Indonesia: countering a message of hate

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A civil society CVE initiative in Indonesia – Koperasi Cinta Damai Wahid Institute (KOCIDA WI)

I recently wrote for The Lowy Institute about challenges in counter terrorism and countering violent extremism (CVE) in Indonesia. Original article here.

After the Bali bombings of 2002, security forces within the Government of Indonesia, like their Western counterparts, worked towards incorporating “ideological” or “soft” approaches into counterterrorism portfolios. This approach later became commonly known as Countering Violent Extremism (CVE), and Indonesia has produced some groundbreaking CVE initiatives. As a recent Interpreter article explained, youth and civil society–led approaches have achieved particular success.

Yet despite progress in recent years, major issues persist. A lack of understanding as to how successful deradicalisation works continues to pose challenges, as do coordination issues within government agencies responsible for CVE.

But perhaps most importantly, despite the growth of the CVE sector, radical groups in Indonesia continue to spread messages of violence and hate, unimpeded.

Indonesia’s initial steps towards CVE were introduced during the Megawati era, when the then president appealed to Muslim organisations Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama to join Indonesia’s war on terror by “promoting the image of Islam as a peace-loving and cooperative religion”. The commitment increased significantly under president Susilo Banbang Yudhoyono, who after the second Bali bombing in 2005 stated that Indonesia could no longer take “freedom, democracy and tolerance … for granted”. Part of this effort included the further promotion of CVE.

In the early stages, the Indonesian National Police (POLRI) introduced a deradicalisation programthat aimed to “convert” imprisoned terrorists, who would also preach moderation to their colleagues. Althoug this and other programs like it had some success, they were underfunded and too ad hoc to sustain. Detachment 88, an Indonesian Special Forces CT squad, contributed to POLRI’s efforts by developing an intelligence program to target terrorist networks, with the aim of reintegrating prisoners back into society; however, this program appears to have had limited success.

The BNPT, Indonesia’s national agency for combating terrorism, has made a range of contributions to national ideological efforts to counter terror. Yet despite the agency’s large budget and personnel pool, some assessments judge its performance harshly. According to a recent Australian Strategic Policy Institute study, the BNPT continues to have “weak analytical capacity on terrorism trends, poorly devised policies and … misguided … community counter-radicalisation campaigns”. These campaigns have argued that radicalisation and extremism could be countered through the promotion of “moderate Islam”.

Yet, as continues to be found, there are no links between increased outward piety and propensity for terrorism. And despite claims to the contrary, we still don’t know exactly what causes “radicalisation.”

But there are opportunities in Indonesia to learn more about who is at risk of committing acts of terrorism. More could be achieved if official knowledge about terrorism and radicalisation was consolidated, with unclassified information disseminated to the civil society practitioners who do so much of Indonesia’s meaningful CVE work.

As the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) argues, the design of prevention programs could be improved by focusing more specifically on those involved in terrorism, rather than on whole swathes of the “Muslim community”. In particular, Indonesian CVE would benefit from more systematic studies of the networks uncovered to date, particularly the case dossiers of the almost 800 individuals indicted since 2002 on terrorism charges.

Yet a lack of coordination among the government agencies responsible for CVE in Indonesia has also remained a persistent obstacle. In 2012 the BNPT created the Forum Koordinasi Pencegahan Terorisme (FKPT) to help coordinate a national approach. Yet these forums are regularly criticised as “exclusive” and “too high level”, or for missing the target audience by involving regional elites and leaving out those for whom issues of radicalisation are pertinent, particularly young people.

The lack of coordination can lead to other problems in assessing the effectiveness of CVE programs. The online “counter narratives” approach to CVE, undertaken in partnership with PR companies, has gained popularity in Indonesia in recent years. The range of tenders and grants for these programs means that this kind of activity has become somewhat profitable for CVE start-ups. Yet in Indonesia, as Solahudin recently pointed out, social media “is yet to become a major tool for recruitment … [because] recruitment offline is still possible”.

Positive interventions and programs have been driven by civil society groups. Yet the overall effectiveness of CVE in Indonesia has been held back by government ineffectiveness, including vague or ad-hoc deradicalisation programs, and failed attempts at prison management reform.

The lack of meaningful central coordination and understanding, combined with the fact that it remains relatively easy for extremist groups to “spread messages of hate and violence”, means CVE in Indonesia still has a long way to go.

The Problem With Hanson-Young’s (and Brandis’) Response to the Burqa Episode

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There has been a lot of discussion in Australia about Senator Pauline Hanson’s burqa stunt. Many of those who have criticised her actions have argued that the act in itself presents a threat to national security – in part,  because of the potential to offend the sensibilities of Muslims. 

Green’s Senator Sarah Hanson Young, on a popular morning breakfast program, stated that Senator Pauline Hanson needs to reflect on the fact ‘security experts’ believe her actions could promote extremism (which experts by the way?). 

“You are doing ISIS’s work for them,” Senator Hanson-Young told the Seven Network on Monday.

“You are putting the entire country at risk.”

Senator George Brandis similarly said Australia’s half-million Muslims – the “vast majority of [whom] are good, law-abiding Australians” – are vital to intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

These arguments reflect common misconceptions about terrorism and radicalisation in the West.

As Yassir Morsi, Muslim writer an academic stated (in a Facebook post),” It’s an argument often used to conceal that terrorism has more to do with wars and Western support for authoritarian Muslim leaders.”

The Brandis and Hanson-Young arguments reduce the ‘Muslim community’ to national security allies. Why is that we ask Muslims to participate in whole of community counter terrorism work, when within other crime types, the religious and ethnic backgrounds of those engaging in criminality are largely ignored, let alone discussed in such political and public forums? 

Omar Sakr’s tweet sums up the issue well:

“So glad we ordinary Muslims are valued, in the absence of default humanity, as intelligence officers, otherwise pretty sure we’d be screwed.”

https://twitter.com/OmarjSakr/status/898362057019408384

There needs to be a ‘radical’ shift in the way Western liberal democracies conceptualise Muslim communities in relation to counter terrorism and national security.

One the biggest failings of the  Australian Government’s ‘muslim engagement’ schemes is association of whole ‘Muslim communities’ with national security.

Australian Senators should know better, with their knowledge of national security issues and high level of education, than to continually associate the Muslim community with national security in public platforms.

 

Can Education and Vocational Training Play a Role in Countering Violent Extremism? 

Discussion about incorporating CVE initiatives within Australia’s education and vocation sectors has re emerged. While Education and vocational training have been shown in some particular cases to reduce engagement in VE, this has only been shown to work in countries experiencing violent conflict. In these cases, the application of CVE has been be specific and justified. 

Blanket approaches to CVE are problematic for several reasons. Primarily, they have been shown to increase distrust of authorities and alienate minority communities. These approaches are also impossible to evaluate, as practitioners are to measure whether this type of program has had any effect. When governments and international organisations are measuring the impact of the activities, if the aim is to counter violent extremism, then that should be what is measured. As Martine Zeuthen explains:

“Some policy makers and practitioners do not wish to target their interventions towards individuals and communities at risk of recruitment and radicalisation but rather wish to have inclusive programmes. In other words their end goal is to contribute to building an inclusive society rather than managing the present problem of radicalisation and recruitment to violent groups. I respect and see a value in this approach as a type of long term development intervention. But the more inclusive the programme, the more difficult it is to show that the intervention prevented violent extremism.  The further we move from the problem the more tangential the intervention is and the harder it becomes to measure any effect.”

For more on this issue, see Countering Violent Extremism – can Education and Vocational Training Play a Role? – http://wp.me/p2mGCr-wH

Thoughts on CVE and Foreign Aid

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Image: Devex 

Foreign aid has undergone several shifts in recent years. As someone involved with the development sector in Pakistan and Indonesia for the past decade, I have noticed the gradual ‘securitisation’ of development programs. Although governments have always used international aid and development to further their state’s interests in the context of geopolitical rivalries, the presence of security language and programing in international aid (in particular – countering violent extremism – CVE) is changing the development landscape.

As new forms of internationalised violence emerge, there has indeed been a justified need for greater focus on security threats within foreign aid. The need to address the emergence of violent extremism has seen the blurring of the worlds of international development and international security, as international aid programs increasingly look to address development and security at the same time. This will change the international development sector and will result in greater collaboration between security and development specialists.

But CVE remains a controversial field.

Two problems recur in the literature on CVE: First, there is some literature that suggests CVE policy “struggles in its efforts to explain terrorism or to provide findings of genuine … value.”[1] Second, there is a lack of empirical evidence that CVE has worked and, of more concern, there is some evidence that in some cases it has actually caused harm.

Due to its relative infancy, CVE in foreign aid is an understudied field. To some extent, this helps explain the lack of data.

On March 1 2017, the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs announced a new framework, Development Approaches to Countering Violent Extremism: Policy Framework and Guidance Note, to “guide the delivery of development assistance to counter violent extremism in developing countries, bolstering existing Australian Government efforts.” It acknowledges that there is no agreed international definition of what violent extremism is, and that it is “a complex phenomenon,” the form of which differs “across and within countries.”

There have been a range of successful CVE initiatives in Pakistan, however ‘violent extremism’ in the country continues to surge. Furthermore, when CVE is approached as an adjunct to CT activity, there is the issue of state security forces using inappropriate force in response to terrorism and security threats. On the one hand, CVE is promoted to reduce conflict and insurgency in conflict affected, non Western societies; on the other hand, security forces in these societies have been known to use CT as a method of suppressing opposition. In the context of Pakistan, CVE has been flouted as a method which the society could “overcome the challenge of growing extremism, [with programs that] comprise of individual- focused de-radicalisation, and environment-focused counter-radicalisation strategies.”[4] But how can we decide which communities to to target, and how effective can such programs be when it is already widely acknowledged that CVE is a clumsy and contradictory field? Even if the research community could agree on what a successful CVE program looks like — and more research needs to be done in this area — there is a real concern that the CVE is being promoted as too broad a CT activity without there being any clear evidence of its efficacy. Furthermore, when there is a change of government, what will happen to these initiatives? For there to be any long-term measurable impact there needs to be continuity. This has been a problem for the Australian Government in recent years. As Terrence Wood et al point out, post-2013 changes to Australian aid having “wide-ranginimpacts and have led to deteriorating overall aid quality” so far.[5] 

It is too early to make definitive comments about the direction of the aid program. However it appears that in substantive terms, aid is being framed as security risk management, yet the aid budget continues to decrease.[6] It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the next five years.

 

[1] Andrew Silke, “The Devil You Know: Continuing Problems with Research on Terrorism”, Terrorism and Political Violence 13, no. 4 (2001), pp. 13.

 

[2] Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, Countering Violent Extremism in Indonesia: Need for a Rethink, 30 June 2014 IPAC Report No.11, 1.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Abdul Basit, Countering Violent Extremism: Evaluating Pakistan’s Counter-Radicalization and De-radicalization Initiatives, IPRI Journal XV, no. 2 (Summer 2015): 44-68, 44.

[5] Gauging Change in Australian Aid http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/app5.173/epdf

[6] Varghese, P (2016) 2016 Australasian AiConference Speech. viewed 19/11/201<http://dfat.gov.au/news/speeches/Pages/2016-australasian-aid-conference.aspx>

Education Program for Afghan Refugees

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Since 2007 I’ve been part of a community-run charity that raises money to support schooling and literacy programs for Afghan refugees in Pakistan. The organisation provides an education to children who would never be able afford to attend school otherwise. We started a new fundraising drive at http://www.gofundme.com/hopeafar.

For Afghan refugees in Pakistan, the only education options often available are Madrassah’s (religious seminaries), whose credentials are not accepted in either Pakistan or Afghanistan and who often promote sectarian violence through their teachings, further inflaming cycles of violence. For children who miss out on an education, they are often forced onto the streets to beg, steal, engage in hazardous labour or prostitute themselves to survive. This is the sad and harsh reality that these children experience.

Our program is run by Afghans for Afghans. We have won awards from the Balochistan Government and UNICEF and our work is supported by local tribal elders.

A recent UNHCR-funded population census indicates more than three million Afghans still remain in Pakistan, about 1.8 million of them in the North West Frontier Province living both in refugee camps and in urban areas. Despite substantial repatriation in recent years, the impact on refugee camp school enrolments has been relatively negligible. During 2005, UNHCR aims to repatriate 400,000 Afghans, which based on past trends means a reduction of only 3,000 students in camp schools.

The Government of Pakistan and UNHCR also recognise the importance of education to equip Afghan children with knowledge, skills and a sense of self-worth so that they can face the harsh and difficult task of returning home to rebuild their lives and country.

‘Education for All, and ‘Inclusive Education’, both promoted and under implementation by the United Nations, include refugee children, who constitute one of the most vulnerable and marginalised groups and who live at the mercy of host countries, humanitarian agencies and donors.

We want to see ‘Education for All’ a reality in Pakistan, which is why we continue support Afghan refugee communities in Pakistan throughout this crisis.

Help us to continue our education and outreach programs with young refugees by supporting us with your donation at our Go Fund Me Campaign.

To learn more about what we do please visit  http://hopeafar.com/education-project-in-balochistan/

You can follow also @HopeAFAR and @DEWA_Pakistan on Twitter to keep up to date with the progress of our projects in Pakistan.

How effective are Australian strategies to counter violent extremism?

Published 20 May, 8:35am 2015 by The Lowy Institute for International Policy 

Gallipoli Mosque, Sydney (image Flickr)

The Australian Government has just announced that more than $22 million will be spent on battling the radicalisation of young Muslims in Australia. But just how effective are these counter-terrorism programs?

Critics of the Federal Government’s Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) strategy have highlighted problems that have emerged after nine years of CVE community engagement and intervention. One concern is that CVE policies have the potential to divide Muslim communities because they embrace questionable notions of what it means to be ‘moderate’ or a ‘radical’, preferencing and seeking to ‘deputise‘ the former in order to keep the latter in check.
Community critics of the CVE strategy also emphasise that law enforcement leadership of CVE outreach programs is problematic, firstly because it indicates that the Government has ‘securitised’ the Muslim community, and secondly because such outreach strategies have the tendency to be experienced as an extra layer of unwanted scrutiny on a community of predominantly law-abiding citizens. These issues have the potential to erode trustbetween law enforcement and Muslim communities. Because positive relations between communities and law enforcement are so central public safety, the Government has an interest in carefully measuring the impact of its CVE activities on its target communities.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) has been at the forefront of proactive community engagement responses to CVE since establishing its Islamic Liaison Team in 2007. The team also assisted in contributing to national policy initiatives as part of the Federal Government’s national CVE strategy. The philosophy behind the AFP’s initiative reflected CVE trends emerging at that time. The terrorist threat, it was argued, could be reduced by building‘positive, trusting and cohesive relationships with the community, (which) over time will help increase (the community’s) resilience to extremist behaviours by creating greater levels of social cohesion.’ Within this strategy, ‘at-risk’ groups could be targeted with engagement programs to ‘promote social inclusion.’

But some members of the community argue that this kind of policy has a tendency to reinforce the notion ‘that the entire Muslim community is to blame for its few bad apples.’ As a result, the current CVE model of engagement has begun to be viewed with suspicion by the community, with some leaders calling on the community to boycottparticipation in AFP initiatives such as the Iftar dinner and Eid festivals. But, in the words of one AFP officer, the AFP are ‘damned if they do, and damned if they don’t’ continue such programs. The AFP executive is convinced that community engagement is central to CVE, and parts of the Muslim community also expect that the Government will help them to provide ‘social support’ to their young people to prevent them from radicalising, despite others in the community criticising such programs.

Beside the potential to alienate the Muslim community, the effectiveness of CVE community engagement measures as a counter-terrorism (CT) strategy has not been properly measured. As Prof Basia Spalek points out, ‘there has been little empirical investigation of community-based approaches within a CT context…As a result, there is little empirical understanding of…whether (these types of policies) may clash and serve to undermine each other.’.

The perception from some in the Muslim community that the Government’s counter-terrorism approach treats Muslim communities not as partners but as ‘suspect’ presents significant challenges, especially because of the potential this uninvited scrutiny has to create another level of alienation in young people. The latest policy announcement, which devotes $22 million to the Muslim community’s presumed social disadvantage by helping new Muslim migrants find education and employment, also ignores the reality that the causal link between socio-economic troubles and radicalisation is tenuous.

There is much international literature detailing the importance of reducing risks of alienation and radicalisation through redressing policies seen as racially or religiously targeting one community. Studies have come from the US,UK as well as Australia. Yet the focus on the Muslim community by CVE strategies helps perpetuate ‘essentialist stereotypes of terrorists as religious Muslims,’ and leave the community feeling over-scrutinised.

The prime directive of CVE policy is ‘first, to do no harm’. To date, there is little evidence that Australian CVE policy has been informed by this directive. Nor is there an indication our policy-makers have assessed the effectiveness of the CVE programs that have been in operation for the past nine years. The Australian Government needs to take onlessons from US and the UK which show that, in order to reduce the terrorist threat, we need counter-terrorism policies that don’t alienate those most vulnerable to radicalisation.

The Interpreter is published by the Lowy Institute for International Policy, an independent, nonpartisan think tank based in Sydney, publishing daily commentary and analysis on international events.