Jakarta Post

Please Update your browser

Your browser is out of date, and may not be compatible with our website. A list of the most popular web browsers can be found below.
Just click on the icons to get to the download page.

Jakarta Post
The Jakarta Post
Video Weather icon 30°C
DKI Jakarta, Indonesia
30°C Partly Cloudy

Dry and mostly cloudy throughout the day.

  • Wed

    26℃ - 32℃

  • Thu

    25℃ - 32℃

  • Fri

    25℃ - 31℃

  • Sat

    26℃ - 30℃

Searching for the root problems of ISIL in Indonesia

  • M. Rizvi Shihab

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta | Fri, August 15, 2014 | 09:36 am

The arrival of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Indonesia sounds alarming. The radical group has caused havoc in Iraq and in the ongoing civil war in Syria in their push for an Islamic caliphate.

Documented videos of ISIL members brutally executing military and civilian opposition sent shockwaves across humanity. Their attempt to penetrate Indonesia has ignited serious reactions from the government and religious scholars. Radicalism has easily entered Indonesia and attracted a following through an unawareness of national security, social media disinformation and insufficient rural education.

These are valid explanations, but many overlook the basic root of the problem that has allowed radical concepts to infiltrate Indonesia: poverty and the illusion of a growing economy.

Currently, Indonesia boasts a top-10 economy with its gross domestic product (GDP) ranking 10th in the world. However, does a high GDP translate into a balanced economy for all social classes?  

The poverty rate has increased in the past several years and stands at 11.3 percent. The main culprit for this discrepancy is foreign control of many of Indonesia'€™s products, the source of GDP calculation. The economic disconnect between statisticians'€™ reports and the experience of the majority of Indonesians leads to frustration, distrust and apathy and is used by radicals to persuade their followers to change the status quo through reformations, demonstrations or violence.

A parallel could be drawn between Indonesia'€™s current situation and the Nigerian radical group, Boko Haram.

Like ISIL, Boko Haram interprets the Koran inflexibly and desires an Islamic caliphate. They also view their government as anti-Islamic and holds it responsible for the exploitation of the lower class for the benefit of the elite. In response, Boko Haram has engaged in conflict with the army, police and opposing civilians.

Nigeria is a young democracy, which began its political transformation one year after Indonesia in 1999. More than 50 percent of the population in the two countries earns less than US$2 per day and both of them struggle against national underdevelopment.

But what most correlates Boko Haram'€™s Nigerian existence and ISIL'€™s Indonesian emergence is the poverty that coalesced with the false impression of a booming economy. Nigeria ranks in GDP as a leading African economy, which is a great achievement '€” much like Indonesia'€™s top-10 status. Nonetheless, there is inadequate economic distribution in both nations, so illiteracy, unemployment and marginalization are rampant.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the former French president, stated that, '€œNothing is more destructive than the gap between people'€™s perceptions of their own day-to-day economic well-being and what politicians and statisticians are telling them.'€

A devastating example of Sarkozy'€™s assertion is the radicals'€™ ability to use this delusional economic dynamic to create antagonistic rhetoric against a government and to recruit desperate followers who lack practical options. Shelter, food and educational opportunities will be given to fill the void the government has left vacant.

To diagnose a social problem, sometimes it is imperative to view the issue from a different viewpoint. Occasionally, the entity that experiences the problem (the government) could also be one of the main causes of it in the first place.

Another glaring resemblance between these two nations is the notorious practice of governmental corruption that not only cripples the distribution of wealth, but also creates division between the governing elite and the people. The anatomy of a nation is similar to a human body'€™s: a problem on one end will probably effect a spot on the other, especially if the problem is corruption.

The establishment of a self-serving government has created opportunities for radicalism to manifest.

National morale declines when the government takes pride in its economy, while the majority of citizens still struggle to make ends meet. The government has insulted the intelligence of the public by understating or belittling the real situation.

Instead of GDP alone, Indonesia'€™s economic status is better gauged using the human development index (HDI), which combines the nation'€™s GDP, life expectancy and educational standards. Indonesia'€™s HDI is unimpressively 121st globally '€” far from '€œthe 10th largest economy in the world'€ tag.

The incoming government can learn lessons from the current one and uphold transparency when it comes to economic performance.

The measures taken by the government and leading religious figures to stifle extremism by raising awareness and banning ISIL are admirable. Moderate Islamic organizations like Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah should collaborate to address the problem of radicalism and the Foreign Affairs Ministry can take more preventive measures to curb the influx of radicals.

Only if all elements of the nation work together can ISIL be reined in in Indonesia, but to prevent a mutation of the same ideological disease resurfacing the root causes of the problem must first be eradicated.

The establishment of a self-serving government has created opportunities for radicalism to manifest.


The writer is a researcher at Bina Bangsa Foundation, which deals with religious pluralism and Indonesian politics.