How Indonesia keeps Islamic extremists at bay
Indonesia's version of counterterrorism could be a helpful example to follow in the campaign against extremism.
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The police force, especially its “Detachment 88” counterterrorism unit, has developed skills in intelligence and tracking that have hobbled terrorist plans. While some terrorists have been killed in firefights, authorities have captured more than 300, trying them in the courts, which sentenced them to jail or execution. A remarkable deradicalization program, using religion and soft persuasion, has redeemed some, a few of whom have appeared on television to apologize for their violent pasts. Although the Army was called in for the first time in October to hunt militants in north Sumatra, the government has largely maintained a sophisticated technique by the police to neutralize terrorists.Skip to next paragraph
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An example of tolerance and moderation
As President Obama reaches out to moderate Muslims around the world, Indonesia’s example could be helpful in the campaign against extremism. As I explore in my book, “Islamic Extremism and the War of Ideas: Lessons from Indonesia,” Yudhoyono suggests Indonesia’s melding of democracy, Islam, and modernity befits his nation for a constructive role in reducing terrorism, a crime that “is neither a holy war nor a struggle for justice.”
He promotes education as an antidote to terrorism, putting “marginalized societies on an equal footing with the West in deriving the benefits of civilization.” Indonesia has a healthy program of sending its own people to the US for higher education. Yudhoyono says tolerance and moderation should be taught in schools from an early age. He notes that Muslim students in Indonesian schools learn about Christian celebration of Christmas and Hindu traditions in the Indonesian island of Bali.
Related: Muslims guard Jakarta's Christians
With their own internal political problems, Indonesians adopt the practice of mushiwara, the art of bringing everybody together to make decisions by consensus, rather than determining winners and losers.
It’s an approach that Obama, who now heads a divided government, may have to adopt as well.
John Hughes, a former editor of the Monitor, writes a biweekly column. He won the 1967 Pulitzer prize for his coverage of Indonesia and is the author of "Islamic Extremism and the War of Ideas: Lessons from Indonesia."