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Jakarta Post

Countering radical narratives on Indonesia'€™s social media

  • Noor Huda Ismail

    The Jakarta Post

Melbourne   /   Thu, August 7, 2014   /  10:13 am

The newly released and widely distributed video professionally made by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and featuring Indonesian fighter Abu Muhammad al-Indonesi calling Indonesian Muslims to '€œjoin the ranks'€ suggests the emergence of a new threat coming from social media.  

In the following days, a picture of firebrand Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Ba'€™asyir with his hardcore followers, mainly from the Aceh military camp, and with an ISIL flag as its background '€” taken in his supposedly maximum-security prison in Nusakambangan, Central Java '€” was also widely circulated on Indonesia'€™s social media.

With this powerful sharing opportunity, social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube can be easily used to spread extremism by hardliners.  

Therefore, the use of social media by radical groups to advance their causes and as one of their tools for recruitment, fundraising and propaganda purposes must be challenged. Otherwise, we will see more young people like Abu Zaid al-Indonesi, 19, one of the Indonesian students who studied at Imam Hatib School in Turkey and who went to Syria to join ISIL. He then recruited his friends via Facebook to join him in the following months. These days, he continues to encourage his Facebook friends to join ISIS and promises that he can help them with contacts.

According to 2011 statistics from Techinasia, Indonesia has the second-largest population of Facebook users at 35.4 million and the fourth-largest population of Twitter users with more than 4.8 million, not to mention the high number of other social media users.

Another threat is lurking given the fact that 30 million teenagers can access the Internet and most of their parents do not know what they are doing online according to the latest study by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University.

Up to now there has been no systematic effort made by the Indonesian government, let alone civil society, to challenge the arguments of those jihadists in the social media who are cleverly targeting individuals at risk (mainly young people below 35 years old). It may sound silly and ridiculous for many of us, but these people tend to spend their time online rather than offline and enjoy being '€œliked'€ on Facebook.

Given such a phenomenon, there are growing concerns that Indonesia is going to see more self-radicalized individuals coming from at-risk situations who then tend to link up with violent members of groups like Jamaah Islamiyah, Jamaah Ansyarud Tauhid and Tauhid Wal Jihad, who subsequently channel them to extreme actions.

In the case of joining ISIL, the group'€™s supporters offer a swift argument: '€œWe are not joining a terrorist group like al-Qaeda but we are supporting an Islamic caliphate as part of a prophecy that will emerge every 100 years.'€

This kind of argument will appeal not only to the jihadist community alone but also to thousands of Indonesian Muslims who dream of living under an Islamic caliphate and it is harder to challenge by the Indonesian authorities.

In general, Indonesians are not aware of ISIL, let alone understand their brutal track record, which includes killing Muslims who don'€™t share their extreme views on Islam. Sadly, many analysts and journalists have labeled ISIL as '€œSunni insurgents'€ simply because the group has been demonstrating intense hatred toward Shiites.  In reality, ISIL has not just killed Shia followers but also Sunnis from other jihadi organizations like JN (Jabhat al-Nusra).

If extremists have successfully employed social media to spread their extremist message on YouTube, we, as part of society, need to create a campaign on social media to counter their movement.

We can take a closer look at how '€œcreative'€ extremists use technology to spread their ideology by watching their videos and reading their tweets and postings.

With the help of civil society, the Indonesian government could launch soft campaigns in social media by developing key messages to challenge the extremist narratives.

Here are some examples of the message that I think fit: How can ISIL be called an Islamic caliphate while they kill other Muslims? ISIS isn'€™t the only player who wants to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad'€™s regime from power, there are others, especially locals. Syrians have the right to determine their own destiny. One can'€™t go for jihad without the blessing or permission of one'€™s parents. What does it mean being an ISIL member while you still hold an Indonesian passport? Does that mean you are a hypocrite? How come you call people outside your groups '€œinfidels'€ and thaghut (worship other than God)? Are you going to say that to your parents too?

Such approaches will help us reach a wider audience, especially young people who easily fall prey to the extremists.

__________________

The writer is founder of the Institute for International Peace Building, Jakarta. He is pursuing a PhD on politics and international relations at Monash University, Melbourne

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