Deradicalizing Indonesia

Nov 30, 2012
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While experts remain divided over religious extremism, 600 terrorism arrests were made, and new militants refuse to listen.

Andry also questioned whether Nasir Abbas and other “Afghan alumni” - Indonesians who fought in Afghanistan in the 1990s - can influence young militants.

“Modern jihadis [those who subscribe to violent jihadi ideology] who fought in conflicts in Ambon [Indonesia’s Maluku Province] and Poso [Central Sulawesi Province] in the late 1990s see that the alumni are now engaging with the government and are not really acting [as jihadis] any more,” said Andry.

The government’s Mbai acknowledged the need to partner with key radical figures to reach more militants, but conceded the state has had problems penetrating larger extremist groups.

According to an April 2011 International Crisis Group report, large jihadi organizations provide the inspiration and community for smaller groups to form and carry out attacks, even if they publicly disavow involvement.

JAT’s spokesman in Jakarta, Son Hadi, said its group refuses to cooperate. “The BNPT’s deradicalization programme considers Islam a national enemy. It views…jihad [as] the source of radical beliefs, whereas jihad is the essence of Islam. We are forbidden from cooperating with those who try to insult Islam in the name of Islam.”

Mbai said one way around stonewalling is by using moderate Muslim intermediaries. “In the mindsets of radicals, all government officials are infidels so we need to empower our mass moderate Islamic organizations - both Nahdlatul Ulama [NU] and Muhammadiyah - to engage directly with extremism and terrorism,” he said.

NU is the largest Muslim organization in Indonesia, claiming 50 million members who run 6,000 Islamic boarding schools, 40 universities and carry out charitable work. Muhammadiyah is a similar, smaller Indonesian organization that claims 29 million members.

However, according to Sarwono, using moderate Muslim scholars to broach deradicalization has had mixed results.

“Terrorists can question the scholar’s commitment to jihad. They ask him where he was when they were fighting and dying against their perceived enemies,” said Sarwono. “Sometimes, in the eyes of the terrorist, the scholar is not credible.”

Schools of thought

Meanwhile, Mbai said not enough is being done with the general public, particularly schools, which he said remain prime areas for the spread of extremist ideas.

“The Internet is also dominated by radicals trying to incite people to commit attacks,” he said, adding that there was no programme in place in Indonesia to combat these ideas online, unlike in other countries fighting religious extremism.

Saudi authorities have encouraged clerics to establish their own websites in order to monitor radical websites, prepare statements to rebut radical ideology and answer public questions, according to the London-based International Centre for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence.

Prisons are “schools of radicalism” where more work is needed, added YPP’s Andry. “There are many ideologues inside who spread their ideas to other inmates and can even upload written work on jihad to the Internet while incarcerated.

Even with its limited access to reaching and influencing hardened radicals, former JI military commander Abas said BNPT has tried to make communities safe from extremism.

“But [extremist] ideas are still here and they can still be accessed easily through magazines, websites and preaching. It’s one thing protecting communities and another to kill the virus itself.”

Source: IRIN