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Priest calls on Indonesia to break 'cocoon' of intolerance

People must be fully exposed to religious and cultural differences to resist the evil spread by extremists, he says

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Priest calls on Indonesia to break 'cocoon' of intolerance

Balinese youths take part in the annual Hindu Siat Geni fire ceremony in October. A Catholic priest believes that if all young people learn about different cultures and traditions, many will learn to be more tolerant of people from different religions and will become less likely to be seduced by extremists. (Photo: Sonny Tumbelaka/AFP) 

An Indonesian priest wants the government to prevent young people from falling prey to radicalism and terrorist recruiters by creating more opportunities that will encourage them to appreciate religious differences more. 

Father Antonius Benny Susetyo, a member of a presidential unit promoting communal tolerance, said intolerance is rampant among the young, “especially among the so-called millennials,” because they are cocooned in their own culture and not given enough opportunities to meet people from different religious backgrounds.

“The government should create programs that enable young people to live and mingle with others of different religions,” Father Susetyo said during an event to mark International Tolerance Day on Nov. 16. 

The special day was declared by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1995 to raise public awareness about the danger of intolerance.

“Tolerance values should be mandatory in the school curriculum,” the priest added.

Parents and schools must also allow their children to interact from other religious backgrounds through things like lessons, sports and cultural and social events.

“The goal is to prevent them developing prejudicial views from an early age,” he added.

Jakarta police chief Gatot Edy Pramono welcomed Susetyo’s comments, adding that a new police initiative aims to do just that.

He said the Police Archipelago Task Force, of which he is the chairman, was established in 2017 and one of its activities is to promote tolerance and brotherhood among students of all religions in schools and universities.”

“The last thing we want is young people being easily influenced and seduced by bigotry and radical ideologies,” Pramono said.

However, one main area of concern was the threat the internet poses as a tool through which extremists can recruit young people.

It's a huge task for police to nullify this threat because many young people have smartphones and can easily access sites controlled by extremists and radical groups.

The problem, he said, is that the same internet is also being used by radical groups affiliated with Islamic State to spread radical content that cannot be detected by police. 

He said only recently police arrested two policewomen radicalized through the internet who planned to commit suicide attacks.

He recommended a two-pronged strategy by adopting approaches like Susetyo’s and the Police Archipelago Task Force’s along with the government making greater efforts to block or crack down on sites espousing hatred and intolerance.

“The government and parliament need to regulate internet use to prevent our young people from radicalism,” he said.

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