How Indonesia Failed in Countering Religious Extremism
Prisons in Indonesia have become a recruitment platform for local terrorist networks. According to a recent analysis by researchers from the University of Indonesia, one member from a terrorist network like Jamaah Ansharut Daulah can recruit, on average, four to five people during the country-run deradicalization program. As this policy has failed to provide any tangible results, will the Indonesian government scrap it?
In recent years, several Indonesian churches have been attacked in the name of religious fanaticism. For instance, both the culprits of a church attack in Surabaya and an arson attack on churches in Lembantongoa were linked to Jamaah Ansharut Daulah and the East Indonesia Mujahideen. It must be stressed that these groups are small in number and do not have any direct connection with any major religious organizations in Indonesia.
Those who were involved in these terrorist attacks did not have any formal religious education. If we examine the most recent terrorist attacks and suspects behind those attacks, the attackers were mostly educated in non-religious institutions. The lack of formal religious education among those who carried out these attacks is not a coincidence. It is because of a lack of formal religious background that these individuals were more vulnerable and became easy prey for recruiters. Since education is a common factor behind those who are radicalized, the government in Indonesia must bridge this gap.
There are significant challenges in Indonesia regarding religious education. While in other Muslim majority countries like Bangladesh, the mosques and religious institutions that provide religious education are affiliated with religious scholars, in Indonesia, the majority of religious institutions are divided into two major Islamic organizations; the Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah. Given this division, it is more challenging for the Indonesian government to cooperate with these organizations to reach the masses in terms of providing religious education that lacks fundamentalism.
The Surabaya church attack illustrates how the lack of formal religious education feeds a distinct type of radicalization process. The bombing of three churches in Surabaya was carried out not by a band of known terrorist groups, but by three different families. Several sources mention that those families were linked to Jamaah Ansharut Daulah and underwent a series of religious indoctrination sessions. For instance, all three fathers of those families attended sermons of radical religious groups where they occasionally brought their family members. A more radicalized form of Islam was taught to those families, in particular, their misunderstanding of what jihad means to secular and non-radicalized Muslims.
The Indonesian government adopted a policy to denounce jihad as part of its counter-terrorism agenda. The government invited both of the largest groups involved in formal religious education to get involved in countering extreme teachings of Islam. However, many scholars raised concerns about this process on the grounds that it contradicts fundamental religious principles. This is the reason that Muhammadiyah refused to join the government’s deradicalization program. Under these fractured circumstances, radical ideologies have gained a new pace to develop their influence among vulnerable Muslims. In the long run, not only is the general public puzzled by these circumstances but also, Indonesia’s counter-terrorism policies face resistance from large segments of the population.
On the other hand, if we examine the case of Bangladesh, after an attack on a cafe in Dhaka, the Bangladeshi government was able to mobilize the Qawmi ulamas in its counter-terrorism policy thereby making progress in countering the message being put out by fundamentalists. Until 2017, educational degrees awarded by religious institutions in the country that are affiliated with Qawmi scholars were not recognized by the government. As a result, a considerable segment of the population who studied in the Qawmi madrasas were excluded from Bangladesh society and its economy. Sheikh Hasina’s government recognized this failure and brought religious communities into the counter-terrorism discussion.
At the beginning of 2017, the government recognized the Dawra degree of Qawmi madrasas as equivalent to a Master’s degree. These sudden changes by the government towards these religious educators paved the way for the government to gain support from these religious institutions. Long before the Dhaka cafe attack, these scholars have been vocal against the misuses of the term jihad by local terrorist groups and publicly denounced terrorist ideologies. These continuous efforts from the majority religious educators in the country were one of the key factors that helped the government to gain public trust in countering extreme beliefs.
Indonesia faces a different set of challenges. The deradicalization programs in Indonesia are less effective in mitigating radicalization. The program’s coverage is limited to rehabilitation programs for terrorism suspects in prisons. Unlike in Bangladesh, there is no preventative educational focus to prevent radicalization in the first place. The Indonesian government has focused more on fighting terrorism, instead of radical ideologies. What Joko Widodo’s government failed to realize is that countering radical ideologies is also equally important as killing a supposed terrorist.