses.

CHARACTERISTICS OF THE NEW WORLD ORDER

38. The United States is able to exercise its hegemonic power to oversee and orchestrate world order due to the following factors:-

(a) They maintain the largest and most technologically advanced military.

(b) They are economically ahead of other competing nations or even competing economic regions.

(c) They exert the most political pressure to influence other nations’ actions.

39. Problems in the New World Order. In spite of more than two decades being under this global hegemony, the world is still suffering from several disorders [18] such as:-

(a) The proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction.

(b) The growing gap between the North and South.

(c) The disproportionate allocation and utilisation of the world’s natural resources.

(d) Environmental degradation.

(e) Mass poverty.

(f) Massive movement of drugs.

(g) Human trafficking, whether as sex slaves or for vital organs.

(h) Terrorism.

(i) Health problems such as the spread of AIDS/HIV in Africa.

40. Characteristics Influencing Foreign Policy and Strategy. It is pertinent to consider the eight characteristics [19] of the New World Order which will be influencing the foreign policy and strategy of any nation:-

(1) Minor International Conflicts. The new strategic landscape is littered by a series of ethnic, religious, ideological and nationalist conflicts – or a combination of some or all of them. The restructuring of some nation systems such as in the former Yugoslavia and the possible collapse of other existing nations have exacerbated these conflicts.

(2) Evolving Regional Hegemonies. Major nations in various geographical regions are trying to dominate their region to achieve regional hegemony. India and China for example are developing the capacity and military means to become the dominating power in South Asia or even Asia.

(3) Internal Struggles For Control. Several nations are becoming unstable and facing struggles for control against internal destabilising forces such as Somalia, such as Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1994, Kosova in 2005 and Iraq and Afghanistan at the present time. Some former Soviet republics are straining to create their own effective political and economic systems.

(4) Existence of Rogue Nations. Rogue nations are those who undermine the international norm. They seriously undermine the ability of other governments to respond to domestic or international issues and are supportive of terrorist groups. North Korea for example are actively developing its nuclear capability while Israel have been regularly committing acts in defiance of the United Nations’ Resolutions.

(5) Emergence of Regional Economic Groups. Although globalisation has created a ‘global village’, many regions seek to protect their interests by forming up regional economic groups. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation are examples of this attempt to bind regions together in trade pacts. The adoption of a common currency by members of the European Union (EU) is carried out to strengthen their regional economic group.

(6) Increasing Irrelevance of Old Alliances. Nations who used to be enemies are now friendly to each other while former friends may become adversaries such as in the former Soviet republic states. A major exception is NATO which is still playing a major role in spite of the end of the Cold War.

(7) Widening Gaps Between Nations. The economic and military gap between the developed industrial democracies and the economically underdeveloped countries are widening. This gap could be the basis of continuing conflicts not just within those nations and but also between those nations and West.

(8) The Ambiguous Importance of the United Nations. The United Nations is actively involved in various peacekeeping and peacemaking operations throughout the world. However, its authority in deciding upon international issues had in many cases been challenged by the sole super power. Therefore the effectiveness of the United Nations in this New World Order in protecting the rights of the weaker nations is still in question.

CONCLUSION

41. The New World Order refers to the latest prevailing ideological notion of global governance. The end of the Cold War led to the emergence of the uni-polar world order.

CHAPTER IV

THE HISTORY OF ISLAMIC FUNDAMENTALISM IN SOUTHEAST ASIA

THE SPREAD OF ISLAM IN SOUTHEAST ASIA

42. In the eighth century, Arabian geographers began to mention the name of places in Southeast Asia, suggesting that period to be the beginning of regular trade visits by Islamic traders to port cities in the region [20] . Chinese text records from the tenth century then began to include envoys with Arab-sounding names, showing the growing influence of Islam in the power structure of the Southeast Asian kingdoms.

43. In 1292, Marco Polo reported of the Muslim city of Perlak in north Sumatra. This period was the beginning of a new age in Islam in Southeast Asia, when the rulers of local kingdoms or states began embracing Islam. It is believed that South India also played a role in spreading Islam to the Sumatran region [21] . In Terengganu, a coastal town in peninsular Malaysia, a hybrid form of Islamic law was practiced in the 14th century based on the discovery of an Arabic-script inscribed stone dated from that era.

44. The growth of Islam in Southeast Asia is a slow and gradual process, in which the local cultures which were based on animism, Hinduism or Buddhism began absorbing elements of Islam. Islam was spread not only by merchants from the Middle East or South Asia, but also by migrants from China. Large-scale conversions into Islam only happened from the 15th century onwards

45. Islam remains as the religion of the majorities in Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei in spite of the onset of colonisation in Southeast Asia by Western nations which began in the 16th century. Thus Islam in Southeast Asia was not ‘spread by the sword’, but rather spread by the ‘sword of intellect’.

THE NATURE OF EARLY ISLAM IN SOUTHEAST ASIA

46. The early Muslims in Southeast Asia were more attracted to Islam through Sufism teachings, which enabled them to “maintain diverse approaches to the experience of religious truth while affirming the oneness of God and the truth of the Islamic message” [22] This close association between Islam and mysticism enabled converts to still maintain elements of traditional Hindu-Buddhist-animist practices while accepting the basic tenets of Islam. Therefore Islam in Southeast Asia has been historically syncretic and characterised by its tolerance for diverse points of views as well as its legacies of pre-Islamic practices.

47. Superficially, the early Muslims have more in common with the relaxed attitudes of Java Hindus and Thai Buddhists than with the austerity of Arab Muslims. The application of the Sharia Law is comparatively limited. Most women cover their hair with only scarves while wearing a form of loose overgarment. In Indonesia and Malaysia, it is common for Muslims to work and live alongside Christians, Buddhists and Hindus although naturally some quarrels also periodically erupt.

THE GROWTH OF ISLAMIC FUNDAMENTALISM IN SOUTHEAST ASIA

48. Kaum Tua vs Kaum Muda. In the 19th century, a division developed between the Sufi-influenced practices of the Kaum Tua (literally meaning the Elderly Generation) and the Wahhabi-influenced approach of the Kaum Muda (Young Generation) in Indonesia and later Malaysia [23] . The Kaum Tua represented the traditional court-centred creeds in Malaysia and the inclusionist beliefs of the Javanese heartland, which had incorporated pre-Islamic and Sufi practices and beliefs. The Kaum Muda represented the modernist, Muslim reformists staunchly influenced by the pan-Islamic revivalist movement originating the Middle East. It strived to purge the pre-Islamic beliefs that had been absorbed into the practice of Islam in Malaysia and Indonesia. Because of the great numbers of Muslims who went on the pilgrimage to Mecca as well as Muslim clerics who studied in the Middle East and South Asia, the pure form of the Islamic faith have had a growing impact on the region since the 1870s.

49. The Revival of Islam in Southeast Asia. Islam has been undergoing a revival in Southeast Asia due to several internal and external factors [24] as follows:-

(a) Internal Factors. Globalisation which brings with it the rising influences of the Western culture has also played a role, especially the effects of rapid industrialisation and resulting urbanisation. The present major developments in Southeast Asia are as follows:-

(1) The Asian financial crisis of 1997 resulted in the overthrow of the authoritarian Suharto regime and created political space for Islamists in Indonesia.

(2) The Pan-Malaysia Islamic Party (PAS) has continue to be very successful in working through the political system to promote an Islamist agenda while in opposition in Malaysia.

(3) Muslim separatist insurgents have continued their struggle in the southern parts of Philippines and Thailand.

(2) External Factors. External factors include the current situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Israeli-Palestine conflict, the Islamic revolution in Iran, the export of Saudi-backed Wahhabi movement and the conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir.

50. Development of Islamic Fundamentalism in Indonesia.

(a) The division between the traditionalists and the Wahhabi-influenced modernists took place between the two rival bodies of the Muhammadiyyah and the Nahdatul Ulama (the Association of Religi

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