May 16, 2018
Terror suspects in the suicide bomb attacks
in Surabaya had freely learnt intolerant and radical interpretations of Islamic
teachings since their youth, according to the testimony of former schoolmates.
To fight the extreme ideology and curb hate speech, the government should not
ban youths from studying anything. Ironically teachings of murderous hatred are
spread freely while liberalism, socialism, communism and atheism are banned or
Throughout all the terror attacks in
Indonesia, we hear the same response: Denial. Many Muslim leaders, also
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, have quickly stated that the latest terror
attacks, which so far have killed 25 people and injured dozens, have nothing to
do with Islam. “Terrorism has no religion,” he said.
Agreed. But the terrorists have religion.
One of the suicide bombers, Dita Oeprianto,
who led his family to fatal destruction, was a student of the best state-run
high school in a complex of four state-run high schools in downtown Surabaya.
Intolerance was part of the religious teachings in the extra-curricular activities.
In the late 1980s, I was a member of those classes called Kerohanian Islam, or
rohis, in one of the schools. Regularly the students would invite Ustad
(religious teachers) who sounded narrow-minded, including their seniors
studying in top state-run universities.
Many of those students came from
middle-class families with not so strong Islamic backgrounds. Many could not
read the Quran fluently, although they later could remember certain verses and
teachings, especially that Islam is the true religion and others are fake.
Teachings of Wahhabism and Shiism were
favourites among the Rohis students at that time. Moderate teachings, like
those practiced by Nahdatul Ulema members, were unpopular. Many of the
graduates then entered state universities and became professors, doctors or
A few became depressed since the teachings
urged them to fight friends and even parents who did not share their beliefs in
multicultural Surabaya. A few were even treated in mental hospitals. A few
others dropped out from university. What became of Dita was thus shocking but
not too surprising.
In state universities, such graduates again
learned intolerant interpretations of Islamic teachings in full freedom.
Student boards in state universities in Sumatra and Java are dominated by
students who aspire to an Islamic state of Indonesia. They are either members
of Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), the organization recently banned by the
government, or youth wing members of the Islamist Prosperous Justice Party
In January 2017, hundreds of those students
from various universities gathered at the Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB)
in West Java, pledging support for Sharia and the caliphate in Indonesia and
other countries. You can still watch their oath-taking on YouTube, which the
IPB said it did not endorse.
Relatively few students in those state
universities are free from Islamist movements. Some join student press
activities and others join discussion groups supporting liberal and leftist
thoughts — in secret.
Last September, discussions on human rights
violations during the 1965 tragedy, held by universities and non-governmental
organizations, were broken up by Islamic hardliners or by police under their
Intolerant teachings do not automatically
change people into suicide bombers. It takes a long process until what we saw
in Surabaya and other places in the country in the past.
How do we tackle potential suicide bombers?
How do we deal with intolerance that justifies violence?
Fight the ideology with other ideologies.
Fight the teachings with alternative teachings.
Despite their flaws, deradicalisation
programs for terrorist convicts should be extended to state-run senior high
schools and universities, including teaching institutes and schools supported by
Middle East countries, schools which still preach intolerance.
Changing the hearts and minds of extremist
Muslim combatants with moderate teachings is nearly impossible.
Those fighters believe suicide bombing is a
strategy in jihad, based on their interpretation of the Uhud war led by Prophet
Muhammad. They believe suicide frightens infidel enemies, and is not stupid or
Although the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI)
has condemned suicide bombing, it remains “heroic” for misled youths; while
MUI’s fatwa, though non-binding, has stated “pluralism, secularism and
liberalism is Haram”.
However, youths should not only be taught
moderate and tolerant teachings, they should also be given the freedom to
search and learn alternative discourses.
Encourage universities to hold scientific,
open discussions on liberalism and other isms. Those opposing the discussions
should be allowed to rally, but not to disperse the talks.
As part of the learning process, the
government should not ban leftist books, nor websites on atheism and sexual
minorities — who also bear the brunt of intolerance.
Let the youth decide whether they want to
be pious or disbelieve in heaven. Law enforcers should act against hate speech
and step up efforts to prevent terrorism.
Freedom will provide suicide bomber
candidates other alternatives than dying for questionable causes while
murdering others. Freedom will make them learn how to love life and humanity.
Ahmad Junaidi is the founder of Sejuk, the Association of Journalists for