The Middle East and Southeast Asia are two distant regions that are not usually associated with one another. However, there are, in fact, a number of topics that transcend the geographical space between the two regions. For scholars who are interested in the relations between two of the most dynamic regions in the world today, the Oman Library at the Middle East Institute is home to a sizable collection of resources focused on this relationship.
A good introduction to the relations between the Middle East and Southeast Asia is Two Worlds of Islam (1993) by Fred R. von der Mehden. It explores the economic, political, and intellectual interactions between the Middle East and Southeast Asia, providing insights into a wide range of topics—from Haj finances to popular attitudes in Southeast Asia towards the Iranian Revolution. However, for those with more specific interests, there are also a number of thematically focused books concerning the two regions at the Oman Library as follows:
While the Middle East may be the birthplace of Islam, Southeast Asia is home to the largest Muslim nation in the world: Indonesia. Furthermore, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines all have significant Muslim populations. Thus, Islam is arguably one of the most important ties binding the two regions together.
In Southeast Asia and the Middle East: Islam, Movement, and the Longue Durée (2009), the book’s authors trace the history of the relations between the Middle East and Southeast Asia from early contact and the introduction of Islam to more contemporary issues concerning jihad and political Islam in the modern world. In Islam in Asia: Changing Political Realities (2002), the authors discuss political Islam in Indonesia and Malaysia as well as militant Islamic separatism/extremism in Thailand and the Philippines. In Islam Outside the Arab World (1999), Sven Cederroth compares and contrasts the role of Islam in Indonesia and Malaysia. Finally, in Islam and the Nation: Separatist Rebellion in Aceh, Indonesia (2009), Edward Aspinall provides a comprehensive account of the developments of Islamic separatism in Indonesia, from its origin to the various attempts to develop a peace process.
Another thread that links these two regions together is the network of terrorist organizations that spill over from the Middle East into Southeast Asia. Thus, in order to tackle these transnational terrorist threats in Southeast Asia, it is imperative to have an ample understanding of the terrorist networks in both regions.
In Jihad in Paradise: Islam and Politics in Southeast Asia (2004), Mike Millard discusses jihad in Southeast Asia from its arrival to the region to its sources and its future trends, utilizing case studies of Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia. In The Battle for Hearts and Minds (2003), Barry Desker and Kumar Ramakrishna explore the U.S’s counter-terrorism strategy in Southeast Asia against what it deemed as “potential al-Qaeda hubs,” suggesting that both hard power and soft power are imperative to win the hearts and minds of Muslim countries in the region and to curb any further terrorist activities. Lastly, in Militant Islam in Southeast Asia: Crucible of Terror (2003), Zachary Abuza examines the developments of international terrorist networks, including al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiah, in the region as well as state responses to them.
Even though some countries in Southeast Asia are fortunate enough to have their own supply of oil and gas, these resources are by no means sufficient to fuel the region’s rapid development. Hence, Southeast Asia imports a significant amount of energy from the Middle East, inevitably linking its energy security to its supplier. In Risk and Uncertainty in the Changing Global Energy Market: Implications for the Gulf (2004), Ken Koyama discusses energy policies in Asia, including those of the ASEAN countries, describing the energy situation in the region, its attempts to solve energy-related problems, and the implications of these policies for oil producers and exporters in the Middle East. Although not dedicated entirely to Southeast Asia, Asian Energy Markets: Dynamics and Trends (2004) and Interdependence between Asia-Pacific and the Middle East (1994) both provide some interesting background information and prospects for energy relations between the two regions.
In addition to the aforementioned themes, there is more evidence of interdependence between the Middle East and Southeast Asia in key areas such as trade and security. In The GCC and the Development of ASEAN (1998), Julius Caesar Parreñas explores the G.C.C.’s indirect role in the security and development of ASEAN despite the fact that the G.C.C. and ASEAN had very limited economic and political relations at the time. Meanwhile, the Middle East, especially the G.C.C. countries, is dependent on the availability of foreign workers from South and Southeast Asia. Charles B. Keely looks at the policy, administration, and data concerning foreign workers from South and Southeast Asia in the Middle East following the increase in oil prices in 1974, offering insights into key labor issues in the region in Asian Worker Migration to the Middle East (1980).
The Middle East and Southeast Asia are two of the most rapidly developing regions in the world today. While there is certainly an abundance of material covering each region individually, there is limited literature dedicated to the connections between the two regions. Of course, the reason for this could simply be that there has, indeed, been limited interaction between them, especially when compared to the interactions between other regions of the world. However, even if this is true, it does not diminish the significance of the ties between these two regions. In fact, it makes them all the more interesting because there could be undiscovered potential or underdeveloped interactions between the Middle East and Southeast Asia that would allow not only for scholars to explore the subject even further but also for policy makers to take initiatives and forge stronger ties between the two regions.