I am writing from a shopping mall in Southeast Asia. But as I walk through it and write this, I cannot feel a certain eeriness about it. There are marvelous shops, happy or at least content people and lots of commerce going on.
However, in light of the multiple bombings in not so far off Jakarta, Indonesia what are people here thinking? Is the whole region especially states and nations with serious Muslim populations going to receive more of these horrendous bombings? It is a logical question in light of the viscous stepped up campaign by ISIS in moderate Muslim nations or ones with serious moderate Muslim populations as these countries largely have.
Here is my first practical worry. I am concerned in the above light that security officials, though not all have got somewhat complacent. Recently, for example, I brought a whole bunch of liquids onto an airplane through carry-on luggage without them being checked or asked about. This included water and ginger ale by the way. Numerous times I have brought on sharp razors as toiletry as not so easily gotten at every hotel I go to.
The bigger concern at the macro-levels is that eventually low commodity prices will wreak their havoc in these countries economies most of which are highly dependent for survival and all of which except Singspore have no significant reserve funds like those of Arab Gulf states that can wing it through years of depressed oil and other commodity prices.
This does not just simply relate to businesses export problems South East Asian countries are beginning to experience. A bad economy makes for a lot of frustration especially for susceptible youth.
For example in Thailand that I am familiar with the collapse of prices of commodities in Russia have had the carry on effect of decreasing significantly the number of important spending Russisn tourists in the country. It has also resulted from ULed sanctions, as well. This in turn affects young people’s incomes and employment opportunities and not the only ones.
And China is now experiencing economic troubles and has been a big source of replacement to decreasing numbers of Russian and western tourists and hence protecting youth jobs in the field.
All this impacts youth who get many tourist and factory jobs and who are often the first ones to be let go or kept on the sidelines from being hired. Alienated youth economically and otherwise who are impressionable can be attracted especially during tough times through social media to sometimes charismatic smooth talking radicals who offer them something economically interesting from their viewpoint but in the end a very poisoned chalice.
The acceleration of economic problems may activate a crisis identity that lets them further see the mainstay governments and institutions as rotten even evil. And where governments are insufficiently cutting down on corruption this can make the siren call of purist radicals seem noble. It is anything but evil and they need to get that message by both communication and from the way leaders lead.
Therefore with the potential of more ISIS members in the Middle East returning to their homelands as “coalition” aerial bombing campaigns in Syria and Iraq are stepped up, it would seem logical to expect a higher potential for more extremist Jihadists to return home including Southeast Asia which produces an important slice of them.
The good news as I wrote in a previous blog is that these terrorist occurrences in Southeast Asia for example are not likely to be weekly occurrences as it seems in places like Iraq to Afghsnistan. Car accidents are likely to be more frequent phenomenon for both locals and tourists alike. But the potential damage psychologically on trade, tourism and investment could become significant.
The nessage for Southeast Asian governments should be stronger than ever. Clean up corruption in a very public way like the Chinese are doing, ensure sufficient resources for institutions that impact youth significantly like schools and teachers and commit to projects helping young people from staying away from unemployment and radicals.
I am afraid in regards to the above not enough is being done as I see from the ground. And As well, better security measures and more support as appropriate for the police and army may be needed especially in any further and serious economic downturn separate or along side worsening events in the Middle East.
As someone who lives in the region and works with youth inter- actors and “youth facilities” I know A bit more of what I speak. And of course, I do a lot of traveling both in wealthy circles and poor areas and observe much around me.
Let us hope for the best in Southeast Asia but not be unprepared to see the worst here without more reforms and dedicated energy to helping the young people and those in the front lines helping them.
And to conclude borrowing from UNESCO, it is in the minds of men and women that peace is nurtured and the region should be in this sense be complimented for the general tolerance it preaches and the great help its teachers do to foster this. May the governments and elites build on these positives wisely.