Security laws imposed around the world to curb the spread of COVID-19 enabled the authorities to crackdown on militancy, which resulted in a brief respite from they type of terrorist attacks that had become all too familiar during the first two decades of this century.
But as author Charlotte McDonald-Gibson notes, the pandemic could lend itself to increased isolation and the same factors that have enabled groups like the Islamic State (IS), al-Qaida, and the now defunct Jemaah Islamiyah in Southeast Asia to find support from remote corners of the globe.
In her latest book, “Far Out: Encounters with Extremists,“ the veteran foreign correspondent chronicles the lives of eight people who succumbed to the influence of hardliners, and endured the wrath of an unforgiving society when seeking redemption.
As the 20th anniversary of the Bali Bombings approaches, McDonald-Gibson says governments in Southeast Asia, Europe, and the United States cannot afford the luxury of believing that extremism and terrorism are no longer the threat that once plagued many countries.
She says digital platforms like 4chan and 8chan played an important role in cultivating extremists and points to a mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, last week as an example.
Her book includes a British Muslim who traveled to Syria and joined IS, far-right extremists who backed Donald Trump for the U.S. presidency, and a Norwegian Neo-Nazi who ventured into South Africa to fight against the government of Nelson Mandela.
Women also feature prominently in the book, and there are two Australians, one from the far right and the other from the extreme left, who overcame their differences and finally emerged as friends.
McDonald-Gibson spent a decade working in Bangkok and Phnom Penh, and is currently based in The Hague, where she says growing disconnects were among the root causes of people taking to terrorism at a young age and had to be dealt with in the home.
“People don’t deradicalize overnight,” she said.