Widodo enters second term under shadow of radicalism

Indonesian president faces a growing threat from religious intolerance and terrorism
Widodo enters second term under shadow of radicalism

Anti-terror police guard facilities in Jakarta during an election dispute in May after the General Elections Commission officially announced that Joko Widodo won the presidential election in April. (Photo by Konradus Epa/ucanews)

Intolerance and extremism remain pressing issues that will overshadow the leadership of Indonesian President Joko Widodo — popularly known as Jokowi — as he starts his second term in office.

Jokowi and Ma'ruf Amin, a prominent Muslim cleric, will be installed as president and vice-president of Indonesia for 2019-24 on Oct. 20 in Jakarta.

Experts have warned that extremist groups will seek to undermine the president’s leadership. This is nothing new. During the first period of his presidency, Jokowi faced many challenges from radical groups and terrorists. Many civilians and police officers were killed, while many others suffered permanent disability due to bomb attacks, including at churches.

Terrorist groups’ main targets are the president, his aides and the police. The latest case was the stabbing of Wiranto, former general and coordinating minister of security and political affairs, when he visited Tangerang in Banten province on Oct. 10 to inaugurate a school. Two members of Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), which is linked to the Islamic State terror group, stabbed his stomach with scissors.

Yendra Budiana, spokesman for the Ahmadiya congregation in Indonesia, said religious intolerance and terrorism still exist because the space for dialogue and deradicalization had not been created. “This will continue into Jokowi’s second term,” he told ucanews.

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He said Ahmadiya communities had suffered a lot due to brutal attacks by radical groups since 2009. The situation was worsened by the government’s submission to pressure by intolerant groups that led to Ahmadis being banned from public worship.

Budiana said Jokowi will continue to face pressure from radical groups who successfully pressed local governments in West and East Java provinces to issue bylaws banning Ahmadiya.

He said about 150 Ahmadiya members have lived in refugee locations in Lombok and Mataram in West Nusa Tenggara province since 2009.

Alan Christian Singkali, general secretary of the Indonesian Christian Student Movement, acknowledged that radicalism and terrorism will continue to be the biggest threat in the coming years.

“President Jokowi must be against political parties or individuals that support radical groups,” he said.

While extremist groups used to target Christians and Westerners, now everyone has become their target and the government should be aware of it, he said.

“During the second period, President Jokowi should increase deradicalization programs and hold dialogue by involving religious leaders,” Singkali told ucanews.

State must not lose

Said Aqil Siradj, chairman of Nahdlaltul Ulama, the biggest Islamic organization in Indonesia, said the state shouldn’t give in to extremist groups. “The government should be firm against terrorist groups,” he said.

Father Antonius Benny Susetyo, a member of a presidential unit promoting communal tolerance, said intolerance and radicalism threatened national unity.

Besides emphasizing the application of secular ideology in daily life, the government must take a cultural approach in dealing with extremists, he said.

“All elements of society must help the government in educating young people — for instance, to use media social wisely — and avoid provocation by radical groups that also use social media to indoctrinate people,” Father Susetyo said.

Suhardi Alius, director of the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT), said terrorists target not only government officials or police but all people, particularly in public places. “We ask people to be alert in public places including shopping malls,” he said.

Alius said that since its defeat in Syria and Iraq, Islamic State, which has penetrated local groups, has changed its strategy and anyone can be the target. Many Indonesians who joined the terror group in Syria have returned home and could grow their own cells in the country.

Stanilaus Riyanta, an intelligence and terrorism analyst, said terrorism will remain a big threat in Indonesia because of groups affiliated to al-Qaeda and Islamic State. Al-Qaeda has about 3,000 members in Indonesia, while more than 1,300 recently joined Islamic State.

“It is not enough to rely on the BNPT and police to overcome or prevent terrorism. It needs the cooperation of various institutions, ministries and society,” he told ucanews.

Infiltrating political groups

According to Riyanta, terrorism groups have infiltrated political channels and will be a serious threat to Jokowi’s government. The indication is that they want to replace the country’s secular ideology with radical ideology.

They have changed their strategy and entered politics without violence. “But they have the same agenda to establish a caliphate,” he said.

Al Chaidar, a terrorism expert from Malikussaleh University in Aceh, said terrorist groups will continue to attack Jokowi’s government because they don’t like democracy. Civil servants will also become targets.

He estimated that more than 15 million Indonesians are influenced by radical ideology, and tens of thousands have joined terrorist groups, including 34,000 JAD members.

Chaidar said terrorist organizations affiliated to Islamic State and al-Qaeda plan to launch attacks in 2020.

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