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Parents worry about radicalisation in schools

Indonesia needs more deradicalisation programmes in order to combat extremist ideologues who seek to lure young people into their ranks, analysts say.

By Prima for Khabar Southeast Asia in Jakarta

August 29, 2012
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Like most mothers, Raudatun Naziah is always worried about her children. Amid recurring stories of youth recruitment by extremist groups, the 50-year-old housewife fears that militancy could prove alluring to her two sons, 22 and 19, both of whom are attending university.

  • High school students celebrate the ending of the four-day national exams in Medan, North Sumatra province on April 19th, 2012. Experts are urging Indonesia to implement a deradicalisation curriculum in schools, seen as an ideal place for extremists to find new recruits.[Roni Bintang/Reuters]

    High school students celebrate the ending of the four-day national exams in Medan, North Sumatra province on April 19th, 2012. Experts are urging Indonesia to implement a deradicalisation curriculum in schools, seen as an ideal place for extremists to find new recruits.[Roni Bintang/Reuters]

One day, she says, her younger son came home from a discussion about Islam and told her that he had been approached and persuaded by someone to join a group.

"I won't say which group, but from what I have heard [they are] notorious for their fanaticism and their unwillingness to accept differences," she told Khabar Southeast Asia.

Raised in a pious Muslim family, Raudatun would be happy for her children to follow her religious beliefs. But those beliefs do not include extremism and violence. She says she is concerned about the spate of terror attacks carried out by young people, many of whom were recruited while attending high school or university.

Such incidents include the March 2011 book bombings, which targeted Liberal Islam Network (JIL) founder Ulil Abshar Abdalla and other public figures. Pepi Fernando, arrested and sentenced to 18 years in prison for the attacks, was a graduate of Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University (UIN).

Universities, Raudatan says, should keep a close eye on radical groups and take action if suspicious activities are noted.

Fertile ground for extremists

"Universities and high schools are deemed ideal places for extremists to find new recruits because young people are generally still finding their identity, and their character is not as strong as adults. Therefore, it can be easier to sway them towards radicalism," said Ismail Hasani, a senior researcher of the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace.

Ismail, who is also a lecturer at UIN, said Indonesia is in dire need of a concrete deradicalisation programme.

"The talk about deradicalisation was hot a couple of years ago when there were many bombing incidents. However, as time goes by, we don't see the realisation," he told Khabar.

Indonesia, he added, has many instruments within the government that can be mobilised for counterterrorism activities. For instance, the National Counterterrorism Agency, and ministries of Religious Affairs, Education and Culture, and National Defence, should all come together to set aside funding and create curriculum that can be taught in schools, Ismail said.

"We don't have to call it deradicalisation; we can call it a 'character-building study' as long as it emphasises the importance of tolerance and respect towards differences," he said.

In 2011, Ismail and his fellow Muslim academics founded a group called Academics Guiding the Nation's Pillars (APPi Bangsa). The group vowed to fight against extremism, which has been poisoning students on campuses across the country.

However, Ismail said, the fight against radicalisation is hampered by resource constraints.

"Civil society's power is limited; we need the government's help," he said.

Sidney Jones, a senior adviser at the International Crisis Group's office in Jakarta, said the number of deradicalisation programmes has increased, but improvements are still needed. The existing programmes, she said, mostly focus on reforming adult terrorists who have already been convicted and are serving time in prison.

"There are very few deradicalisation programmes to prevent children from getting involved in terrorism," Jones said.

She said schools should consider changing the counsellors of Islamic study groups every three months to prevent children from being brainwashed and tricked into radicalism.

"Ideally, we should educate the children on counterterrorism subjects, and the schools must take the time to learn about the clerics or counsellors giving sermons to the students, learn what they say, what makes them interesting, and why the students would want to come and listen to them," she said.

Understanding the roots of radicalism

People do not turn into extremists overnight, analysts say, and identifying how it happens is crucial to preventing it.

According to Ismail, the process begins with intolerance and progresses to fanaticism, which eventually can lead to a propensity for violence.

"We should be able to see it coming, and before it happens, we should intervene," he said.

The government, scholars, and civil society must work together to create guidelines for tolerance and pluralism that could be taught in schools, Ismail said. For young people already involved in radicalism, he added, rehabilitation programmes should be put in place in order to get them back on track.

"Treat these children as victims. Don't criminalise them; punish adults who were responsible in recruiting them," he said.

Reader Comments
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    • haeruddin
      November 5, 2012 @ 07:11:20AM
    • This happened because of the lack of attention given by parents to their children. No matter how great the curriculum or how advanced the methods are, without the involvement of parents in enhancing learning, education cannot achieve its goals.

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