Islamic Extremists in Indonesia Targeting Youth, Women

‘Active intolerant’ teenagers increasing, official says.

Indonesian youth in Pallawa village, South Sulawesi Province, Indonesia. (Rezki Sugiharto Nurdin, Creative Commons)

Indonesian youth in Pallawa village, South Sulawesi Province, Indonesia. (Rezki Sugiharto Nurdin, Creative Commons)

SURABAYA, Indonesia (Morning Star News) – The head of Indonesia’s counter-terrorism agency said officials are focussing on protecting teenaged children and women from Islamic radicalization as they have become the most targeted groups.

Citing a report by the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, Rycko Amelza Dahniel of the National Counter-terrorism Agency (Badan Nasional Penanggulangan Terorisme, or BNPT) on Feb. 20 said that from 2016 to 2023, the percentage of high school students in five cities who moved from “passive intolerant” to “active intolerant” doubled, from 2.4 percent to 5 percent.

While those categorized as “intolerant” intensified from passive to active, tolerance among teens overall increased during the period, with those in the “tolerant” category moving from 61.6 percent to 70.2 percent, he said, citing The Setara Institute’s survey, “The Tolerance of Senior High School Students,” of May 2023.

Along with the increase among teenagers from passive intolerant to active intolerant, “those who are active become exposed to radicalization,” Rycko said at the BNPT 2024 National Working Meeting in Jakarta on Feb. 20. High school students exposed to radicalization groups increased from 0.3 percent to 0.6 percent, he said.

As active intolerance increased, the proportion of “passive intolerant” high school students shrank from 35.7 percent o 22.4 percent over the period, he said.

“In the results of research conducted from 2016 to 2023, although the increase in migration is only single digit, this vulnerable group is the nation’s next generation,” said the three-star police general.

Rycko said the Indonesia Knowledge Hub (I-Khub) BNPT Outlook 2023 showed that women, children and teenagers were the groups most targeted for radicalization, both offline and online.

As a result, women, children and teenagers are the focus of the counter-terrorism agency for both protection against radicalism and the threat of terrorist acts, he said.

Bonar Tigor Naipospos, deputy chairman of Setara Institute, told Morning Star News that, “In the eyes of the Islamists, young people and women are not only beneficial for the future but also demographically the largest age group.”

Muslim extremists indoctrinate them with the idea that Islam is a persecuted religion, he said.

“The issue they usually raise is Islam as an isolated and oppressed religion even though Islam is the solution for all life,” Bonar said. “For them, non-Islamic parties always have an interest in weakening Islam; if Islam does not rule and Islamic law is enforced, Muslims will forever be backward.”

Growing radicalism among youth mainly takes the form of intolerance, rather than violence, he said.

“For example, exclusivity only among themselves – they cannot mix with people of different religions,” Bonar said. “[They] do not accept class presidents or student council presidents of different religions, etc.”

Some evidence of such influence occurred in October 2020 at a high school in the capital, SMAN 58 Jakarta, where a Muslim teacher in East Jakarta allegedly sent a text message discouraging students from voting for non-Muslim candidates for chairmanship of the Student Executive Organization.

The message from the teacher, reportedly a religious studies and civic education teacher identified only as TS, went virtal on social media, according to The Jakarta Post.

“Be careful not to vote for non-Muslim OSIS chair candidates number 1 and 2,” the message read. “No matter what, we are the majority. We need a leader who shares our beliefs.”

The head of the DKI Jakarta Education Department, identified only as Nahdiana, said the teacher has been moved to another school.

A Jakarta city council member discovered the incident. Council Member Ima Mahdiah told media outlet IDN Time that she received a recording of a conversation in which a teacher said non-Muslim candidates for student council president should not advance despite having passed several selection steps.

Addressing school faculty’s concerns that two of five students selected as candidates for president were non-Muslims, Ima stated that attaining the position should be based on personal abilities and capabilities, not religion.

“These teachers stated that this was done because they were afraid that if the elected OSIS president was not a Muslim student, they would be inclined to create an OSIS program that was not pro-Islamic,” Ima reportedly said.

Indonesia ranked 42nd on Open Doors’ 2024 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. 

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