Thursday, July 31, 2008

De-radicalizing the Radicals: A Proposal

Bahtiar Effendy recently wrote an interesting article about the problems of combating terrorism in Indonesia (The Jakarta Post, 21/07/2008). He has rightly pointed out that one of the most important problems in combating terrorism is the lack of any serious efforts by the government to address the theological or doctrinal basis for terrorism.

Recent project by the Partnership for Governance Reform and Crime Prevention Foundation in Indonesia (LCKI) from May to December 2007 which focused on finding alternative mechanism of managing terror prevention efforts in Indonesia arrived at three broad suggestions. First, structurally, it suggests the establishment of a national coordinating body for countering terrorism under the control of the president. It is responsible for effectively coordinating cross-sector activities by different anti-terrorism agencies in the prevention and management of terrorism. Planning, organizing, implementing, monitoring, controlling as well as providing financial support for joint programs to prevent and tackle terrorism will become the main focus of this body. It will not take over the specific functions attached to the existing agencies but instead it will harmonize these functions, to make them efficient, more effective and focused on the common objectives.

Second, instrumentally, there is a need to re-arrange an umbrella law on the prevention and management of terrorism in Indonesia that will consist of: (a) formulation of an umbrella law for the establishment of a national counter terrorism agency, (b) strengthening of the existing umbrella law, particularly the refinement of Law No. 15/2003 on Terrorism Crime, (c) formulation of laws related to radical and anarchic organizations, (d) policy formulation on the effectiveness of intelligence reports, (e) socialization of national policies and strategies on terrorism eradication, and (f) adjustment of the national laws to relevant international laws, particularly international conventions which so far have been ratified by Indonesia.

Third, culturally, there is a need to engage various religious bodies and figures to create better awareness of the community on legal issues and different aspects of terrorism. This so-called soft-power approach or de-radicalization process through intensive direct engagement and dialogue will become an important entry point to achieve what Bahtiar has mentioned as addressing the theological or doctrinal basis for terrorism.

The three suggestions or objectives above are not easy to achieve. Theoretically, the first two (structural and instrumental objectives) could successfully be achieved through the use of intensive public pressure to the executive and legislative bodies to conduct and formulate necessary strategies on this matter. Legal-formal approach through existing democratic channels should maximally be utilized as a strategy to achieve the objectives.

On the other hand, the third objective is more delicate to achieve than the first two objectives. Altering or making a change to one’s mindset is not an easy task to do. Brainwashing strategies are not the best known and appropriate activities to achieve this objective in a democratic society. Instead intensive dialogue and communication would be deemed more acceptable and appropriate approach to achieve this objective.

Politics is about managing problems and democracy allows this process. Different views and opinions should be allowed to emerge and solutions are achieved through discussions and consultations.

One possible, tangible step that can be proposed as an entry point to arrive at this target of altering the mind of radical groups is through the introduction and dissemination of human right values. The fact that all religions teach human rights and that respect of human life and all living beings is an integral part of religious teachings should provide an opening for an intensive discussion and communication with these groups. This process should lead to a common ground that all acts of terrorism and radicalism are contrary to human right values.

Better understanding of human rights and respect of human life and living beings would, in my view, help radical groups to understand better about the differences of various elements in the society they are a part of. It would help them in exercising and practicing their religious teachings better. Fateful incident such as Monument National incident on 1 June 2008 would be avoidable in future.

It should be noted here that this proposal is not easy to achieve. Any absence of goodwill or willingness from the groups to learn about the subject such as human rights could become a huge stumbling block. The nature of exclusivity in such groups should become matter of concern before embarking on this proposal.

However, to be optimist, this proposal should be tried and tested. Thus, the role of civil society organizations in this matter is so important, especially in the current context of democratization in Indonesia. For de-radicalization process of radical Muslim groups in Indonesia, the role of NU and Muhammadiyah as two leading civil society organizations in Indonesia should be accounted for. They must play a vanguard position to ensure that Islam is really a religion that is rahmatan lil ‘alamin.

At the same time, the media as the fourth pillar of republic should also play important role in providing information, education and bringing up discourses related to this issue so that an integrated effort could be established to achieve this objective.

It will be a long process though but worth to try.

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