PETALING JAYA: A survey has found that most Malaysian university students are clueless about the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group.
“Almost all survey respondents did not really understand IS. For example, some were unable to identify if IS was a Sunni, Shia, Salafi or Sufi group,” said University Utara Malaysia (UUM) political lecturer and researcher Dr Mohd Azizuddin Mohd Sani.
Additionally, the research which sampled university students from peninsular Malaysia discovered that more than 80% rejected the terror group, which is also known as Daesh.
The study on IS’ influence on university students in Malaysia took samples from four regions in the peninsular – north, east, central and south – with 320 respondents from each region.
It gathered data from 1,280 respondents studying in both private and public tertiary institutions.
While most were oblivious about IS or were against it, there were a few who are on the fence. Although they did not show outright support for IS, they did not react negatively to the terror group.
“Only a small group of respondents seemed interested in IS. The number is below 20%. They do not subscribe to the IS ideology, but they sympathise with what’s happening in Syria,” he said, adding that they viewed IS’ actions as a way of helping oppressed Muslims.
When asked if these respondents were accepting of the cruelty carried out by IS – which include beheadings and setting captives on fire – Mohd Azizuddin said that they did not focus on IS’ brutal tactics.
“They see the atrocities, but they also see a group that is fighting Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad and the western powers. They only accept IS on this level. I don’t think they accept the brutality of IS. They also do not think it is right. But they also know that in wars, things like this happen,” he said.
Mohd Azizuddin added that the on-the-fence respondents viewed the bombings in Syria conducted by some western powers and the Assad regime as equally – if not more evil – than the actions of IS.
This is due to the large amount of casualties from the aerial assaults.
“Some also feel that the beheadings and other actions are Western propaganda or part of Mossad’s (Israel’s intelligence agency) ploy. So they may not think it actually happened,” he said
Mohd Azizuddin explained that those who responded to the survey in such a manner generally have little knowledge of what’s going on in Syria and the world.
They also do not keep up with world news, relying primarily on social media updates by their friends.
However, he said it was unlikely that this group will want to join the terrorist organisation as they were students who preferred to focus on their personal social mobility – studying, getting a job and leading their own lives.
“Even though social media is an important propaganda tool for IS, what surprised us is that some students feel that their peers are the ones who influence them. For example, their friends come up to them and broach the subject of IS,” he said.
Interestingly, he said that many respondents agree on the concept of an Islamic state.
“They agree that it is a good concept but they feel that the way IS goes about it, with violence, is wrong,” he explained.
The study, in which Mohd Azizuddin is a senior researcher in a team of six, was commissioned by the Youth and Sports Ministry and is due to be published soon.