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.

Sub Rosa Episode 3: understanding terrorism in Indonesia, with Noor Huda Ismail

Episode 3 of our podcast

Sub Rosa

Noor Huda headshotFor this episode, Andrew spoke to Noor Huda Ismail, an Indonesian author, film-maker, activist, and PhD candidate.

Huda set up several non-government rehabilitation programs for terrorists released from jail in Indonesia, to help prevent them from becoming involved in violent extremism again. He’s now based in Australia, studying the involvement of Indonesians with the “Islamic State” in Syria and Iraq.

The episode begins by discussing Noor Huda’s journey into this world. We talk about his teenage years in a boarding school in a central Java that was run by Abdullah Sungkar and Abu Baku Bashir. Sungkar and Bashir were members of an Indonesian jihadist movement called Darul Islam and would become the co-founders of the terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI).

Several students in this school were recruited into JI, trained in Afghanistan, and later carried out bombings in Indonesia in the early 2000s. But Huda’s life went in a very different…

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Imaji Cinta Halima

Published May 3, 2014
A chat with Indonesian academic, writer & activist Novriantoni Kahar about his book ‘The Imagined Romance of Halima: Five Acts of Love in Religious Struggle’ – a collection of poetic essays which seeks to highlight the spiritual and emotional effects of discriminatory practices against Muslim Women

Novriantoni Kahar : Cinta Dalam Lima Tangkai Sastra AdvokasiNovri, author of Imaji Cinta Halima – image inspirasi.co 

Within Indonesia there are a number number of people, both male and female, working hard to reform misogynous discourse to make Islamic practices more woman-friendly. With many voices also in contradiction to such trends, never has the issue of women in Islam been so widely debated in Indonesian public life. Contradictions within the movements of contemporary Indonesian Islam indeed reflect the ferment of democratic transformations occurring in Indonesia.  From movements calling for the reinstatement of the Khilifa to genuine progressive reflections on problems within doctrinal approaches to Islam, these movements reflect the diversity that has unfolded since the collapse of since the New Order regime.

Novriantoni Kahar is writer and activist who explores problems of discrimination. In his book “The Imagined Romance of Halima: Five Acts of Love in Religious Struggle” (Imaji Cinta Halima: Lima Kisah Kasih dalam Pergumulan Agama), he hopes to highlight the spiritual and emotional effect of discriminatory practices against women in the Muslim world.

Novri is a santri Muslim who gained his primary Islamic education at Pondok Modern Gontor Ponorogo (one of the most well-respected Islamic boarding schools in Indonesia). He is also a graduate of al-Azhar University in Egypt. His’ academic approach to Islam is one of co-mingling Islamic knowledge with social sciences like sociology and political science. In this way, Novri “does not accept Islam as a das solen as such, but tries to study it as as a das sein, as a factual phenomenon”.

Novri was inspired to write The Imagined Romance of Halima by his work in anti-discrimination campaigning in Indonesia as well as by his experiences gained whilst living abroad in the Middle-East and Europe.. The stories are set in Indonesia as well as other Muslim-majority countries. All express different facets of the impact of religion on the major life choices of women.

The book’s title story, “Imaji Cinta Halima” tells of a love affair between an Indonesian driver and a Saudi woman. Their illicit engagement ironically being facilitated by the policy of gender segregation practiced in the Holy Land of Saudi Arabia. Another tale also set outside Indonesia tells of a love story between a Coptic Christian and a Muslim. Set in Egypt, the story comes to a sad end, with traditions and bigotries within the two communities deciding the young couple’s fate.

As a Muslim, Novri wonders how people can be “so incredibly sensitive in protecting ‘Islam’s reputation”, yet so completely desensitised to some of the discriminatory acts committed in the name of religion. In the post September 11 political landscape, we have become accustomed to seeing the image of  a middle-class Muslim woman, dressed in fashionable Islamic attire talking adamantly about how Islam has “liberated” her and how acts of violence and bigotry towards women could never happen in Islam’s true name, putting the causes down to being a product of “culture”. Simultaneously, there are Muslim women who are experiencing acts of abuse at the hands of men acting within their own religious rights through interpretations of particular Islamic discourses. The experience of both women is real.

Islam can indeed  ‘liberate’ a woman if she is empowered to interpret the practice of Islamic teachings through the works of progressive scholars. On the other hand, doctrinal interpretations within Islam can justify acts which destroy, even end, a woman’s life. This is the reason Muslim’s like Novri call for a “genuine recognition of the problems within Islam” when it comes to discrimination against women and other minorities.

As Novri explains, “if we really pay close attention to the issue of discrimination toward women in Islamic or Muslim-dominated countries, the fact is, it is happening. We must not be frightened to hold issues within the Muslim community to the light where they can be examined and aired. Denial only compounds these problems”.

Novri sees some of the reasons for such hypersensitivity at criticism in Muslim communities as being driven by certain political and psychological factors: “Politically, Islamic ideology affects many aspects of Muslim thoughts and practices, in every aspect of life, whilst psychologically, Muslim-majority societies find it difficult to accept the gulf between their imaginary ideal Islam and the actual manifestation of it in their daily life. Perhaps if we began to see the effects of the harsh treatment of women for how they are, we can begin to address some of the problems within our communities”.

Through the stories in Imaji Cinta Halima, Novri hopes to help promote an awareness of the ways in which religion and tradition is used to discriminate against women in both subtle and overt ways, and the ways in which this affects their daily lives. “Denial is a common defence mechanism in Muslim societies everywhere however we Muslims need genuine recognition that many of the problems rampant in our societies are coming from within. There are real problems within Muslim societies and we need to stop attributing our them to some outside force or conspiracy. Islam should not be exempt from being be examined and criticised honestly from within. It is as simple as that”.

‘Imaji Cinta Halima’ is published by Renebook, Novri tweets at @novri75