The complex reality of radicalism in Indonesia

Church must work together with moderate Muslims against extremism
The complex reality of radicalism in Indonesia

Indonesian Muslim protesters chant as they demonstrate against Jakarta's Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, nicknamed "Ahok" in this Oct. 14, 2016 file photo. (Photo by Goh Chai Hin/AFP)

A video went viral recently on social media showing a group of young children, teens and adults chanting and demanding Ahok be killed on a pre-Ramadan parade in Jakarta.

The video has irked Christians and moderate Muslims alike, because Ahok — the popular name of outgoing Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama — has been jailed for two years for blasphemy after a lengthy trial, following mounting pressure from radical groups.

The main concern is the indoctrination of children with radical views. It’s a common and terrible phenomenon in this country that young children, teenagers and even university students cultivate the seed of radicalism and hatred against other religions. 

In 2015, the Maarif Institute survey discovered that more than 40 percent of young Indonesians were ready to execute extremist acts and supported efforts to establish an Islamic caliphate in Indonesia. This is indeed a big threat because, when radicalism has conquered the minds of adults, they have the potential to perpetuate radical ideology.

Earlier, in 2011, a survey by the Institute of Islamic Studies and Peace unveiled a surprising fact that many Muslim religion teachers and junior high school students in Jakarta, Bogor, Tangerang, and Bekasi were highly intolerant. This was shown with the presence of hundreds and thousands of people before and after the Jakarta governor election.

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Radicalism in Indonesia has been flourishing since the dawn of the reform era marked by the fall of long-time president Suharto in 1998, offering an alternative way to form an identity after three decades of dictatorship. Radical groups began their mission to either implement Islamic law or establish a full-blown caliphate.

Among groups that have successfully influenced growing radicalism in Indonesia are Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia and the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI). Hizbut Tahrir is particularly strong in high schools and universities, while the FPI has been able to influence ordinary Indonesian Muslims though its sermons.

As a result, in just a decade, many young people have developed radical views. A report by the Indonesian Science Institute in 2011, based on a study of students in five major state-run universities, indicated a huge number of them had cultivated conservative views or religious fundamentalism.

Worried, the government in early May disbanded Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia because its mission to establish an Islamic caliphate was absolutely against Indonesia’s secular ideology of Pancasila set out in the 1945 constitution. Hizbut was accused of organizing activities to overthrow the government during Islamic protests in Jakarta when hundreds thousands of Muslims called for Ahok’s imprisonment.

 

Radicalism multiplies

Indonesians were pleased by the decision to disband Hizbut Tahrir but the question remains: will it be able to stop radicalism in Indonesia Radicalism in Indonesia is not only about changing state ideology or the constitution but radical views and claims against people of other religions and cultures.

The government may have disbanded Hizbut Tahrir but there are many radical groups in Indonesia, such as the (FPI), that organize protests against religious minority groups and threaten individuals who hold different views.

Fighting radicalism is tough because it has a long history. The influence of Darul Islam — that grew in West Java, Aceh and Makassarm — cannot be underestimated. Even though its leaders were killed, their ideology survives with the mission to establish an Islamic state, even today.

Those who inherited the ideology of Darul Islam found a new home when Hisbut Tahrir began its mission in 1983 as an underground campus movement. Its influence on Indonesian students who studied in the Middle East, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Syria, and at Indonesian state universities contributed to the growth of radicalism.

It was Jamaah Islamiyah militant groups who were responsible for the Bali bombings in 2002 and a series of other bombings in Jakarta were reportedly linked to Hizbut Tahrir. So-called Islamic State (IS) sympathizers in Indonesia, such as Bahrain Naim, studied with Hizbut Tahrir before joining IS in Syria.

 

Counting on moderate Muslims

To stop the influence of radical groups, Indonesians are counting on the government and organizations such as Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the country’s largest moderate Islamic organization.

Established in 1926, the group, with 90 million members across the country, is known for its efforts to maintain pluralism and counter radical views. Its goal is to promote Islamic values such as justice, fairness, tolerance and social transformation.

For many years, religious minority groups, including the Catholic Church, have worked closely with this organization because of a common interest for the goodness of all people.

For NU, extremism disturbs peace and brings shame on Islam. Its clerics defend the secular ideology of Pancasila, declaring it the most suitable foundation for the nation. It developed a concept of Islam Nusantara (Islam of the Archipelago), a paradigm that prioritizes social harmony and continues to adapt Islamic teachings to modern times.

Its clerics believe that the root cause of radicalism in Indonesia is the "forced disappearance" of the values of pluralism and tolerance in schools and society. Hence, the government should create policies, teaching methods and extra-curricular activities that limit the influence of radical groups in education.

Disbanding a group because it is against the state ideology is never enough. It must be followed up by the creation of better education systems that strengthen students’ critical thinking and inform families of the dangers of radicalism.

The government has been campaigning against radical groups by prohibiting or even disbanding them, not only Hizbut Tahrir, but also other groups that campaign for hatred.

Last but not least, the revision of the terrorism law is imminent and will give more opportunities for law enforcement to take preventive actions against groups that clearly manifest radical ideologies. The existing law on terrorism is outdated and does not provide such opportunity for police to take preventive measures.

Siktus Harson is head of operations at ucanews.com's Jakarta bureau. 

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