Systematic deradicalization program needed: Expert

The war against terror is a war of ideologies. It can only be won by changing extremists’ belief in the use of violence, an expert in Indonesian extremism says.

Executive director of the Institute of International Peace Building, Noor Huda Ismail, believes terrorism can be rooted out of society, particularly in Indonesia, but the government and civil society should place more emphasis on “deradicalizing” extremists. The Institute is an organization that aims to rehabilitate former terrorists.

“[Terrorism can be rooted out] because the grievances are not real, unlike in Palestine, where people witness their mother being hurt; or have seen their friends or fathers suffer acts of violence,” he said recently.

“Here, there were no real grievances after Poso and Ambon,” he said, referring to the sectarian conflict between Muslims and Christians between 1999 and 2002.

Since the 2002 Bali bombings, the Indonesian government has implemented a deradicalization program, which consists in using former Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) militants such as Malaysian Nasir Abas to talk to terror suspects and convicts in prison. After their release from prison, former terror suspects receive economic assistance to start a business. Huda noted however that there was much room to improve the deradicalization program in Indonesia.

According to the International Crisis Group (ICG) 2007 report on deradicalization in Indonesian prisons, the program succeeded in making two dozens of former JI member cooperate with the police.
However, the police have arrested more than 450 terror suspects, Noor Huda said, and around 200 have been released after serving sentences, noting that these men were prone to becoming recidivists.

Some former militants who followed the deradicalization program have returned to JI combatant activities. Urwah, a JI member who served four years behind bars for his involvement in the 2004 Australian Embassy bombing, took part in the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels in July last year after his release from prison.

The family or children of former combatants who were arrested or killed should also be included in the deradicalization program, as they were also prone to radicalism, Noor Huda added.

“Look for instance at [the case of] Muhammad Jibril, Abu Jibril’s son,” Huda said. Muhammad was arrested for allegedly helping finance the attacks on the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels in July last year. His father, now a cleric in Pamulang, was a treasurer along with Hambali, a key Jemaah Islamiyah financier currently held in the US. Jibril spent three years in prison for being a hardliner in the early 1980s. He played a role in supporting sectarian conflicts in Poso, Central Sulawesi, until he was arrested by the Malaysian government, which held him from 2001 and 2004 under the country’s Internal Security Act for promoting radicalism.

Huda noted there had not been any systematic reprogramming or deradicalizing of convicts in the last few years. “The important thing is implementing a curative approach [rather than repressive methods]. From the moment terror suspects are arrested, they should be enrolled in the deradicalization program, and we have to know what they’re up to after their release,” he said.

The ICG noted in its report that deradicalization programs had largely been viewed in isolation from other developments.

“There has been little attempt, for example, to assess whether more people are leaving jihadi organizations than joining them; whether the men joining the program were already disposed to reject bombing as a tactic; or whether the initiative has created any backlash in jihadi ranks. There has been almost no public discussion about where the appropriate balance should be between leniency toward perpetrators, in an effort to prevent future attacks, and justice for victims,” the report stated.

Huda said the task of deradicalizing former combatants should not only rest with the police. In the report he co-authored with Carl Ungerer for the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), he wrote that the best way to counter radical ideology might be “to empower militant leaders [who are no longer hardliners] whom the fringe group continues to trust, such as Afghanistan or Philippines veterans, and who are now lying low”.

He added that civil society such as the Muslim organization Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah should be more active in countering radical ideologies.

Nahdlatul Ulama’s Hafidz Usman said the organization did not have a specific division in charge of approaching former terrorists, but worked with the government to support their program.

National Police deputy spokesman Brig, Gen. Sulistyo Ishaq concurred with Huda, saying the deradicalization process, in order to be effective, had to involve many parties. “The point is to give new understanding [perspective] to terrorist convicts and their families,” he said.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post | Life | Fri, March 26 2010

Innocent victim: David Potter, a senior executive of PT Freeport Indonesia, is transferred to a hospital in Jakarta. Voices of the bombing victims are rarely heard in the media. JP/Nurhayati
Innocent victim: David Potter, a senior executive of PT Freeport Indonesia, is transferred to a hospital in Jakarta. Voices of the bombing victims are rarely heard in the media. JP/Nurhayati

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