War: Empowering Youth Associations in Indonesia
I recently met some friends through social media who were elementary or
junior high students when the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United
States took place. Most of these young people agree that such terrorism
can never be warranted. For example, Qurrota Ayuni, 24, said, “Whatever
the reasons behind the 9/11 attack, it cannot be justified in the name
of humanity. It killed thousands of innocent people for the sake of
narrow, sectarian interests.”
However, the main concern of these youth was the effect of 9/11 on their
Unfortunately, in Indonesia, the effects of 9/11 are linked to the
perception that the West is at war with Islam—a perception that has
indirectly contributed to an increase in the number of extremist
Indonesian Muslim youth. For the 10th anniversary of 9/11, a fitting
legacy is to encourage peaceful outlets for youth to engage in society.
Sadly, a small but significant number of Indonesian youth have taken
part in terrorist attacks in the country in recent years. For instance,
in January 2011, police arrested six terrorist suspects between the ages
of 19 and 21 in Klaten in Central Java.
Muslim youth involvement in extremist movements was also confirmed by a
survey conducted in Jakarta from 2010 to 2011 by the Institute for
Studies on Islam and Peace. The survey revealed that some junior and
senior high school students are willing to engage in various acts of
violence, shut down or attack night clubs, forcibly close houses of
worship of other faiths or aid Muslims in conflict zones by providing
them with weapons.
Important to the process of deradicalizing youth is their involvement in
meaningful organizations. Sadly, associations targeting youth have been
on the decline in recent years. After Indonesian President Suharto’s
departure in 1998, which resulted in a new era of reform in Indonesia,
many youth associations were incorporated into local or national
political parties in order to provide additional support for electoral
candidates. Of those groups not focused on politics, many seek to raise
collective piety and offer youth involvement in radical organizations,
such as the Islamic Defenders Front, Front Pembela Islam (FPI).
The radicalization of Muslim youth is taking place concurrently with the
declining popularity of youth organizations focused on developing
character and creativity. Karang Taruna—a network of youth organizations
in villages that empower youth through such activities as playing
sports, learning financial skills and creating artwork—are rarely found
these days. The general chairman of Karang Taruna, Taufan E. N.
Rotorasiko, says that one of the reasons Karang Taruna is both less
attractive to youth and less active in conducting activities than in
past years is that the Ministry of Social Affairs, once the main patron
of Karang Taruna, was disbanded during the presidency of Abdurrahman
Wahid in 1999.
Involving young people in creative activities, like art and sports, can
reduce the risk of them joining extremist groups because they have the
opportunities to develop friendships with youth from different ethnic,
religious and socio-economic backgrounds, thereby increasing their
tolerance of diversity.
For example, the students of Pesantren Pabelan in Magelang, Central
Java, are involved in the International Award for Young People (IAYP),
an international award program that is aimed at individuals between the
ages of 14 and 25 who are interested in engaging in a voluntary
Nurul Faizah, IAYP’s program coordinator, works at an Islamic boarding
school called Pesantren Pabelan. Faizah says that the program helps
students be more open to differences in the backgrounds of others. For
instance, student participants engage in discussions with peers from
non-Muslim schools and play friendly sports matches with students from
Catholic seminaries nearby.
There are also examples of successful youth associations at the
university level, such as the Ciputat Student Forum, which is the oldest
Indonesian student study club. Based in Banten Province, its activists
develop open, democratic and critical thinking and are committed to
defending human rights. The club’s members also actively oppose
discrimination against minorities.
These examples show that deradicalization programs that encourage the
growth of youth associations independent of politics should be part of
the solution to stop radical movements.
Countering radical movements requires a soft approach. Sadly, one of the
legacies of 9/11 was the so-called “war on terror,” which helped
regenerate radical movements by attracting youth to radical, mainly
There is a better way to combat radicalism and terrorism, which has been
proven to work in Indonesia and in many other countries. It is to
empower youth, helping them achieve positive aspirations and, in the
process, abandon negative and violent ones. Following this path provides
youth with a better outlook for the future and a more fitting closure to
the 9/11 tragedy.
* Testriono is a researcher at the Center for the Study of Islam and
Society at the State Islamic University Syarif Hidayatullah, Jakarta.
This article is part of a series marking the 10th anniversary of 9/11
written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).
Source: CGNews, Aug. 30, 2011, <www.commongroundnews.org>.
Copyright permission is granted for publication.