Most Indonesian Islamic websites 'run by extremists'

Leading Muslim cleric calls for govt action to prevent hardliners spreading radicalism online
Most Indonesian Islamic websites 'run by extremists'

The head of Jakarta’s Istiqlal Mosque, Nasaruddin Umar (left) talks to the late Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran in this file photo. (Photo by Konradus Epa/ucanews.com)

Most of Indonesia’s Islamic website are in the hands of radical groups, raising the risk of extremism spreading, according to one of the country’s leading Muslim clerics.

Nasaruddin Umar, the grand imam of Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta — reputed to be Southeast Asia’s largest mosque — says militant groups control virtually all the country’s Islamic sites, leaving only a few being run by moderate groups.

"Based on our research 80 percent of Islamic websites are controlled by radical groups. Only 20 percent are run by moderates," Umar told ucanews.com on July 18.

He did not give specific numbers but said his Nasaruddin Umar Office (UNO) conducted the research.

Umar, also a professor at Jakarta Syarif Hidayatullah Islamic State University said he established the UNO in January this year with the main goal to oppose hard-line groups that from spreading radical ideology through the internet.

“Websites run by radical groups are active in teaching,” he said, which is dangerous as they teach a misleading interpretation of Islam.

He said he raises such issues with the authorities, who take action against them.

The Communication and Information Ministry blocked 500 sites in 2018 including those with the content on radicalism and terrorism, but many still exist, Umar said.

The cleric, who is also the founder of the Indonesian interfaith organization, Masyarakat Dialog antar Umat Beragama, says UNO is focused on empowering Islamic sites run by moderate Islamic groups to counter teachings spread via sites run by radical ones.

“It’s actively pursuing the formation of more professional mosque clerics and preachers, in order to provide limited space for militant groups to spread radicalism,” he said. 

Indonesian citizens who love their country should also take up a more active role in efforts to stop extremism, and not leave what is a complicated job to government alone.

The UNO, he said, is a tool that can boost people’s participation in counter radicalism. It was established out of a concern to accommodate and create a peaceful, tolerant, and civilized society.

The institution is promoting 17 programs that include fostering deradicalization, counter-terrorism, while also promoting research and interfaith dialogue. 

Father Antonius Benny Susetyo, a member of a presidential task force that promotes national unity, said extremism is a serious threat to national unity.

Echoing Umar’s concerns he said authorities need to up their game to ensure radical sites are blocked as quickly as possible

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At the same time deradicalization efforts targeting schools and families must also be maintained, he said.

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