Arabinda Acharya. 2015. Whither Southeast Asia Terrorism?

AuthorMitchell Sutton
Published date01 August 2016
Date01 August 2016
Subject MatterBook Reviews
Book Reviews
Arabinda Acharya. 2015. Whither Southeast Asia Terrorism? London,
UK: Imperial College Press. 293 pp. ISBN: 978-1-78326-389-9
A certain sense of timeliness surrounds the publication of Arabinda Acharya’s
latest work, the newest addition to Imperial College Press’s loosely connected
Insurgency and Terrorism Series. The pendulum of popular opinion on the threat
posed by Southeast Asian terrorism has swung from crude fears of a ‘second
front’ in the worldwide struggle against militant Islam in the early 2000s, to a
misguided triumphalist narrative surrounding the decline of Jemaah Islamiyah
(JI) and other transnational groups. With the emergence of growing support
among veteran regional Jihadis for Islamic State, growing flows of foreign
fighters from Indonesia and Malaysia and the ominous implications of the
August 2015 Bangkok bombing, the field is once again open for a redefinition
of the nature of the threat confronting the region.
Whilst Acharya’s work addresses the majority of the key issues needed for a
holistic reassessment of Southeast Asian terrorism, the method of analysis which
he chooses is far too focussed on refuting past theories. Above all, Acharya’s goal
appears to be to attack the ‘second front’ narrative, which gained currency early in
the War on Terror. This now largely discredited argument, also known as the
‘Talibanization’ of Southeast Asia, proposed that the region was roughly analogous
to the Middle East, with unified Al-Qaeda inspired groups seeking to carve out
bases from which they could strike the West. The result of this focus is that the
author is often trapped inside the very War on Terror paradigm that he is seeking to
escape from, presenting regional developments in the context of old theories, rather
than reinterpreting the trends with a view to their present day ramifications.
Thankfully, large sections of the book are not constructed around this didactic
approach, with each chapter reading like a standalone essay. The most useful
parts of the work are those, which focus on providing directly factual, rather
than overtly analytical, content, though unfortunately Acharya’s didacticism is
occasionally allowed to intrude. These chapters provide the real meat of the
work, building a macro image of the regional terrorist phenomenon through
analyzing the unique circumstances and threats facing each individual country.
Profiles of the terrorist threats in each of the major hotspots of the region since
2001 are provided, with excellent lists of key groups, methods, motivations and
responses from governments, regional groups and outside players.
Journal of Asian Security
and International Affairs
3(2) 260–268
2016 SAGE Publications India
Private Limited
SAGE Publications
DOI: 10.1177/2347797016645460

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