De-Radicalization Needs Critical Education


By: Donny Syofyan

In response to the various terror related incidents that have plagued the country ahead of the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attack, the government and the police have applied a security approach that is inadequate in its approach to uprooting the terror networks which are involving more and more young people.

Radicals in Indonesia are getting younger, with some arrested while still in their teens. Farhan Mujahidin and Mukhsin Sanny Permadi, two suspects in the recent terror attack in the Central Java city of Surakarta, were only 19 years old when they were gunned down by counter terrorism police officers.

It is through critical education that terrorism can be rooted out. While the security approach is more to do with the surface structure, critical education is aimed at deconstructing the basic tenets that cause terrorism. It is through critical thinking that fluid nature and methods of terrorist organizations, which are constantly adapting to law enforcement procedures and goals, can be tamed.

To adopt Paulo Freire’s concept on consciousness, terrorism and violence being inseparably bound to soaring naïve consciousness — suicide bombers could be categorized as having such a naïve consciousness. They usually do not have the ability to act and move alone. Rather, they are steered by ruling figures based on misleading concepts of religion. Authority belongs to leaders, as is the interpretation of holy texts. Allowing leaders to exercise control is a part of holy fidelity and sincere dedication.

As long as the interpreting authority still belongs to particular persons, it is likely to be used to force others, namely subordinate people, to commit the brutality. Many cannot think clearly since loyalty and absence of dialogue stand hand in hand. Not surprisingly, someone with naïve consciousness tends to do much damage. Suicide attacks on places of worship, such as churches and mosques, could be seen as damaging the earth and human beings at such an unprecedented rate.

Critical education might play a significant role in extirpating terrorism from earlier times. Critical education is basically adult education full of love and affection. One is urged to think and be conscious that he or she is a part of earth, which in turn is held within a macro-cosmos calling for human preservation. Furthermore, critical education asserts that Das Sein is not a must. By the time distortion and abuse appear, one is required to remedy the situation.

A myriad of terror acts against places of worship is not a never-ending vicious circle. Rather it constitutes a distorted human civilization exerting stress upon one-sided coercion. Any efforts to get things right and done, greatly serve to foster one’s freedom and self-reliance. Only a free and independent person, as representing Freire’s core humanization, might prevent human beings’ deviant attitude from worsening.

In response to increasing religious extremism, critical education must consider a dialogue approach, the end of cult personality and the strengthening of philosophy. The dialogue approach is a key to the creation of independent and free persons. Through dialogue, one learns to foster a greater balance between freedom and openness on one side as well as responsibility and control on the other. People’s awareness of dialogue will lead them to acceptance and the ability to listen to the views and needs of others.

Religious extremism frequently comes to light since people, particularly younger people, refer to the normative right and wrong yardsticks instead of contextual precise/imprecise values based on a mono-logical style. The dialogue religious experience does not simply make people tolerate differences of opinion or the practices of others, but also encourages them to respect others, characterized by the concept of “agree to disagree”. There will be no extremism as everybody reaches a common platform and respects different thoughts.

Preventing this cult of personality is equally necessary. It seems there is a tendency in Indonesia’s religious extremism that is marked by a rise in lone jihadists. These so called lone jihadists rely upon individuals for the interpretation of Islamic messages conveyed by fundamentalist Muslim scholars. They have absorbed the teaching from books and the Internet in an illogic dialectical manner.

Leaders of Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah representing mainstream Muslim organizations need to take a role in countering extreme doctrines by joining the anti-terror campaign, reiterating their commitment to the Constitution which protects religious freedom, and assure the public that the state will take all necessary steps to guarantee the freedoms for all Indonesians regardless of their faith.

Young Muslims need to be provided with art, literature and philosophy. Islamic boarding school students, for instance, ought to be exposed to art and literature to see a world beyond the black and white. Art and literature can soften a human’s soul and mind. In terms of critical thinking, teaching philosophy might change militant individuals after failed efforts to talk to them hundreds of times.

Philosophy makes Muslims more curious about their doctrines in a critical manner without having the fear of eliminating authentic doctrines. Bolstered by this dialogue method, philosophy becomes the key to shielding young Muslims from falling under the influence of the extreme Muslim figures and narrows the field for potential radicals.


Footnote: This opinion article was displayed in an online newspaper, The Jakarta Post, in Jakarta, Indonesia, on September 13, 2012; and in this paper edition is in page 7.

The writer is a Lecturer at the School of Cultural Sciences UNAND (Andalas University) in Padang, West Sumatera, Indonesia.



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