Asia Watch: Across the Spectrum
May 28, 2015 | Michael Shannon
Support for the Palestinian cause and antipathy towards Israel is a rare point of agreement in the bare-knuckled Malaysian political debate. But there are outliers, like the hardline Muslim NGO Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (Malaysian Muslim Solidarity) – known as ISMA.
The move by the Vatican to recognise the Palestinian struggle for statehood was not enough for this group, and ISMA president Abdullah Zaik Abdul Rahman warned against trusting the gesture.
“They must first prove their sincerity first,” Abdullah Zaik told Malay Mail Online on May 14. “Ask them to stop Israel from jewifying (sic) of the Al-Aqsa mosque, the illegal settlement and return Palestinian land and stop the Gaza strip blockade,” he added.
ISMA, which generally supports the dominant party UMNO, has repeatedly claimed that there is a genuine global conspiracy by a secret Jewish-Christian movement to wipe out Islam and dominate the world, and that the movement aims to brainwash Muslims into leaving Islam and submitting themselves to a form of materialistic religion which he described as “Christian-Jewish capitalism”.
The group claimed local Christian missionaries and opposition lawmakers act as the movement’s agents, attempting to indoctrinate Muslims by confusing them through the promotion of ideas like liberalism and human rights.
While statements like this are nothing new in Malaysia, allegations of Hamas activity in a Malaysian university represent a more sinister aspect.
A report from the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Centre (ITIC) in Israel charges that Hamas is actively recruiting Palestinians studying in Malaysia to join the organisation and train for terror attacks, according to an indictment of a Hamas operative, Waseem Qawasmeh from Hebron, who was detained at the Allenby Bridge in February when he returned from his studies in Malaysia via Jordan.
In the indictment, prosecutors allege that Hamas directs Palestinian students and lecturers to engage in significant cultural and social activities at the International Islamic University Malaysia. Through these activities Hamas operatives recruit and finance people to train in Turkey for future deployment to the West Bank to carry out attacks against Israel.
Israel’s Shin Bet security agency believes that 40 Palestinian students were recruited to Hamas’ military wing this way.
In a separate instance, a Hamas operative from the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades captured in Khan Yunis during Operation Protective Edge last year told interrogators he was sent in 2010 to Malaysia, along with nine others, in order to train using hang gliders for a terror attack against Israel.
The ITIC report accuses Malaysian authorities of allowing Hamas to operate in the university but Malaysian and Hamas officials have denied the allegations.
Hamas claimed the reports were “mere lies”, while Malaysian Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamid claimed the reports were “ridiculous” and designed to “smear Malaysia’s good name”. He also said “Malaysia is also a strong supporter of the Palestinians, morally and via humanitarian aid… because of the long relationship between Malaysian and Palestinian leaders. This may have caused dissatisfaction on the part of Israel.”
Despite these protestations, ties between Malaysia and Hamas are unambiguously warm. In January 2013, PM Najib Razak visited the Gaza Strip (without visiting the Palestinian Authority), where he and his entourage of several ministers and businessmen were received by Gaza PM Ismail Haniyeh, while now-jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim visited the head of Hamas’ political bureau Khaled Mashaal in Doha, Qatar, in February 2012.
Mashaal himself visited Malaysia in December 2013 and made remarks praising the “resistance”, while he also visited the International Islamic University (where Wasim Qawasmeh studied).
At the furthest end of the spectrum are the Malaysian recruits to the so-called Islamic State.
A report from Malaysia’s Bukit Aman Special Branch Counter Terrorism Division released on May 11 disclosed that up to 80 Malaysians had so far joined the Islamic State (IS).
“The figure may go up. IS is a unique terrorist group in the way it recruit members,” said senior assistant director Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay. “They harp on martyrdom and said those involved will die a martyr’s death,” he said, adding that 11 Malaysians found to have been involved in IS in Iraq and Syria are now dead, including six suicide bombers.
The report titled, “The Threat of the Islamic State (IS) Group Against The Nation” also details IS’ recruiting methods and the exploitation of female recruits. “Many who were influenced into joining IS become sex slaves,” Ayob Khan said.