Tackling terrorism and religious extremism in Indonesia

In Jokowi's second term, religious radicalisation has to be addressed in institutions

Nadia Setianto

Politics | Asia, Southeast Asia

4 July 2019

With a history of serious risks posed to its national security and safety, Indonesia needs to think seriously about fighting against terror, Nadia Setianto writes.

Under Indonesia’s current president, Joko Widodo (Jokowi), increasing efforts have been conducted to counter terrorism, done through counterterrorism institutions, the Jakarta Centre for Law Enforcement Cooperation (JCLEC) and Detachment 88, but there is still a lot of work to be done.

Indonesia is a secular country in which religious terrorism is the predominant form of terrorism. The horrific 2002 Bali bombings, which resulted in the death of 202 innocent civilians, remains one of the deadliest Islamic terrorist attacks in Southeast Asia and to this day, Indonesia ranks at number 42 out of 130 countries for severity of terrorism.

Islamic extremist groups in Indonesia have been defined as groups that hold the idea in which values in the Quran should be implemented in their literal form.

Two of the deadliest Islamic extremist groups are Jemaah Islamiyyah (JI), who conducted the Bali bombings in 2002, and Jemaah Anshorut Daulah (JAD), who were behind the Surabaya church bombings in 2018.

JI abides by the ideology of ‘Ushulul-Manhaj Al-Harakiy Li Iqomatid-Dien’ (UMALID), which translates to ‘The Pledge of Islamic Warriors’. The UMALID contains ten principles derived from different verses in the Quran, which state that every act one does must be done in the name of Allah, whether it is in defence of, or in the protection of, the name of Allah. The UMALID thus justifies attacking or using violence against someone if they disagree with the practice of those perceived Islamic rules and regulations.

Meanwhile, JAD follows the controversial and radical ideology of takfiri and jihadist. 

The takfiri ideology justifies attacks on any group, Muslim or non-Muslim, who do not share the same beliefs as they do, such as non-Sunni Muslims.

JAD also subscribes to an extremist interpretation of jihadist ideology, which gives grounds for Muslims to fight nonbelievers in defending their version of Islam. JAD’s interpretation of jihadism continues to be its justification for using bombs and violence in their terrorist attacks.

The ideologies of JI and JAD show that the extremist interpretation of Islamic values is the driving force of terrorism in Indonesia.

More on this: Learning to live Indonesian Islam

In response to the threat of extreme radicalisation, the government, especially under President Jokowi, has directed its resources towards investing in its counterterrorism force.

After the 2002 Bali bombings killed 88 Australians, Australia became one of the biggest investors in counterterrorism efforts in Indonesia and the national government used this money from investors to establish a leading counterterrorism training facility, JCLEC which has trained around 28,000 officials from 80 countries.

Even now, JCLEC continues to be essential for Indonesian and Australian cooperation on counterterrorism efforts and under Jokowi, the national security efforts have been strengthened through the creation of its special force for counterterrorism, Detachment 88.

In Jokowi’s first-term, Indonesia’s efforts in the JCLEC were strengthened through the signing of a program renewal agreement, which allowed for cooperation between Indonesia and Australia and for the Indonesian National Police force to have a larger role in its management. Jokowi also supported significantly increasing the size of Detachment 88, which has succeeded in stopping over 80 organised terrorist attacks.

These efforts have made Indonesia’s counterterrorism forces one of the most effective in the world and suggests that under Jokowi,  Indonesia is serious about getting rid of terrorism.

But is it enough?

A big reform to combat terrorism in the early stages would be to increase the presence of educational institutions that spread the ideas of tolerance. More often than not, radical ideas in Indonesia are spread in the pesantrenIslamic boarding schools where they teach extremist ideology in order to remain relevant.

Despite the move towards a more conservative Islam through the appointment of Ma’ruf as vice-president, it looks as though the winning candidates have a deradicalisation vision in mind that will address these institutions.

In fact, during the debates, Ma’ruf was highly praised for his sophisticated response to the issue as he stated that terrorism should be countered by alleviating people’s economic concerns and deradicalisation, the former through increasing employment opportunities and the latter through ‘straightening out people’s religious understanding.’

The Indonesian government should focus more on reaching out to closed off and separated institutions and invest their time and money in them to promote religious tolerance, if they want to tackle terrorism and religious extremism in a more nuanced way.



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