Webinar on “Resistive Identity and Radical Ideology Claims in Cyberspace”

This webinar examined through various cases in which differences of race, ideology and religion may become organising principles in resistive identity and radical ideology claims in cyberspace.

Digital Technologies and Democracy in Southeast Asia

Monday, 5 October 2020 – The ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute held a webinar on “Resistive Identity and Radical Ideology Claims in Cyberspace The webinar is part of a seven-part Webinar Series co-organised by the Media, Technology and Society Programme and the Indonesia Studies Programme on “Digital Technologies and Democracy in Southeast Asia”.

Moderated by Senior Fellow of ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, Dr Norshahril Saat, the webinar featured the insights of Dr Asha Rathina Pandi (National University of Singapore), Mr Ibnu Nadzir (Indonesian Institute of Sciences), Mr Rheinhardt Sirait (University of Western Australia) and Ms Nur Aziemah Azman (S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies). The speakers shared their analyses of how race, ideology and religion stake claims in cyberspace and discussed how digital technologies have impacted democracies and shaped discourses in Southeast Asia.

Dr Asha Rathina Pandi
Dr Asha Rathina Pandi discussed “Race, Resistance and Digital Culture in Malaysia”. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

The webinar began with Dr Asha Rathina Pandi’s presentation which discussed the relationship between race-based politics and digital culture in Malaysia, focusing on the Hindu Rights Action Front (HINDRAF) protest rally in 2007. Dr Asha explained that the dominance of race-based politics was largely shaped by Malaysia’s political history and governance which legitimised Malay supremacy ‘Ketuanan Melayu’ in the country, instilling fear and repression of minority groups. She argued that the enduring socioeconomic problems, poor political representation and religious discrimination of the Indian poor in Malaysia through legal and illegal means – facilitated by the Internet and new media – has culminated in the HINDRAF movement. However, she noted that without codified freedoms, civil society movements are unable to generate momentum after its immediate goals are met.      

Mr Ibnu Nadzir
Mr Ibnu Nadzir spoke on “Digital Resistance and Fragmented Citizenship: Experiences of Indonesian Exiles”. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Mr Ibnu Nadzir examined the extent to which digital activism has enabled political participation through the experiences of Indonesian exiles. He shared that for overseas Indonesians, forced into exile after the 1965 communist mass killings, the media was crucial in their political participation and resistance against the New Order regime. From the 1990s, their political activism was mediated by the internet. Indonesian exiles used the Apakabar mailing list and propagated international news on contentious issues to criticise and delegitimise General Soeharto’s regime. Simultaneously, digital activism has caused disputes and fragmentation among exiles, inhibiting the effectiveness of confronting the political situation in Indonesia. While communist issues remain salient in contemporary Indonesian politics, Mr Nadzir said that the impact of their activism is still contingent to the state.     

Mr Rheinhardt Sirait
Mr Rheinhardt Sirait discussed “Making Islam Cool Again: Online Branding of the Pemuda Hijrah Movement, Indonesia”. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Mr Rheinhardt Sirait explored how the Pemuda Hijrah is spread through online media. He said that Pemuda Hijrah was founded in a background of growing pious middle-class Muslims in Indonesia, and the commodification of Islam. To attract young Muslims, Pemuda Hijrah has deliberately branded Islam and Hanan Attaki, its iconic preacher, to embody a young and cool image. This is manifest in Hanan Attaki’s new preaching style, looks and everyday activities, to galvanise his congregation on the suffering of Muslims globally. While Pemuda Hijrah and Hanan Attaki have gained a large following since its founding, Mr Siriat noted that they face several challenges. These include the constant performance of Hanan Attaki’s public persona and keeping his practice of polygamy discreet, criticisms from both hard-line and moderate Islamic groups, and continuously produce engaging content in a competitive preacher landscape. 

Ms Nur Aziemah Azman
Ms Nur Aziemah Azman examined “Online Extremism and Propaganda: IS in Southeast Asia”. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Ms Nur Aziemah Azman analysed how Islamic State’s (IS) online propaganda have gained importance and its impact in Southeast Asia. Ms Azman explained that after losing its physical caliphate in March 2019, strategic importance has been directed to the propagation of online Jihad to ensure IS’ legitimacy, longevity and strength. The main narrative of “Baqiyah wa Tatamaddad” (“Remaining and Expanding”), reframes the caliphate as an overarching global state, and asserts that IS will outlive its enemies through a war of attrition. Further, IS has utilised and declared the Covid-19 pandemic as ‘divine retribution’ for alleged crimes against Muslims. This has reinforced anti-China and anti-Shiite sentiments in Southeast Asia, intensifying IS operations in Indonesia and Philippines. Although Pro-IS online groups and channels in Southeast Asia have shrunk, she said that dedicated networks of supporters and sympathisers are resilient, working to maintain IS’ potency and appeal.    

The webinar concluded with a Question and Answer session where the panel engaged with the online audience on a variety of issues. They included the situation of Indians in Malaysia during the Pakatan Harapan administration and effectiveness of HINDRAF today; differentiation between the discourses of Pemuda Hijrah, Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah; effectiveness of digital initiatives by moderate Muslim groups to counter discourses propagated by Pemuda Hijrah; counter-terrorism efforts that have challenged IS narratives in Southeast Asia; differences in narratives of extremism or terrorism movements before and during Covid-19; insularity of online communities and identities despite the expansion and/or intensification of closed discussions online.

About 70 participants attended the webinar. The session was moderated by Dr Norshahril Saat. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)