ISIS in Southeast Asia: Internalized Wahhabism is a Major
Recent media reports have speculated on an impending declaration of an Islamic State of
Iraq and Syria (ISIS) caliphate in Southeast Asia. Such an eventuality poses a grave threat
to the pluralistic landscape of Southeast Asian societies.
Surveys over the past few years have worryingly indicated a rise in the level of extremist
tendencies among Southeast Asian Muslims, albeit these tendencies are still at a
comparatively low level.
The internalization since the 1970s of the Wahhabi brand of Salafism among Southeast
Asian Muslims is the major factor behind this apparent shift towards a more radical
worldview. The relatively low level of concern over rising Islamist extremism among
Indonesian and Malaysian Muslims indicates a worrying institutionalization of radical
interpretations of Islam in the general Islamic landscape of both countries.
Countering Salafization is rendered difficult by the fact that influential Muslim personalities
and elements within Muslim-majority states have themselves embraced aspects of
Wahhabism. Between Wahhabism and ISIS, which is but its violent manifestation, lies a
short and slippery slope.