Islamism in Southeast Asia: Islamists Defeat Asian Way

The rise of militant Islam in Southeast Asia, and its challenge to the once fashionable Asian way of development and shared values, has been largely ignored.

The World Today Published 1 June 2002 Updated 23 October 2020 6 minute READ

David Martin Jones

Visiting Professor, Department of War Studies, King’s College London

Michael L R Smith

Department of War Studies, King's College London

The Asian way was widely promoted during the early 1990s as a non-liberal but capital-friendly alternative to western free market individualism. Recent events suggest that the threat of militant Islam to Pacific Asian stability is far more potent than anything with which Al Qaeda and its affiliates confront the west.

For much of the 1990s, the leaders of Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Malaysia – the founding members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) – congratulated themselves on their unique development formula.

ASEAN’s distinctive brand of diplomacy, founded on good interpersonal relations, seemingly generated rapid economic growth whilst sustaining regional harmony and stability. For its many international admirers, from the World Bank to British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Australia’s Paul Keating, it was a uniquely Asian attitude to diplomacy and development.

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