New Zealand has sought advice on deradicalisation from the Malaysian Government, whose anti-terror programmes have been praised as world-leading.
Chris Finlayson, the Minister Responsible for the NZ Security Intelligence Service (SIS) and the Government Communications and Security Bureau (GCSB), has been meeting with top officials in Singapore and Malaysia this week. He has been accompanied by New Zealand’s Ambassador for Counter-Terrorism Carl Worker.
Finlayson said he discussed Malaysia’s anti-terror initiatives with Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Home Affairs Ahmad Zahid Hamidi on Wednesday.
In a statement, Finlayson said the country had a long history of deradicalisation programmes and he had expressed an interest in learning more about them.
He did not go into further detail, except to say the two leaders discussed a number of security issues, including countering terrorism and cybercrime.
There is little evidence of any Government-led efforts to counter extremism in New Zealand, where efforts have mostly focused on counter-terrorism and reactive policies.
Last year, it was revealed that the Egyptian Government had sent imams to New Zealand to promote moderate Islam and tolerance within mosques, but the Government and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade distanced itself from the initiative.
“We have had no deradicalisation programmes in place, as far as I know,” said security analyst Paul Buchanan, from 36th Parallel Assessments.
“In spite of all the talk about terrorism, we have only been talking about the stick approach to extremists and we have no carrot.”
In Singapore and Malaysia, the Government works with mosque leaders and Muslim associations to identify vulnerable youth, and matches them up with moderate, charismatic Muslim role models.
“That has had a lot of success,” Buchanan said. “And if we are asking them to train us in that kind of programme, then I’m all for it.”
Malaysia’s broader counter-terrorism programme, however, has also raised human rights concerns. Controversial reforms in 2015 allowed indefinite detention without charge for up to two years and were described by Human Rights Watch as a “giant step backwards for human rights” at the time.
Buchanan said the human rights concerns were mostly limited to its reactive, counter-terrorism measures, and its preventative, deradicalisation programmes have generally been “lauded”.
“They are authoritarian and they do things differently. But they have made sure to co-opt all of the Islamic associations, all of the mosques in an effort to keep things at bay.
“If we emulate that, it’s a good thing. The question is, can they secure the degree of support from the Muslim community in New Zealand?”
At present, there are around 40 people on a terror watchlist in New Zealand, some of whom are under 24-hour surveillance.
Parliament is expected to pass spying reforms next month which will allow New Zealand’s foreign intelligence agency, the GCSB, to spy on New Zealanders for the first time.
NZ’s spying minister Chris Finlayson asks Malaysia for advice on deradicalisation