The key to the support of outfits such as Al Qaeda in Southeast Asia is the underlying common Islamic precept shared by its people. The various Islamist terror groups across the world are not distinguishable by ideology, for they all claim to fight for Islam in their respective regions. The following passage explains how Osama bin Laden was able to bring together people of different ethnic and national identities under his leadership:
“The potency of Al-Qaeda rests in its ability to channel the Islamic forces it inspires. More than any other leader before him, Osama bin Laden has been able to unify radical Islam and to focus its rage. However, Osama’s success must be seen in the context of two parallel historical developments–namely, the polarization of Islamic extremist forces coinciding with a broader current of increasing religious orthodoxy and the politicization of the ‘ummah’ (Islamic community) throughout the world. These phenomena have been going on for more than the last 20 years.” (De Castro, 2004, p.194)
A powerful leader such as bin Laden was able to successfully franchise Islamic Jihad to a broad range of local Muslims, each with their own unique history of suffering and grievances. Hence, there is an aspect of fluidity in the locations/regions in which various units operate. Jemaah Islamiah was initially founded in Singapore, but now has spread its tentacles to other parts of South East Asia. It now poses the greatest threat to Australian interests. But even Jemaah Islamiah was inspired by Osama bin Laden and in that sense all these terrorist groups with different labels are essentially the same for all practical purposes. In other words, the common mandate provided by Osama bin Laden–a broad based jihad against the enemies of Islam–facilitates these outfits to persevere with their domestic struggles, but is contained within the broader global cause, namely, the defence of Islam. In Southeast Asia, some important groups that came under the influence of Al-Qaeda, include “the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), the KMM, and Jemaah Islamiah” (Brimley, 2006, p.30).
It is obvious from the array of facts presented above that the best way forward for policy makers in Canberra is to sever strategic alliance with the United States and focus its energies on mending ties with its South East Asian neighbours. The South East Asia region has a large Muslim population. Indonesia is a thriving centre for Islamic scholarship and practice. But unfortunately, Australia had sided with the oppressive Suharto regime and had tacitly aided injustice in the past. The Muslims in the region have every reason to feel aggrieved. What Australia needs to do is to keep its intelligence gathering efforts to a minimum and focus its energies on reaching out to its neighbours. Travel warnings and terror alerts cannot be more than superficial attempts to protect Australian citizens. A real change in the threat of terror will only come about when economic opportunism and imperialist ambition is replaced with humanitarian concern and noble statesmanship. The Australian indifference to Muslim causes goes back many decades, but the tensions have escalated post September 11, 2001:
“Southeast Asia–home to more than 250 million Muslims and to the largest Islamic country in the world (Indonesia) –has experienced a perceptible intensification of Islamic militancy after September 11, 2001. The futility of the US-led war in Iraq and the failure of the “coalition of the willing” (that includes Australia) to secure UN approval to attack Iraq have heightened Islamic animosity in the region and across the Muslim world” (Bellamy, 2004, p.155).