Rep. Ted Yoho (R., Fla.) called for the United States take a more active role in preventing the spread of radical Islam into Southeast Asia at a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee meeting on Wednesday amid the emergence of ISIS militants in the city of Marawi on the Philippine island of Mindanao.
"The crisis in Mindanao illustrates that ISIS' radical and brutal ideology is inspiring Southeast Asia's terrorist organizations to be more cohesive and transnational, increasing the threat to the entire region," he said. "The United States and its partners throughout the Asia-Pacific must work together to counter this growing threat, so that Southeast Asia can continue to thrive."
Although he acknowledged that the Iraqi victory over ISIS forces in Mosul boded well for American interests abroad, Yoho warned that places like Mindanao are becoming hotbeds for terror activity because they mirror the Middle East in their poverty and physical isolation from other influences.
"The nation's youth are an internet-connected population, fertile ground for online radicalization, one of ISIS's specialties," he said. "A fragmented ISIS can inspire homegrown terrorists and send trained jihadis all over the world, and the poorest regions of Southeast Asia are especially vulnerable to both."
Outside experts testified before the committee and offered possible ways for the United States to combat the spread of ISIS. Supna Zaidi Peery of the Counter Extremism Project recommended that the United States encourage local governments to crack down on online pro-ISIS propaganda.
According to Peery, there are over 300,000 pro-ISIS websites in Southeast Asia, 70 percent of which are hosted in Indonesia. Additionally, ISIS released its first video in the Philippines in January.
"Unchallenged, extremism will continue to spread and be a destabilizing and stigmatizing force for every country where extremist propaganda is allowed to proliferate," Peery said.
Michael Fuchs of the Center for American Progress said that United States should be careful not to villainize the cultures and religions of South East Asia in its attempt to combat ISIS.
"The United States too often hampers its own counterterrorism efforts by adopting ‘us vs. them' rhetoric and actions that portray the United States as engaged in a battle with a religion rather than individual terrorist groups," he said.
Fuchs also identified local repressive governments—such as the regime of recently elected Filipino president Rodrigo Duterte—as a challenge the United States will face in how it communicates with Southeast Asia. Fuchs advised the United States aid these countries in fighting terrorism while making it clear that the United States does not support any undemocratic actions on their part.
"The United States will need to make sure that regional partners understand the United States prioritizes democracy and human rights," he said. "Specific cooperation on threats like terrorism in no way aid the regime's undemocratic actions, and that certain assistance and engagement can be postponed or cut off if rights violations persist."