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ICRS Yogyakarta - Religious Radicalism in Major Campuses in Indonesia

Consortium of:

Religious Radicalism in Major Campuses in Indonesia

  May 10th 2022

Written by Jekonia Tarigan

Religious extremism is a global concern today.[i] I Religious extremism issues that usually attract public attention are those related to acts of violence. However, what is really worrying is that it is not only religious extremism that has produced an output in the form of violence, but in the Indonesian context, for example, religious extremism among students in major campuses remains a cause for concern for Indonesian government officials. What causes Indonesian students to adhere to extremist ideas of Islam and how the effectiveness of government and campus policies in tackling student religious extremism on major Indonesian campuses? Several social and political surveys, journal articles and scientific reports have presented and discussed the rise of religious extremism among youth in Indonesia. But few discuss religious extremism among students at Indonesian universities. This issue has become one of the focuses of research conducted by A’an Suryana, Ph.D. (Visiting Fellow at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, Singapore.) The result of the research already published by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) Yusof Ishak in 2022Suryana then also presented his research in Wednesday Forum a weekly discussion forum organized by the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies (ICRS) and the Center for Religious and Cross-cultural Studies (CRCS) on April 20, 2022.

In his presentation, Suryana explain that in his personal interview with Ahmad Nurwakhid, the Prevention Director of Badan Nasional Penanggulangan Terorisme/BNPT (The National Counter Terrorism Agency), on 11 November 2021, Suryana found that extremism is “an idea or ideology in which people who subscribe to this idea want to change the society’s established social and political order, through extreme ways or through violence”. Extremism is also often addressed to: anti-Pancasila people or people who want to replace Pancasila; want to topple current government through manipulation of religion and through hate-speeches; intolerant people (easily label others as apostate); and antagonistic against traditional religion and folk cultures. Hence, religious extremism is related with theological, ritual, social and political aspects.

Furthermore, Suryana explain that according to Alvara survey, in 2017 23.4 % of student in Indonesia were exposed to religious extremism, and between 2009 and 2018, 17 terrorists (university graduates were arrested.[ii] Furthermore Suryana conduct his field research by doing in-depth interviews with student activists, campus authorities and government officials during a one-month-long fieldtrip in some major campuses in Yogyakarta, Jakarta and Bandung between October and November 2021. Through his study, Suryana found that there are some caused of students to subscribe to extreme ideas of Islam, for instance: the lack of alternative discourses because religious discourses are dominated by Tarbiyah, Salafi and Islamic caliphate movements dominated religious discourses; and Islamist literature available in stores also support the popularization and the indoctrination of Islamist ideas to Muslim millennials. Therefore, Suryana argue that the internalization of the religious extremist narratives in systematic and structured ways, facilitated by the relative absence of moderate discourses of Islam, contributed to the growth of the extremist ideas of Islam.

There are several major Muslim student organizations in Indonesia, such as: Muslim Student Organization (HMI);The Indonesian Islamic Student Movement (PMII);The Association of Muhammadiyah Students (IMM); Gema Pembebasan; and Indonesian Muslim Students Action Front (KAMMI). In his case study toward Gema Pembebasan for example, Suryana found that Gema Pembebasan emphasizes on the strength of the ideas of Islamic caliphate, because Islam is seen as comprehensive solution to human problems. These are narratives that are systematically and continuously socialized by this organization online and offline. This kind of the focused, continuous internalization of extremism idea is the strength of Gema Pembebasan, in comparison to other student organizations. Moreover, a student usually joined Gema Pembebasan after following some of its discussions, through which the above ideas were instilled into his mind systematically.

Through his field research Suryana also found that there are several policies that are practiced by campus to overcome the problem of extremism within campus. In Universitas Negeri Jakarta/UNJ (Jakarta State University), the University requires students to participate in religious moderation workshops. Meanwhile in Universitas Gadjah Mada/UGM (Gadjah Mada University), Yogyakarta, the university abolish tutorial sessions in Islam Religion course (Asistensi Agama Islam). However, Suryana argues that the  campus policies alone are not enough, the government must also be wise in dealing with this problem of religious extremism, because longitudinal surveys show extremism is still a problem and government policies are not effective because policies are all encompassing. There are needs for integrated response because all this time government and civil society. BNPT extensively produced MoU with other government agencies, campuses or NGOs, but have not yet produced an integrative program that involves campuses, parents and student organizations. Meanwhile campuses focus on efforts within campus perimeters and have not yet joined forces with parents’ associations.

Finally, Suryana conclude that university students are lured to subscribe to religious extreme ideas due to increasing religious extremism narratives in public or private spheres. These narratives are internalized in the minds of university students in systematic and structured ways, through regular meetings and online postings, and through public events such as webinars organized by student organizations that promote extreme ideas of Islam. The internalization of such ideology is exacerbated with the lack of narratives on moderate Islam in public and private spheres. The government and campus authorities have formulated and implemented strategies to tackle the religious extremism problems among university students, but they largely work in silos, a mindset or mentality that does not want to share information with others, hence their strategies are not fully effective. The rise of religious extremism among students was due to increasing religiously extreme narratives, promoted through systematic and structured ways. Government and campus policies have not been effective since they largely work in silos. Suryana also criticized BNPT's abundant activities beneficial for the socialization of religious moderation narratives, but not in instilling the narratives. Hence, there are a huge need for more systematic and comprehensive counter-extremism efforts can only be done through an integrated program.



[i] Ratna Ghosh et al., “Can Education Counter Violent Religious Extremism?,” Canadian Foreign Policy Journal 23, no. 2 (2017): 117–33. p. 1

 [ii] A’an Suryana and ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, Religious Extremism in Major Campuses in Indonesia, 2022. p. 2

Recorded Discussion: