500 Indonesians have gone to Syria and joined ISIS – 4 percent of all Indonesians support ISIS. Indonesia has a population of over 250 million, with more than 85 percent identifying as Muslims. An alarming 4 percent can definitely grow as more [Indonesian] Muslims see IS as the only power that can resist Western hegemony
Experts on counterterrorism and religion are calling on the Indonesian government and mainstream Muslim organizations to openly and proactively contain the spread of the Islamic State movement, as a survey showed there was a relatively small but nonetheless "alarming" number of supporters in the country.
Pew Research Center on Tuesday published its latest findings on the issue, which said 79 percent of 1,000 Indonesian respondents from across the archipelago held unfavorable views of IS, the movement that established a caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria in June last year and has since claimed responsibility for a series of brutal attacks around the world.
Only 4 percent of Indonesian respondents stated that they supported the radical movement, while the remainder declined to disclose their opinion.
"The finding is alarming for us because the [4 percent] figure can definitely grow as more [Indonesian] Muslims see IS as the only power that can resist Western hegemony," Fajar Riza Ul Haq, an Islamic scholar and executive director of the Maarif Institute, told the Jakarta Globe on Wednesday.
Other observers agree that support for IS, even if it is relatively small, is dangerous.
Taufik Andrie, a counterterrorism expert with the Jakarta-based Institute for International Peace Building, told the Globe that although the number of IS supporters in Indonesia seems minor, this group still constitutes a threat to the country's secular state ideology known as Pancasila.
"If the number rises, the public's perception of IS can change in favor of them and there will be an endless confrontation in Indonesia," Taufik said.
Authorities have said that an estimated 500 Indonesians have gone to Syria and joined the radical movement, which has claimed responsibility for attacks that killed hundreds in the past three weeks alone, in Paris, Beirut and onboard a Russian passenger jet flying over Egypt's Sinai peninsula.
Indonesia has a population of over 250 million, with more than 85 percent identifying as Muslims.
According to Taufik, supporters of the IS movement in Indonesia can be divided into three clusters: core supporters that include radical groups such as the East Indonesia Mujahidin (MIT) and Jemaah Islamiyah; a group that fully understands and approves of the caliphate as a form of state; and a group of poorly educated Indonesian Muslims who are easily brainwashed by the concept of Islamic rule.
Fajar pointed out that the economic and political instability in the world today likely was to blame for the mindset of people supporting IS, in Indonesia and elsewhere, but he stressed that this should never be used as a justification for radical actions.
He also said that the Darul Islam movement in Indonesia, which fought for an Islamic state until the early 1960s in various parts of the archipelago, has also left its marks and made some Indonesians more susceptible to ideologies like that of IS, until today.
Taufik added that support for the IS movement was generally based on teachings that instruct Muslims to support a caliphate as that would allow for the implementation of Shariah law.
"[This goes] especially for the men, who are expected to be proactive in showing their support, which eventually prompts them to move to the self-proclaimed caliphate from their 'infidel' country," he said.
Fajar expressed concerns that the presence of IS supporters -- even in small numbers -- could also damage the image of Indonesia, which has the world's largest Muslim population.
"The world's views of Islam in Indonesia are actually improving, although they're not yet strongly established," Fajar said. "As the situation in Middle Eastern countries is becoming more volatile, we can be the new face of Islam, one that is moderate and relatively stable."
To contain the spread of IS and other radical movements in Indonesia, the experts said the government and mainstream Muslim groups -- such as the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah -- must do more to dominate public platforms and boost moderate understandings of Islam.
Taufik stressed that moderate Muslim groups should get organized and speak up, as groups of IS supporters become increasingly outspoken on social media, at mosques and even in some schools.
"We must contest their ideology and prove that not everything that they believe in is right," he said.
Maarif Institute's Fajar added that mainstream Muslim groups must continuously spread Islamic teachings that uphold and respect diversity, and explain that true Islam condemns violent actions, especially murdering people in the name of religion.
"The challenge lies in how to make sure that Islam can't be built and developed on top of hatred, feuds and revenge," he says.
"Indonesian Muslims, as the majority of the population, therefore must play a bigger role in protecting our unity against sectarian conflicts that eventually will damage Islam," Fajar said.