In September 2015, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced that Malaysia would host a new regional counter-messaging center to combat the hateful vision that the Islamic State (ISIS) has been promoting.
As I detailed then, Malaysia’s decision to host the Regional Digital Counter-Messaging Communication Center (RDC3) was viewed as a major boost to its contribution to the war against the Islamic State as well as in its relationship with the United States (See: “Exclusive: US, Malaysia and the War Against the Islamic State”). This is especially the case since the announcement came after Malaysia also agreed to join the U.S-led Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, following the growing threat that ISIS has been posing to the country (See: “ASEAN’s Islamic State Conundrum“).
Yet since then, the RDC3 has yet to be fully opened, despite earlier commitments by Malaysian officials that it could be operational by the end of 2015, later pushed back to the summer of 2016.
The delay has been no surprise. As I have explained before, Malaysian officials had privately cited a range of challenges that they would face in setting up the center, including where it would be housed, how it would be funded, and how various agencies would coordinate their activities during its operation.
As of now, the latest word is that Malaysia could officially and fully open the center next month.
The country’s police chief, Khalid Abu Bakar, told BenarNews, an online news network, earlier this month that the messaging center will be based at the Malaysian Police Training Center (Pulapol) in Kuala Lumpur.
“Structurally, we are already under way. At first we had an issue regarding the venue, but that’s already been resolved. The PM will launch [the center] in November. We’ve already done a soft start,” he said.
He did not provide any further details about the launch or how the Malaysian government had worked out the inter-agency coordination issues that the initiative presented.
With respect to the content of the messaging, Bakar also disclosed that experts from the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (JAKIM) are working with police officers to develop content to be disseminated by the center, according to the police chief.
“We are getting assistance from JAKIM. As you know, we have to be very careful with the content. The content will be in three languages English, Malay, and Arabic,” Khalid said.
Malaysian officials, including Najib himself, have been emphasizing the importance of getting the message right. Back in January, Najib outlined his thoughts about RDC3 at a gathering of Southeast Asian police officers in Singapore, stressing that it was important to ensure that the counter-messaging is actually effective.
“It is also vital that all authorities — our muftis, our media commissions, our tech-savvy young people for whom social media is an integral part of their daily lives — ensure that the message the center puts out is solid, persuasive, and real,” Najib said in his speech at the opening of the ASEAN Police (ASEANAPOL) conference (See: “Malaysia Hails New Center to Counter Islamic State Messaging”).
His remarks echoed those he gave at the International Conference on Deradicalization and Countering Violent Extremism, which Malaysia had hosted in Kuala Lumpur in January.
Unsurprisingly, Bakar also said that the Malaysian center had also sent officers to Abu Dhabi to learn more about the Sawab Center, a messaging center launched by both the United States and the United Arab Emirates. U.S. officials have indicated that they will use lessons learned from the Sawab or “Right Path” Center for others they plan to set up in Malaysia as well as in other countries in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East.
Bakar was mum, however, on the precise nature and extent of U.S. support for the center. The United States had agreed to help Malaysia with the setting up and operation of the center in terms of funding, expertise, and technology, though the publicizing of such collaboration has been considered sensitive in the Malaysian domestic context.