Monday, October 24, 2016

Radical Islamic ideology: Not about winning or losing

The world has praised Indonesia’s counterterrorism efforts in many forums and analyses. One of the latest analyses of how Indonesia effectively eliminates the threat of terrorism can be found in Jonathan Tepperman’s book published last month, The Fix: How Nations Survive and Thrive in A World in Decline.

Tepperman, the managing editor of Foreign Affairs, highlights the success story of Indonesia’s counterterrorism in Chapter Three, which carries the title “Kill Them with Kindness: How Indonesia Crushed and Co-opted Its Islamic Extremists”. On 19 pages of stories and analysis, Tepperman makes a claim about Indonesia’s dramatic success in countering terrorism.

To understand how exactly Indonesia beat back terrorism and radicalism, Tepperman lists five factors: (1) Islam in Indonesia has traditionally looked different from Islam in the Arab world; (2) the failure of Islamist political parties and the adoption of an Islamist political agenda; (3) embracing Islamist political parties; (4) the hard law enforcement approach to terrorism and (5) the soft approach of rehabilitation and deradicalization.

While I agree with Tepperman’s conclusion that “the big truth is that Indonesia has come close to effectively eliminating the threat of extremist violence” (page 70), there are many potentially misleading arguments Tepperman may not be aware of.

It is not entirely true that Islam in Indonesia is different from Islam in the Arab world, because as long as we talk about Islam based on the Quran and the Hadith is one and very much the same. The interpretation of Islam, Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh), and schools of Islamic law (mazhab) may have some differentiation, but in general it is about dissenting opinion (khilafiyah).

The way Tepperman argues about Indonesia’s Islam as “blending faith” or academically called “syncretic” is not only misleading but also ignores the Islamic purification movement in Indonesia. Even the traditionalist Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) cannot be perceived as syncretic just because of cultural assimilation of Javanese tradition in Islamic praying like tahlilan. This kind of tradition will not mix up the core faith of Islam in one God.

Theoretically, religious syncretism is a fusion of diverse religious beliefs and practices that results in a new concept, name or new religion, for example Gnosticism (Greek philosophy and religion especially Judaism and Christianity), Manichaeism (Christianity, Zoroastrianism and Buddhism) and Sikhism (Islam and Hinduism).

The supposition of the failure of Islamist political parties, for which Tepperman points to the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) as an Islamic Brotherhood-style party, oversimplifies the relation between Islamic political parties and the aspiration of creating an Islamic state based on the Sharia. By focusing on election results, corruption cases and morals that tarnished the PKS’s image, Tepperman forgets that what has happened to the PKS has nothing to do with radicalism and terrorism.

In the eyes of radicals of ISIS Salafi-Jihadi-style ideology, the PKS is in the camp of the enemy because it accepts democracy. This argument also applies to the concept of Islamist parties in general and to bringing Islamist party into the government.

Of Tepperman’s five factors, the hard and soft approaches of counterterrorism by Indonesia’s government are the only relevant factors that explain the success story of Indonesia. It should be also noted that killing Indonesian Muslim “terrorism” suspects with kindness makes no sense. There is no kindness in killing people, no matter who they are. The incident of Siyono as the 121st person to have died after being arrested by antiterrorism squad Densus 88, according to the National Commission on Human Rights, is far from kindness and has invited not only criticism but also suspicion. One of the largest Islamic organizations, Muhammadiyah, and several other civil society organizations have supported this movement.

Indonesia, however, has to remain alert to the stubbornness of radical ideology for several reasons. First, the level of education and understanding of Islamic teaching in Indonesia is surprisingly low. The many cases of Islamic deviant sects like Lia Eden’s Salamullah and Gafatar’s Al Qiyadah Al Islamiyah, and fraudulent activities masked with Islam, like those of Dimas Kanjeng and many others are only a few examples of how easily “teachers” use the label Islam as cover to attract hundreds or even thousands of followers.

This is why radical ideology, which has no reference in the historical context of Islam during the time of the Prophet Muhammad, can attract many followers here. The narrative of radical teaching simply has deceived and herded the followers into a well constructed concept of jihad in support of the struggle of al-Qaeda in past and now ISIS in the Arab world.

Second, what makes radical ideology survive from generation to generation in Indonesia is the historical involvement among members of families and groups. Following Solahuddin’s approach outlined in The Roots of Terrorism in Indonesia: From Darul Islam to Jema’ah Islamiyah, the transformation of Indonesia’s terrorist groups has strong links to key figures and their families. In other words, those figures are the core, while the others are new followers or recruits.

This argument may not suit the case of Santoso as the leader of the East Indonesia Mujahidin (MIT) group, but a simple explanation from the residue of Poso’s religious conflict in 1998 and 2000 is enough to understand the existence of the MIT. Despite the successful Malino peace talks in 2001, some people like the deceased Santoso and his followers choose to join the fight to uphold the Caliphate of Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi.

The history of religious conflict between Islam and non-Islam in Indonesia is the third factor supporting the perpetual existence of radical Islamic ideology.

Fourth is that in general, fighting for Islam is not about winning or losing in the context of world affairs. It is about idealism of being a true Muslim in the eyes of the God Almighty as stated in the Quran. God’s command of perfection in being a Muslim, if not carefully understood, can be narrowed down to the concept of jihad by force in radical teaching.

The teaching of Aman Abdurrahman, an Indonesian ideologue of the hardline takfiri doctrine and tauhid wal jihad, for example, is based on Jordanian-Palestinian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s concept of jihad. The teaching of Zarqawi can be put in simple relation of dedicating to tauhid or monotheism and jihad as the highest evidence of being a perfect Muslim.

From those factors, under the shadow of Indonesia’s successful counterterrorism operation, the potential threat of terrorism has become latent and may be revived in the future. Indonesia cannot be complacent but must carry on addressing the root problems of radicalism, especially through education.

In the context of the hard approach to tackle actual terrorist threats, law enforcers should avoid killing suspects during arrest, because there is no such thing as “killing with kindness”. Finally, being critical of foreign insight like Tepperman’s book is fundamental, because we know ourselves better.

The writer Puguh Sadadi is a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester, UK, and visiting fellow at CSIS Jakarta.


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