Indonesia's youth groups try to counter militant recruitment
As reports of militant recruitment among young people rise, small groups are popping up across Indonesia in an effort to help keep youths safe.
A concerted effort to get Indonesian Muslim conservatives to eschew violence through education, and a sweeping police dragnet that killed or captured many of Indonesia’s leading militants, has weakened large terrorist organizations, such as the once powerful Jemaah Islamiyah.Skip to next paragraph
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But now, militant organizations are turning to Indonesian youth to fill their depleted ranks and carry out missions.
In January, counterterrorrism police arrested members of a high school militant cell in Klaten, Central Java, planning to attack several local shrines and churches. Months later police foiled a plan to blow up a church outside Jakarta on Good Friday. That bust open a window on a new terror cell led by a graduate of the liberal State Islamic University (UIN), who learned his bombmaking skills through the Internet. At least six UIN students and alumni have been arrested on terrorism charges since 2010.
In the meantime, Muslim youth organizations are responding to the perceived uptick in militancy recruitment among youths in Indonesia. A dark red banner outside the Jakarta branch of the Islamic Students Association (HMI), an umbrella student group with ties to influential politicians reads, “Crisis Center.”
Part of the HMI association’s mission is to protect students from radicalization. “If the activities of HMI don’t fill their needs, they’ll look for something else that fulfills their curiosity,” says Ratna Sari, a member. At least 20 have contacted the center to get help after leaving militant groups since the center started almost three months ago.
Around 23 percent of Indonesian youths are unemployed, according to the International Labor Organization. That’s far above the national average of 7 percent, and is striking since the country’s growing economy is creating high-value jobs.
That unemployment rate leads to social and economic frustrations that influence the way the young generation perceives religion, says Syafii Anwar, director of the International Center for Islam and Pluralism, which is currently researching new trends in religious conservativism among university students.
Playing on perceived injustices
Many militant groups use the idea of establishing an Islamic state to appeal to increasingly conservative or disenfranchised youths who believe Indonesia’s secular government has failed them.
Analysts say personal connections formed through schools and pengajians (informal prayer sessions) create ties that help recruitment. Hard-line groups then use that closeness to exploit youths’ distaste for state corruption.
“They start by approaching people looking for a dormitory or help with their studies,” said Ton Abdillah Has, the head of Muhammadiyah’s youth arm, Ikatan Mahasiswa Muhammadiyah (IMM). “Then they raise the interaction and start talking about ideologies.”
Sidney Jones, a senior analyst at the Jakarta-based nonprofit, International Crisis Group, says, “There’s been a recognition by these groups that if they want to rebuild their organization and if they want to recruit new members, the only way they can do this is by attaching themselves to issues that resonate with local communities.”