NGOs supplement state deradicalization efforts in Indonesia

NGOs supplement state deradicalization efforts in Indonesia

Top Stories | Feb 17, 2020:

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Indonesia are working to deradicalize former violent extremists by providing job training and helping them set up businesses of their own. These NGO efforts supplement a state-run program of deradicalization, particularly after former extremists are released from government custody.

Indonesia witnessed 45 violent attacks by extremists between 1982 and 2020, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies Indonesia, a policy think tank. Since 2000, the majority have been perpetrated by the al-Qaida-linked Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and Jamaah Ansharut Daulah, an Indonesian extremist group loyal to the Islamic State.

About 600 accused or convicted extremists sit in Indonesian jails and prisons, deradicalization scholar Cameron Sumpter estimated in a report for the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism at The Hague. Between 2002 and 2019, 650 inmates were released after serving sentences for terrorism offenses, he wrote.

To qualify for parole and release, inmates held on terrorism charges are required to complete the state-mandated deradicalization program, Dharma Agastia, assistant professor of international relations at President University in West Java, Indonesia, told FORUM.

Agastia recently co-authored “Countering Violent Extremism through State-Society Partnerships: A case study of de-radicalisation programmes in Indonesia,” for the Journal of Policing, Intelligence and Counter Terrorism.

The state program aims to reverse radical indoctrination by collecting data and determining each prisoner’s level of ideological commitment, Sumpter reported. Next comes rehabilitation, to “develop moderate understandings and attitudes” among prisoners and their families, so they “become inclusive, peaceful and tolerant” citizens.

“Extremists often disengage from violence if they feel disillusioned with the terrorist organization’s aims or practices,” Agastia said. Once released, many former extremists enroll in rehabilitation programs run by NGOs.

“These programs may provide business loans, which let them start up small businesses — usually food stalls,” she said, or provide participants with job training. A deradicalization success story, she explained, is one that ends with a former violent extremist starting a new life as a peaceful and contributing member of society.

Agastia gave the example of Nasir Abbas, born in Pakistan, who trained JI violent extremists for combat in Indonesia in the 1990s. He was arrested in April 2003, six months after several of his former students carried out a bomb attack in Bali that left 202 civilians dead, an event he told BBC reporters left him “shocked” and feeling “sin.”

After going through the state deradicalization program, Abbas turned evidence against JI members, leading to their convictions and imprisonment. “He then helped the police communicate with extremists in prison,” Agastia said, “as they would listen to Nasir.”

An aftercare program for former extremists is funded by Yayasan Prasasti Perdamaian, an NGO. The program trains and employs them in its Dapoer Bistik fast-food restaurant in the Indonesian city of Surakarata and helps them start their own small businesses. (Pictured: Activists speak at a workshop in East Jakarta, Indonesia, designed to counter violent extremism.)

“Dapoer Bistik is a shining example of such community-building as they maintain a large support network” of former extremists, she said.

Other NGOs focus on prevention efforts to counter radicalization, Agastia said. These include the Asia Muslim Action Network, which provides education and a sense of community as an inoculation against extremist ideals.

Tom Abke is a FORUM contributor reporting from Singapore.