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Jakarta Post

How do Islamic extremists become aware of their errors?

  • Elly Burhaini Faizal
    Elly Burhaini Faizal

    The Jakarta Post

  /   Mon, March 21, 2016   /  09:36 pm
How do Islamic extremists become aware of their errors? Repent and change – Former Jamaah Islamiyah member Nasir Abas (third from left) appears at a book launch event in Jakarta. Research conducted by a lecturer named Suratno from the University of Paramadina in Jakarta maps out various situations that can lead to someone becoming an Islamic extremist and what, in turn, can cause them to repent and change. (Kompas/-)

A recent study has revealed some insights into how Islamic fanatics come to express regret for their extremism.

Research conducted by a lecturer named Suratno from the University of Paramadina in Jakarta maps out the various situations that can lead someone to become an Islamic extremist and what can cause the extremist to then repent and change behavior.  

“Results from this research can advise the relevant authorities in carrying out de-radicalization programs,” he said as quoted by kompas.com in Jakarta on Monday.

In his research, Suratno said he carried out in-depth interviews with ex-Islamic extremists in Indonesia. They included Nasir Abas Ali Imron from regional terrorist group Jamaah Islamiyah (JI), Mataharitimoer from the Indonesian Islamic State (NII) movement and Jafar Thalib from the disbanded Laskar Jihad Muslim paramilitary group. The lecturer said he interviewed 10 ex-Islamist extremists for his research.

Suratno said it turned out that many people who joined with extremist movements were in fact “unstable” to begin with. Citing a term used by Arnold van Gennep (1960) and Victor Turner (1969), the lecturer said the unstable condition of the extremists was “liminal”.

He further explained that Gennep and Turner conceptualized liminality as a condition quite similar to the growing-up process of a human being, which saw many complex and ambiguous moments marking the transition from childhood to adulthood.

“The liminal phase can make an extremist become a more extreme person or to repent and change behavior,” the researcher said.

For his doctoral dissertation in Frankfurt, Germany, Suratno researched the reasons why extremists decided to leave their radical ways and stop killing and abusing other people. This “anthropology of repentance” can be defined as a process that can lead to an exclamation of regret.

The research reveals that the process, which triggers someone to join with an extremist movement, could also be influential in his or her decision to repent and change.

“If someone decides to join with an extremist group under the influence of his or her friends, there is a wider possibility that in the liminal process, he or she will repent and change,” said Suratno.

In general, he said there were push and pull factors that could lead an extremist to repent and change. Among the push factors included disagreements over the attitude of their leaders, their discomfort at witnessing and participating in torture and violence and changes in ideology.

Citing an example, Suratno said Abas decided to repent and change due to a disagreement with his leader, Abu Bakar Ba’asyir. Meanwhile, Mataharitimoer decided to leave his radical group due to leadership changes. Meanwhile, Jafar of the Laskar Jihad militia swore to God to change his ways after he learned of several ulema edicts.

Several other extremists said they wanted to leave their extremist groups for personal reasons. For example, some wanted to have a normal life and they missed their families.

“Psychological changes and the power of love are often dominant in influencing an extremist to repent and change,” said Suratno.

From his research, Suratno said it was probable that de-radicalization programs could be successfully conducted. “Abas had the potential to repent and change due to his disappointment in Ba’asyir. However, his heart was touched more deeply after he was interrogated by Col. Bekto Prasetyo, a gentle Catholic,” said Suratno, adding that careful psychological approaches were crucial to de-radicalization programs. (ebf)

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