News of former terror convicts now actively promoting deradicalization programs are indeed uplifting. These transformed terrorists are working hard to dispel the misconceived ideas that terror acts were a form of jihad.
Even though the action by a dozen ex-terrorists may not fully quell the rising wave of radicalization, at least their story could serve as a case study for the government in formulating more effective and well-targeted deradicalization programs. These programs will also help the government measure the performance of the National Counterterrorism Agency.
Currently, there are at least 1,300 Indonesian citizens who have been convicted for their roles in various terror crimes since the 2002 Bali bombing. Around 900 of them have served their time and returned to the community. They are the prime target for deradicalization programs although some of them refuse to participate.
Already we are seeing some of them re-engaging in acts of violence. The bombing of the Ecumene church in Samarinda, East Kalimantan, late last year, which killed a 2-year old girl, Intan Olivia Marbun, was carried out by an ex-terrorist convict. So were the blasts at the Sarinah department store in Central Jakarta early last year, and in Kampung Melayu, East Jakarta, last month.
Even for those considered to have been ‘deradicalized’, not all have really given up the extremist ideology of the Islamic state. They agreed to renounce their violent acts, but many still dream of changing Indonesia into an Islamic state. Sydney Jones of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict said in 2014 some of the former terrorists participated in the deradicalization programs only because of financial reason or other gains.
This conclusion did not come as a surprise. During the New Order area, the government applied a similar strategy to deradicalize Indonesian Islamic State leaders and Darul Islam/Indonesian Islamic Army activists. Some of them received economic supports such as gas stations and became kerosene agents for the National Intelligence Coordination Agency under the armed forces. However, history proved that such a model was not effective in countering the return of radicalism.
The low success level of these programs should not deter all stakeholders from pushing ahead with the efforts. In fact, even more rigorous efforts are needed. The experience of various non-governmental institutions active in the field showed that one of the keys to their program’s success was by finding out what pushed someone to become a terrorist. The Institute for International Peace Building, one of the institutions that uses this approach, call it an effort to find ‘the point of departure’.
Each ex-terror convict has a different story to tell. Some were pushed by their experience as a victim of injustice while others were influenced by indoctrination from their clerics or family members. Their distinctive trigger factors call for different types of deradicalization activities. An ex-bomber had his conscience pricked after meeting with a victim. Another had a change of heart after seeing the piety of the police anti-terror squad the Detachment 88officers. In other words, there is no one-size-fits-all program that suits everyone.
In addition to deradicalization, another critical point that should not be overlooked is early prevention. Religious education given in schools must be monitored to this effect.
A survey by the Islamic and Social Studies Center at the Jakarta State Islamic University done on 500 teachers of the religion of Islam in five provinces late last year found that more than 80 percent of respondents rejected non-Muslim leaders and the establishment of religious places of worship of other faiths in their vicinities. The authorities should also be on the look-out for intolerant sermons to prevent the spread of hardline notions.
Conservatism in schools and places of worship is a gateway for extremism. The government cannot afford to sit idly by and be complacent in fighting thriving radicalism.
Hand in hand, the public at all levels of society and non-government institutions should work together to promote and spread moderate and tolerant Islam.