PUTRAJAYA: Attraction to terrorism can sometimes begin with an intention to find purpose in life or to help the oppressed.
Somewhere along the way, those intentions usually spiral into a dangerous and destructive mindset.
Meet Adam (not his real name), a frustrated youth in his late 20s who is searching for meaning. He often sees postings on Facebook about the agony faced by Syrians in the ongoing civil war.
Driven by a strong desire to help, he searches for more information. He stumbles upon a blog by a Malaysian militant there about first-hand experiences in the war.
Adam eventually reaches out to the militant, who invites him to join a closed social media group. There, he is directly exposed to individuals who influence him to embrace radical ideology.
This is one example of the path of radicalisation youths may take, according to a study led by the Institute for Youth Research Malaysia (IYRES) under the Youth and Sports Ministry.
IYRES CEO Dr Zainah Shariff said the research showed that some 85% of youths convicted of terror-related offences received their first exposure to militant ideology through social media.
She urged those with a strong need to help Syrians to look at humanitarian efforts as a better alternative.
“We just have to establish which NGOs or entities are authorised to conduct such missions,” she said, such as those recognised by the Government, like the Malaysian Medical Relief Society (Mercy) and Islamic Relief Malaysia.
From August to December last year, the research team visited prisons to interview detainees.
The study was a joint project of IYRES, Youth and Sports Ministry, Home Ministry, police, Prisons Department and Islamic Development Department Malaysia (Jakim).
Of the 48 people convicted of terror-related crimes as of August last year, 47 are considered youths, being between 15 and 40 years old.
From its research, IYRES produced a psychological profile that highlights nine recurring character traits that could suggest an individual is vulnerable to extremist ideologies (see graphic).
Stressing the importance for parents and guardians to be aware of their children’s social media activity, Zainah advised them to read up on the dangers of extremist ideologies so that they can gauge if there is any contact with suspicious people or materials.
If a parent suspects militant-related activity, Zainah advised them to talk to their children first.
“The first course of action is to have a heart-to-heart conversation with your son or daughter.
“But if you feel that you are unable to handle it, you can refer it to the authorities. They will not immediately arrest your child – there is a counselling process,” she said.
Among the agencies or organisations that can be contacted for guidance are the Special Branch Counter Terrorism Division, 03-2266 2222, or Jakim, 03-8870 7000.