Islamic militancy

Perspective key over radicalisation report

A report that some Indonesian domestic helpers in Hong Kong have been radicalised may cause concern, but needs to be viewed with the right perspective

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 July, 2017, 1:28am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 July, 2017, 1:28am

Radicalisation of people who seem unlikely extremists is the waking nightmare of anti-terror security officials around the world. This is because the insidious social alienation that taps into religious affiliation and a sense of injustice and isolation has been known to nurture potential terrorists or accomplices who can slip beneath the radar. So it is not surprising if initial reaction to a claim that 43 Indonesian domestic helpers living in Hong Kong had been radicalised and linked with the brutally extremist Islamic State is dismay and concern. A study by the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, a Jakarta-based think tank, concluded that a search for a sense of community, a rise in religious outreach and personal troubles had spurred sympathy for IS.

For the sake of peace of mind, this needs to be put into perspective. After all, 43 is a tiny fraction of Hong Kong’s 153,000 strong Indonesian community. Its leaders say they have not seen cases of radicalisation, although they urged officials to look into possible causes, which could be related to isolation and exploitation of many domestic helpers. Institute analyst Nava Nuraniyah said some helpers had been drawn in by jihadi boyfriends met online, while others had joined IS as a path to empowerment. That said, the Security Bureau says the terrorist threat level remains moderate.

How personal turmoil put a radical helper in Hong Kong on road to Syria to help Islamic State

The think tank identified at least 50 radical female workers in East Asia taking part in extremist discussion groups, of whom four had been or were now working in Singapore, and three in Taiwan, out of a total that is likely fewer than 100. This raises some questions about the regional discrepancy and lack of peer research, given that Hong Kong helpers enjoy better conditions and pay than those in Singapore. If there is one issue the government could address to counter perceptions of exploitation, it is the illegal fees charged by helper employment agencies, which all too often become loans that blight a maid’s life as she struggles to pay them off. That said, the report contains some detailed cases but, even if it is true, we should be wary of tarring the reputation of all Indonesian helpers, just as it would be unfair to judge any group by the actions of a tiny minority.