Indonesia’s Attempted De-radicalization Program

By: Daniel Nardini

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Commentary One of the biggest concerns of the Indonesian government these days is the growth of the power of radical Muslim imams (religious leaders). There is reason to be concerned—since 2005 more than 2,500 people have been killed in communal violence because of religious leaders exhorting people to go out into the streets and “burn down churches.” Most of the victims have been Christians and Indonesia’s minority Hindus. It is important to note that Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim country. It also has many religious minorities. As has been happening in many parts of the Middle East, a growing number of preachers have become radicalized and are calling for “jihad” against Indonesia’s religious and ethnic minorities. The government in too many ways has been helpless to stop the carnage, and has more often than not had to resort to military force to suppress this communal violence. More times than not, this has led to the death of many innocent people on all sides, and even deeper hate and mistrust of the government—exactly what the radical preachers want.

To combat the rise of this extremism, the Indonesian government has introduced a de-radicalization program. The program would select imams from majority Muslim provinces and be under government supervision. The goal of the program is to have imams work with young people and their congregations to teach the evils of extremist thinking and extremist acts. The program aims to show how “un-Islamic” violence and killing are, and help Muslims work with their non-Muslim neighbors to try and fight extremism. This way, the government can be proactive rather than reactive in dealing with extremism. This program sadly has a very uphill battle. Most of the imams in the country have rejected this program. They call it a program “to regulate religion.” As many government officials have expressed, this program is not to regulate religion, but to stop the spread of violence that has engulfed many parts of the country. This idea seems to be falling on deaf ears. Because Islam is the state religion, imams have a great deal of political as well as religious influence in the country. They are reluctant to share this power with anyone including the government.

In Indonesia, imams range from religiously and politically moderate to very radical. The major problem is fighting the radical preachers so that communal violence will not be such a threat to the state. Since Indonesia is an island nation, there are many parts of this country that are autonomous—having their own self-government, their own religious institutions, and some islands are more governed by shariah or Muslim religious law than others. There are moderate Muslim organizations, such as the Wahid Institute and the Maarif Institute, that want to stop the radicalization that is happening in so many places in the country. The Indonesian government should do more to help support these two organizations. But the main problem is that the government itself is being influenced by some of the more radical imams who are causing the violence and bloodshed in Indonesia. In the province of East Sumatra alone, churches in the suburbs of Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, have either been closed or burned down. All of this shows that religious tolerance, which Indonesia had been known for, is being torn asunder. So I ask myself, “Will this de-radicalization program really get off the ground?”

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