The Southeast Asian region has long been faced by multiple and overlapping issues of state repression and violence, political violence, and insurgency. Using nuanced and multifaceted approaches to address these complex, interlinked, and multifaceted issues is critical for achieving lasting peace and security in the region. However, militaryfirst analysis and hard approaches, including counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, and repressive national security strategies, have more often exacerbated marginalization, corruption, malgovernance, impunity, and existing social conflicts

Nonetheless, it is crucial to acknowledge the dominant role of political, religious, and military elites that captured state power and exploited these identity-based conflicts purportedly in the name of national security, unity, and social cohesion. When minorities demand their self-determination and other rights, their actions are used to reinforce the necessity of a securitized state and to justify extreme national security measures. In recent years, we have witnessed a rise in intolerance in countries like Burma/Myanmar, Indonesia, and Malaysia, driven by the weaponization of religion and race for narrow political gains. While in the Philippines, the rhetoric around anti-communism has resurfaced. This dynamic, in turn, has undermined democratic institutions, the overall civic space, and the innate pluralistic nature of these societies.

The sweeping analysis, discourse, and programs around the so-called global trend of “violent extremism” displaced more nuanced peacebuilding and conflict transformation approaches to the endogenous drivers of political violence in Southeast Asia. This refocused public and civil society attention and resources to the CT and P/CVE agenda aligned with the state’s meanings of peace and security as law and order. The overused, poorly defined, and malleable meanings of ‘violent extremism,’ ‘radicalism’, and ‘extremism’, in turn, led to simplistic generalizations, overreactions, abuse/misuse, poorly targeted and repressive actions, and violations of human rights and freedoms.

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