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'A heavy cross means abundant blessings'

Catholic layman says it is his mission to find a peaceful and effective way to end Indonesia's terrorism threat

'A heavy cross means abundant blessings'

Stanislaus Riyanta during a trip to Jordan in 2019. (Photo courtesy of Stanislaus Riyanta)

Stanislaus Riyanta’s interest in the subject of terrorism began when he was a postgraduate student at the University of Indonesia on the outskirts of Jakarta.

The 41-year-old Catholic layman from Central Java province signed up for the university’s master’s degree in strategic intelligence studies in 2014 and completed it two years later as a cum laude graduate.

“I learned about early detection and prevention of threats to governments, and terrorism was one of them. During my studies, I met and talked with a number of former prisoners jailed on terrorism charges and soon learned that terrorism issues were really complex,” he told UCA News.

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He said the literature on the subject was extensive and he found himself learning about terrorism both in Indonesia and other countries such as the Philippines, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

“It was really interesting and when I started my doctorate on public policy at the university in 2017 I found myself looking at how governments should deal with such threats,” he said.

Riyanta is still having to study for his doctorate as the Covid-19 pandemic has prevented him from conducting proper research for his dissertation on the prevention of terrorism.

“I am still doing it. The pandemic has made it difficult to get the information I want. I need to talk with more people who have committed acts of terrorism, especially teenagers,” he said.

According to him, most teenage terrorists are indoctrinated by what they read and see on the internet.

“This makes me really sad and has encouraged me to try and find a way for the government to prevent people from committing acts of terrorism,” he said.

Riyanta began attempting to do this after gaining his master’s degree by setting up the Research Center for Political and Strategic Policy Studies in Indonesia, known locally as Polkasi, with support from some friends.

The non-profit organization, officially launched in 2019, has at least 10 analysts from different academic backgrounds, such as politics, intelligence and philosophy.

“It serves as a think tank. It aims to offer analysis so that society can get a better understanding of the serious impacts of terrorism,” said Riyanta, who has contributed to at least five books on the subject.

He said Polkasi is still in its infancy and looking to see its ideas and theories put into practice.

“We’ve begun the right way, though. We share our analyses with the media [including UCA News]. We are also often invited to speak at discussions and seminars,” he said.

“Polkasi is a non-profit organization. It is our idealism that has brought us together. Love of the nation is our philosophy. We focus on tackling various issues, including terrorism, using our brains, instead of weapons and bloodshed.”

Death threats

However, he says it not always easy as a Catholic talking about the issue of terrorism in Indonesia, which is generally associated with “followers of a certain religion.”

“I always introduce myself as a Catholic when I’m doing research or talking in public,” said Riyanta. “Many times, during discussions, I have been labeled an infidel, an outsider, a minion of Densus 88 and even threatened with death.”

Densus 88 is the national police’s anti-terror squad.

So far, that’s all they have been — threats — even when conducting research in places like Poso and Aceh, regions that have been regarded as militant hotbeds, or areas where terrorist training camps were thought to be based.

“I always say my research is not based on religious sentiment but is solely for academic purposes,” he said.

“One important thing is that I never mention religion when I talk about terrorism. I believe religion is not the cause of terrorism. It is simply often used by a certain group to attract others.”

This policy has gradually borne fruit. He has seen former terrorists become good friends who often sent him Christmas greetings.

Riyanta, who recently contributed a chapter to a book titled Civil Society Organizations Against Terrorism — Case Studies from Asia, to be published this month, said his Catholic faith has been his strength in facing adversity.

“We sometimes are called to walk along a path with high risks. Do not worry about it. As long as we have faith and skills, just walk. This is the essence of being a Catholic, right? A heavy cross means abundant blessings,” he said.

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