Has Indonesia forgotten contraception?

Contraception is not simply a method to prevent pregnancy. Given the suspicion – if not outright hostility – toward contraception that is common to most religions, debates over its regulation are often deeply political and value-laden.

 

The problem is that suspicion does not solve problems. In Indonesia, adolescents cannot legally access birth control unless they are married. Yet many adolescents are sexually active, whatever their marital status. In fact, according to Unicef, one in nine Indonesian adolescents are sexually active. The Indonesian Demographic and Health Survey (SDKI) puts the figure even higher, at one in four. They have an urgent need for contraception.

 

There are more than 45 million 10-19 year olds in Indonesia. In 2017, the Indonesian Demographic and Health Survey (SDKI) found that only 45 per cent of married or sexually active adolescents aged 15 to 19 said they used contraception. This means the other 55 per cent either had no plans to use contraception or had limited exposure to knowledge about their bodies, sexuality, reproductive health, and contraceptives. These are concerning findings.

 

A 2016 study by Rumah KitaB found that from 52 female adolescents who married in childhood, 36 (about 70 per cent) got married because of unwanted pregnancies. Nearly all admitted that they never used contraception when they had sex, either because they didn’t know how to obtain the pill or didn’t have the courage to ask their partners to use a condom.

 

Only one tenth of the child brides surveyed had access to contraception. They usually acquired it from private midwives, not state-run community health centres (puskesmas), with the help of their mothers or mothers-in-law.

 

On World Contraception Day on 26 September, Indonesia received the distinction of being the country with the greatest unmet need for contraception. Lack of legally available contraception for adolescents contributed to this result. Indonesia was once a leader in family planning but it is fast becoming one of the worst performers in the region.

 

How did we get to this point? The main problem lies in flawed population policies. Grounded in the ideology of “developmentalism”, which held that the nation would become prosperous if population growth could be controlled, the New Order regime strictly applied a Family Planning project called Keluarga Berencana, or KB.

 

Using a wide range of methods and approaches, Indonesia’s population policy was deemed successful. But the program’s occasionally coercive methods, in which those who did not practice KB were treated as “the other”, alienated many. This included sections of the Muslim community, which was under the most suspicion when the program was first applied. Any effort to question, let alone oppose, the assertion that families would become prosperous through the KB program was simply crushed by the state.

 

Islamic mass-based organisations – first Nahdlatul Ulama, and later Muhammadiyah – tried to assuage Muslim anxieties about New Order enforcement of the KB policy. These two organisations agreed to support the New Order government’s population program, relying on interpretation and exploration of Islamic arguments. They justified support for KB in the name of both darurat (emergency) and maslahat (the greater good) to avoid even greater mudharat (harm) if the size of the population were not controlled.

 

However, this theological discourse from NU and Muhammadiyah certainly did not comfort everyone in the Muslim community. Even today, many Muslims are suspicious of family planning as a “western project” to reduce the size of the Muslim population.

 

This is not simply because the religious arguments are insufficient to convince them, for example because of differences in interpretation or exploration of Islamic law. Rather, narratives about “genocide of the Islamic community” have taken root, and are now considered truth by many people.

 

Those who reject family planning point to the fact that promises about family planning delivering prosperity were never truly realised, but it did reduce the size of many Muslim families.

 

Another problem is that there was never any theological debate or discussion of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) on the use of contraception by young people during the New Order era. The state seemingly sought to increase the moral acceptance of the KB program by guaranteeing that it would not be accessed by adolescents.

 

The Criminal Code (KUHP) (under Article 283) and the 2009 Population Growth and Family Development Law (under Article 26) still explicitly prohibit provision of contraception services to adolescents and unmarried couples, apart from information, and even that is restricted, with punishments of fines and imprisonment if violated. These prohibitions on serving the needs of adolescents were clearly a “band-aid” strategy to contain the anxiety and suspicions of the religious community.

 

Ignoring adolescents’ need for contraception has created a huge gap in addressing the problems of reproductive health in Indonesia. Adolescents are now a quarter of the population and among those who most need information on reproductive health and contraception services.

 

Indonesians cannot simply shut their eyes to the reality that the age at which girls are menstruating and becoming sexually active is steadily decreasing. At the same time, underage marriage is also becoming more common – on the grounds of fear of committing the “sin of premarital sex”, or if pregnancy has already occurred.

 

As long as the government remains closed to discussion on reproductive health education for adolescents, and the law remains unchanged, young people will remain shut off from accurate information.

 

The government’s reluctance to address adolescent sexual and reproductive health also provides room for conservative religious groups to push their position. And their solution is worryingly simplistic: Just marry them off!

 

Now is the time for the state, assisted by NU and Muhammadiyah, to come down from the mountaintop, and take a frank and pragmatic look at adolescent sexuality. Gaps in information and reproductive health services, including contraception services for adolescents, must be addressed.

 

If not, Indonesia can look forward to a grim future of more and more child brides and unwanted pregnancies.

Source: http://indonesiaatmelbourne.unimelb.edu.au/has-indonesia-forgotten-contraception/

Is there room for critical thinking in Islam?

To be Muslim is not to be politically asleep, but rather to be in a permanent state of critique.

Nothing is more satisfying than the conviction that your enemy lacks the ability to think critically. What could be more gratifying than the idea that the person you are fighting is trapped in an airlock of unreflection? It blesses your struggle, redeems your cruelty, legitimises your violence. If a definition of humanity is the ability to think for oneself, then what could be wrong with fighting the unfree?

The modern pairing of Islam with the incapacity for critical thought is a fairly old gesture – the Enlightenment philosopher Leibniz said Muslims were so fatalistic they wouldn’t even jump out of the way of carts. Over the past fifteen years, however, the internet has enabled and amplified a panoply of voices with this view.

From the digital rooftops, a thousand voices are shouting down Islam as a space inimical to any form of rational reflection: millionaire right-wingers masquerading as free-thinkers such as Bill Maher, Eton-educated “voices of the people” such as Douglas Murray, sophisticated hate-distillers such as Ann Coulter and her not-so-bright British version, Katie Hopkins … even Greek classics professors-turned-Islam experts such as Tom Holland have joined the fray.

Some of the historical acrobatics involved in this gesture are awe-inspiring. Any academic would be laughed out of the room if they suggested St Augustine was somehow complicit in the bombing of abortion clinics, or that the medieval Hohenstaufen culminated in the Third Reich, or that the Renaissance never happened. Almost on a daily basis, however, confident, context-defying lines of continuity are drawn for Islam across centuries and continents, monocausally linking the Ottomans to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS), or seventh century theology to attacks on shopping malls. In these re-writings of history, contrary or problematic episodes (such as the vast contribution of the Islamic world to geometry, astronomy and the vocabulary of science in general) are not just left out – anyone even trying to mention them is mocked as a naive, idiot liberal. It’s a wonderful age to be alive.

I often wonder what can be done against this collective dumbing-down of an entire faith. Patiently repeating points and examples from history – in the manner of explaining something difficult but obvious to an eight-year old child – does not seem to go very far in combatting a million views on Youtube. Raising consciousness is not enough – there almost seems to be a will not to know here, a decision to remain in the foetal warmth of a particular narrative. When a Western, best-selling public intellectual openly laughs at the idea of “Islamic inventions”, and garners online 10,000 likes in doing so, it is difficult to see what benefit the provision of empirical facts can provide. Large sections of our society seem to be locked into certain fantasies about Islam and the West – and how we are going to unlock those fantasies remains as unclear as ever.

Not that scholars have given up. Irfan Ahmad’s latest book, Religion As Critique: Islamic Critical Thinking from Mecca to the Marketplace (2017), offers an interesting opposition to the West-and-the-rest narratives of an European Enlightenment radiating outwards from Greece and Germany into the backward corners of a darker world. Positing the Prophet Mohammed as “a critic of the Meccan social order”, Ahmad constructs an alternative genealogy of the verb to critique (tanqid/naqd), one which is not by any means dismissive of Greek/pre-Islamic/Western traditions, “but which at the same time can’t be subsumed within them”. It is a welcome move that intelligently and articulately condenses the work of previous scholars (Talal Asad, Gayatri Spivak, J G A Pocock) on two important points.

First of all, it demonstrates the extent to which the Enlightenment was an “ethnic project” – an ethnic project, moreover, which was in constant need of an enemy. When Kant spoke about the space of philosophy to be defined, he often alluded to the space of Europe, whose boundaries needed to be patrolled. Secondly, the tired linking of the critical with the secular – and “uncritical” with the religious – is something Ahmad’s book goes on to rigorously deconstruct. Perhaps a touch controversially for some, he declares: “Against the reigning doxa, which views Islam and critique as mutually exclusive domains … I propose we begin to think of Islam as critique; indeed, Islam as permanent critique.”

To be Muslim, in other words, is not to be politically asleep, or passively receptive to a divine will, but rather to be in a permanent state of critique. Not everyone will be politically comfortable with some of the choices Ahmad has as examples of this critical tradition (Abul Ala Maududi, the founder of Pakistan’s Jamaat-e-Islami, is given a central chapter), but the gesture he makes – developing an alternative genealogy of critical thought in the Urdu Islamicate traditions of South Asia – is a valuable one.

To be fair, there is another aspect to this issue we have not yet touched upon. The critical tradition of Islam might well be compared with a city which is under attack on two fronts – from without, and from within. In addition to a certain relentless Western reduction of Islam to an unreflective cult, there are those within the Muslim world would wholly reject some of its most famous philosophers and critical thinkers as un-Islamic. The late Shahab Ahmed’s monograph What Is Islam?: The Importance of Being Islamic (2015), in this respect, stands interestingly alongside Irfan Ahmad’s book as a parallel attempt to re-define the parameters of the Islamic world – and, implicitly, its relationship to both the Western and the secular. Although Shahab Ahmed’s focus on activities such as wine drinking lends it a different tone from Religion As Critique, both books share a frustration with narrow definitions of the Islamic tradition. In Shahab Ahmed’s case, this is a desire to expand the idea of being Islamic well beyond the “putative centrality” of jurisprudence which most convention seems to define the religion by; in Irfan Ahmad’s book, a similar belief in the value of everyday experience – “the practice … of the nonscholarly and commoners” as Ahmad puts it – is given as much weight as the pronouncements of the ulema in deciding what an Islamic critical tradition might be.

These debates will go on. In closing, it might be worth ending with the words an Arab philosopher wrote in the city of Damascus, just over 800 years ago. Words which demonstrate (if you’ll forgive my anachronism) a remarkable pre-psychological awareness of the extent to which we personally construct the God we worship:

“… you will see no one who worships an unmade God, since man creates in himself that which he worships and judges. When a person sees something of the [divine] Real, he never sees anything but himself.”

The writer is Ibn Arabi (1165-1240), and the extracts are two lines taken from his Futuhat, written at some point during the 1220s. Of course I am ripping these words out of context, and yet the sentiment they express – the God we pray to always reflects us, even comes out of us, in some way or another – is a suspicion to be found across Jewish and Christian traditions too (Maimonides, Meister Eckhart). Eight hundred years ago, a keen epistemological querying of religious experience was already at work. Admittedly, the goal of this querying was not a secular demolition of God, but a purer experience of the divine; not the exposure of God as a psychological illusion, but a clearer demarcation between what we imagine God to be, and the thing that lies beyond it. Some might call this a deferred critical thinking: critical thought put to the ultimate service of the uncritical. It’s a fair charge – people are entitled to their opinion. But there must be something valuable in trying to remember that lines like these were being written in Damascus, and Cairo, and Cordoba, centuries before Gramsci, Marx and Descartes. And certainly 800 years before Youtube.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

Source: https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/room-critical-thinking-islam-180406080925909.html

Could Aung San Suu Kyi face Rohingya genocide charges?

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, is determined that the perpetrators of the horrors committed against the Rohingya face justice.

He’s the head of the UN’s watchdog for human rights across the world, so his opinions carry weight.

It could go right to the top – he doesn’t rule out the possibility that civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the head of the armed forces Gen Aung Min Hlaing, could find themselves in the dock on genocide charges some time in the future.

Earlier this month, Mr Zeid told the UN Human Rights Council that the widespread and systematic nature of the persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar (also called Burma) meant that genocide could not be ruled out.

“Given the scale of the military operation, clearly these would have to be decisions taken at a high level,” said the high commissioner, when we met at the UN headquarters in Geneva for BBC Panorama.

That said, genocide is one of those words that gets bandied about a lot. It sounds terrible – the so-called “crime of crimes”. Very few people have ever been convicted of it.

The crime was defined after the Holocaust. Member countries of the newly founded United Nations signed a convention, defining genocide as acts committed with intent to destroy a particular group.

It is not Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein’s job to prove acts of genocide have been committed – only a court can do that. But he has called for an international criminal investigation into the perpetrators of what he has called the “shockingly brutal attacks” against the Muslim ethnic group who are mainly from northern Rakhine in Myanmar.

But the high commissioner recognised it would be a tough case to make: “For obvious reasons, if you’re planning to commit genocide you don’t commit it to paper and you don’t provide instructions.”

“The thresholds for proof are high,” he said. “But it wouldn’t surprise me in the future if a court were to make such a finding on the basis of what we see.”

By the beginning of December, nearly 650,000 Rohingya – around two thirds of the entire population – had fled Myanmar after a wave of attacks led by the army that began in late August.

Hundreds of villages were burned and thousands are reported to have been killed.

There is evidence of terrible atrocities being committed: massacres, murders and mass rapes – as I heard myself when I was in the refugee camps as this crisis began.

What clearly rankles the UN human rights chief is that he had urged Ms Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of Myanmar, to take action to protect the Rohingya six months before the explosion of violence in August.

He said he spoke to her on the telephone when his office published a report in February documenting appalling atrocities committed during an episode of violence that began in October 2016.

“I appealed to her to bring these military operations to an end,” he told me. “I appealed to her emotional standing… to do whatever she could to bring this to a close, and to my great regret it did not seem to happen.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rohingya Muslims displaced from Tula Toli village in Rakhine State gave disturbing accounts

Ms Suu Kyi’s power over the army is limited, but Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein believes she should have done more to try and stop the military campaign.

He criticised her for failing to use the term “Rohingya”. “To strip their name from them is dehumanising to the point where you begin to believe that anything is possible,” he said – powerful language for a top UN official.

He thought Myanmar’s military was emboldened when the international community took no action against them after the violence in 2016. “I suppose that they then drew a conclusion that they could continue without fear,” he said.

“What we began to sense was that this was really well thought out and planned,” he told me.

The Myanmar government has said the military action was a response to terrorist attacks in August which killed 12 members of the security forces.

But BBC Panorama has gathered evidence that shows that preparations for the continued assault on the Rohingya began well before that.

We show that Myanmar had been training and arming local Buddhists. Within weeks of last year’s violence the government made an offer: “Every Rakhine national wishing to protect their state will have the chance to become part of the local armed police.”

“This was a decision made to effectively perpetrate atrocity crimes against the civilian population,” said Matthew Smith, chief executive of the human rights organisation Fortify Rights which has been investigating the build-up to this year’s violence.

That view is borne out by refugees in the vast camps in Myanmar who saw these volunteers in action, attacking their Rohingya neighbours and burning down their homes.

“They were just like the army, they had the same kind of weapons”, said Mohammed Rafique, who ran a successful business in Myanmar. “They were local boys, we knew them. When the army was burning our houses, torturing us, they were there.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who is burning down Rohingya villages?

Meanwhile the Rohingya were getting more vulnerable in other ways.

By the summer food shortages were widespread in north Rakhine – and the government tightened the screws. The programme has learnt that from mid-August the authorities had cut off virtually all food and other aid to north Rakhine.

And the army brought in reinforcements. On 10 August, two weeks before the militant attacks, it was reported that a battalion had been flown in.

The UN human rights representative for Myanmar was so concerned she issued a public warning, urging restraint from the Myanmar authorities.

But when Rohingya militants launched attacks on 30 police posts and an army base, the military response was huge, systematic and devastating.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rohingya refugees tell the BBC of “house by house” killings

The BBC asked Aung San Suu Kyi and the head of the Myanmar armed forces for a response. But neither of them has replied.

Almost four months on from those attacks and Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein is concerned the repercussions of the violence are not yet over. He fears this “could just be the opening phases of something much worse”.

He worries jihadi groups could form in the huge refugee camps in Bangladesh and launch attacks in Myanmar, perhaps even targeting Buddhist temples. The result could be what he called a “confessional confrontation” – between Buddhists and Muslims.

It is a frightening thought, as the high commissioner acknowledged, but one he believes Myanmar isn’t taking seriously enough.

“I mean the stakes are so enormous,” he said. “This sort of flippant manner by which they respond to the serious concerns of the international community is really alarming.”

Source: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-42335018

The Religion and Cultural Fundamentalist Issues in BERDAYA Program

One of the challenges of BERDAYA program is that the purpose of this activity can contradict with religious and cultural fundamentalists who consider child marriage to be their domain.

Religious fundamentalism is both a religious as well as an ideology that believes that the best way to save people from destruction on earth is to “return to the basic dogma.” Methodologically they invite to return to the understanding of the text of Scripture (Qur’an and hadith). But its way of understanding uses the literalist basis. This literalist argumentation rejects the results of ijtihad and the classical law argumentation that have been codified by scholars who develop Islamic thought contextually for centuries through the process of culture-civilization to Islam in accordance with the times. This reinvigorated effort of textual teaching eliminates the essence of humanity within it. This literalist view makes the religious view stalled, static and consequently Islam evolving backward so that religious views become rigid and incapable of adapting to the modern age, this condition creates an antipathic view of the modern civilization itself.

Ideologically, this view of fundamentalism is one level below radicalism, while radicalism is a belief or action with the imposition of views and attitudes through violence and terrorism. Fundamentalism is the embryo of the birth of radicalism even to the level of terrorism if there is no process that prevents it. Cultural fundamentalism is also similar to the condition of religious fundamentalism, both of them refers to the basic guidelines of an ideology, one a religious ideology, while another is a cultural ideology. Cultural fundamentalism will give rise to a rigid and absolute view of treating traditions. Religious and cultural fundamentalism are equally harmful to women because they consider the existence of women to be a measure of change, so control over the women is important to keep their ideology. Child marriage is one of the things that they maintain because it is in accordance with the religious fundamentalism that is believed.

Child marriage is happening at an alarming rate across the US

By Fraidy Reiss

Fraidy Reiss is the founder/executive director of Unchained At Last, a nonprofit that helps women and girls in the United States to escape forced marriages, and works to end forced and child marriage in America. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)People are looking in shocked disgust at the defenders of Roy Moore. How can so many Alabamans throw their support behind Moore, the Republican nominee for a United States Senate seat there, who is accused of pursuing or sexually abusing teens — including a 14 year-old — back when he was in his 30s? Moore denies the allegations, and is threatening to sue the Washington Post, where the report appeared last week.

Americans are appalled, unable to account for the bizarre responses of, for example, the state auditor, who likened Moore’s situation to the biblical story of Joseph and Mary, or the parade of citizen supporters defending Moore and doubting his accusers, or even an elementary school principal, who seemed to dismiss the allegations: “This all happened many years ago, correct? I honestly think we’re paying too much attention to it.” (She later said she didn’t mean for her comment to come out that way.)

How can such thinking persist anywhere in America in 2017? How can anyone not be horrified that a grown man could allegedly attempt sexual relations with a minor?

I must point out an awkward truth.

Child marriage — which often is legalized child rape — is happening at an alarming rate across the United States today. Clerks and judges openly give marriage licenses to adult men who are marrying young girls, granting the men a “get out of jail free” card that in many cases allows what would otherwise be against the law.

 

Moore’s alleged sexual encounters more than 30 years ago, as described by his accusers, were surreptitious, the actions of a man who knew he might get punished if he were caught. These adult husbands’ sexual encounters with child wives, on the other hand, are brazen, the actions of men who know they will not get punished because the government has sanctioned their misconduct and is complicit in it.

While most states set 18 as the marriage age, legal loopholes — such as judicial approval — in all 50 states allow marriage before 18. Laws in 25 states do not specify any minimum age for marriage.

Ironically, though Alabama’s child marriage laws are on their face abysmal, as they permit marriage before 18, they are relatively “strong” compared with other states across the nation: At least Alabama specifies that no child under 16 may marry.

 

In 2015, Unchained At Last — a nonprofit I founded in 2011 to fight forced marriage — collected marriage license data in the United States from 2000 to 2010, the time period for which the highest number of states had marriage age data available.

In just the 38 US states that track marriage ages, according to the available data, more than 167,000 children, some as young as 10, were married between 2000 and 2010. In all 50 states, Unchained At Last estimated that 248,000 children — or those under age 18 — were married in America in that decade. (Twelve states and Washington, DC, could not provide sufficient data on child marriage. For them, Unchained used a statistical model to estimate the number of children wed, based on the strong correlation Unchained identified between population and child marriage.)

Almost all the children married were girls wed to adult men, according to the data. In many cases, because of the age of the child or the spousal age difference, sex between the two would constitute statutory rape under that state’s laws.

This is happening in state after state, not only in Alabama. Since 1995, judges in my home state of New Jersey, for example, have handed marriage licenses to more than 105 men who instead should have been investigated for statutory rape under state law: The men were four or more years older than their child bride, who was between the ages of 13 and 15.

Horrifyingly, statutory rape within marriage is not considered a crime in many states. New Jersey is not one of those states. Thus, while those 105+ marriages are legal, every time those couples have sex, the husband could theoretically be charged with sexual assault.

Child marriage is an outrage not only when it legalizes or ignores statutory rape. Child marriage also is often forced marriage — imposed on minors who have little recourse. Before children become adults, which typically happens at age 18, they cannot easily leave home, enter a domestic violence shelter, retain an attorney or bring a legal action. They are nearly powerless to protect themselves if their parents or others try to force them into marriage.

I see the horrors of forced child marriage regularly through Unchained At Last. It means rape for the child on the wedding night and thereafter. It usually means the child is pulled out of middle school or high school, with all her or his hopes for the future destroyed. It means lifelong trauma.

Further, whether it is forced or not, child marriage devastates girls’ health, education and economic opportunities and significantly increases their risk of being beaten by their spouse. The US State Department considers marriage before 18 a “human rights abuse.”

Solving America’s child marriage problem should be simple. Every state can start by passing commonsense legislation I have helped to write to eliminate the archaic loopholes that permit marriage before 18, or before the age of adulthood, whichever is higher. Strong legislation to this effect is pending in Florida, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.

But the same legislation has failed recently in other states. Gov. Chris Christie conditionally vetoed the bill that passed with overwhelming, bipartisan support in New Jersey. New Hampshire legislators voted no, and Maryland legislators let the bill die, twice. Legislators in New York, Virginia, Texas and Connecticut passed weaker bills that still allow marriage before 18.

Sure, let’s be outraged about Moore’s alleged actions to prey on five teenage girls.

But let’s not forget the ongoing outrage of child marriage, happening legally right now in courthouses and clerks’ offices across America.

 

Source: http://edition.cnn.com/2017/11/15/opinions/moore-case-spotlights-risk-to-young-girls-reiss/index.html

 

The Art of Making a Jihadist

By: Andrew Anthony

We know about jihadists’ dedication to violence, but that’s not the whole story, says expert Thomas Hegghammer. There’s a hidden culture of poetry, music and storytelling that sustains their ideology
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WHEN Jihadi John, the Islamist terrorist who gloried in decapitating hostages, was exposed as Mohammed Emwazi, a spokesman from Cage recalled the west Londoner bringing “posh baklava” to the advocacy group’s offices. He described the knife-wielding murderer and gloating torturer as “a beautiful young man… extremely kind, gentle and soft-spoken, the most humble young person I knew”.

One of the people who inspired Emwazi was Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, renowned for leading the group that beheaded and tortured many western hostages in Iraq, including the British engineer Kenneth Bigley. Zarqawi was known as the Sheikh of the Slaughterers, but he was also referred to as He Who Weeps A Lot, for his habit of crying during prayer.

A baklava-dispensing gentleman and lachrymose devotee who both happen to be sadistic killers? There’s something jarring about these portraits, because with good reason we tend to think of jihadists like Emwazi and al-Zarqawi as murderous automatons, singularly dedicated to the most terrifying violence. But as the Norwegian academic Thomas Hegghammer, an expert on jihadism, argues, that’s not the whole story. Even jihadists have their downtime. The question is, what do they do in it?

After a decade of studying the subject, around 2010 Hegghammer came to a realisation. Jihadists did a lot of things seemingly at odds with their brutal image: weeping, writing and reciting poetry, singing, recalling and interpreting dreams, perfecting their manners and taking an inordinate interest in their appearance.

In the language of behavioural economics, they weren’t rational actors because they were acting in ways that often ran counter to their stated interests. That may not seem like a profound insight about people whose military USP is a pronounced willingness to blow themselves up. Still, Hegghammer thought it was one worth exploring and, given the ongoing draw of jihadism, it’s perhaps one that the authorities should also consider.

Jihadism, in the sense that Hegghammer is concerned with, is a relatively new phenomenon. He dates it to the Afghan war against the USSR in the 1980s. Since then it has taken many forms in places as diverse as Chechnya, Bosnia, Nigeria and Somalia.

Most recently hundreds of young men, and some young women too, have gone to Syria from the UK, and thousands from across Europe as a whole. With the attacks in London and Manchester, and the vicious battles to retake the cities of Mosul and Raqqa from Isis in Iraq and Syria, the bloody reality of global jihad has been a prominent news story for some time. Yet we know little of jihadists’ lives beyond their obsession with death.

What Hegghammer came to see in looking closer at the background activities that gained little attention was a pattern of behaviour that amounted to a distinct and living culture. The result is a book Hegghammer has edited entitled “Jihadi Culture: The Art and Social Practices of Militant Islamists.

I meet Hegghammer at a pub on the banks of the river Cherwell, not far from the spot where the city of Oxford surrendered to Oliver Cromwell, that English religious Puritan who, like the jihadists, believed God guided his military campaigns.

Hegghammer is senior research fellow at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment in Oslo. In 2001, having left Oxford with degrees in Middle East Studies, he got a summer internship at the establishment working on a tiny unit that was then known as the “Bin Laden network”. A couple of months later 9/11 happened and he became completely absorbed in a phenomenon that, he says, has been “a passion” ever since.

A youthful-looking 40-year-old, Hegghammer is quietly spoken and carefully reflective. I ask him if he was worried that his book might be misconceived as an apology for, or even glorification of, jihadism.

“To be perfectly honest it didn’t occur to me in the beginning, perhaps because I and the people I work with take it for granted that there’s no need to normatively condemn jihadism in every sentence.” However, after he published an op-ed piece in the New York Times, the comments section “exploded” with outrage. “So I think some people see it as a little controversial,” he acknowledges, “but once I can explain what it’s about, people understand.”

Militancy, Hegghammer writes, “is about more than bombs and doctrines. It is also about rituals, customs and dress codes. It is about music, films and storytelling. It is about sports, jokes, and food.”

The book argues that jihadis have a “rich aesthetic culture that is essential for understanding their mindset and worldview”. “Rich” is an unusual choice of word to describe a culture that is primarily concerned with prohibition: of expression, imagery, literature, sexuality, sensuality, and a huge range of human activities that fall outside a very strict interpretation of the seventh-century religious guide to living a pious life that is the Qur’an.

Perhaps a more fitting word is “kitsch”, for much of jihadi poetry and artwork presented in the book is sentimental and self-glorifying. Indeed the imagery displayed in a chapter called The Visual Culture of Jihad is replete with heavenly representations that wouldn’t look out of place hanging on the fence of Kensington Gardens, alongside paintings of cute cats and doe-eyed children.

“It’s a very romantic culture,” says Hegghammer, “insofar as they see themselves as historical heroes, knights in shining armour, every one of them. And they can be very pompous. Humour is unevenly distributed in the movement – some of them can be quite funny and self-ironic, but the average level of self-irony is very low. It’s a movement that takes itself very seriously.”

But aesthetic judgments about rich or kitsch are beside the point. What really matters, from a sociological viewpoint, is the time jihadists devote to pastimes that do not appear to tally with their central preoccupation.

“We should expect them to spend all their time honing their bomb-making skills, raising funds, or studying the enemy’s weakness,” Hegghammer writes. “Yet they ‘waste’ time on poetry recitation, hymn singing, and other activities that serve no apparent strategic purpose.”

Except, as Hegghammer argues, what initially seems superfluous to the cause is in fact all part of its dissemination. New recruits, for example, tend to listen to jihadi music and watch jihadi videos long before they understand the doctrine or take part in any fighting. This suggests that the culture underpinning Islamist militancy acts as a kind of gateway to the ideology, rather than vice versa.

If this is so, then it’s a significant finding in terms of shaping counterterrorism initiatives. The problem, though, is that jihadi culture shares a great deal with Salafi (fundamentalist Islam) culture and even mainstream Islamic culture.

“The culture the jihadis offer is recognisable to many,” Hegghammer explains. “It’s not a break aesthetically speaking, especially compared to non-jihad radicalism. If you take skinhead culture, it’s a radical break with the mainstream. They’re not claiming that people were using Dr Martens with red shoelaces 1,300 years ago. Whereas the jihadis are presenting something with an aura of authenticity in which each element has some historical precedent.”

Hence, of course, the style of dress and behaviour that jihadists believe to be modelled on the prophet and his companions. But this emphasis on the past is one of the areas in which jihadism must encounter a strange kind of cognitive dissonance because it’s a movement that, in several other respects, is also rushing to embrace modernity.

One of the great successes of jihadism has been its use of social media and online applications such as YouTube and chatrooms. Rather than worry about whether Twitter is haram or halal, the jihadis have rushed to embrace all forms of new media for its international propaganda capability, with Isis producing a series of slick online magazines and videos.

“They’ve become more pragmatic in their cultural appropriation,” explains Hegghammer. “In the 80s you had a bunch of jihadi magazines being published in Peshawar in Pakistan and about half of them had images in them and half did not, because some believed that photography should be banned. And you’ve gone from that to this big light and sound show that is jihadi propaganda today.”

But perhaps the area of jihadist culture that’s most fraught with contradiction is that which speaks of human suffering, a recurring theme in its poetry, song, and cinematography. Simply put, jihadists are prone to romanticise their own adversity and overlook that which they bring to others. That’s a trait shared with many other fighting forces, of course, but it’s a particularly conspicuous one in this case.

One of the main creative forms – one of the few acceptable creative forms – in jihadist culture is what’s called nashid, a kind of sung poem that often focuses on the pain and suffering of the occupied and the oppressed. Typically it lists grievances and calls upon righteous Muslims to overthrow the oppressor. The style is grandiose and sentimental and, as Hegghammer’s book documents, jihadists often weep at the tales told in various anashid (the plural form). Yet the thought of killing Yazidis, enslaving their women, and running people off their land inspires nothing but celebration. In other words, for all their readiness to get in touch with their sensitive sides and have a good sob, jihadists are not upset by oppression or suffering, unless it’s their own.

There are no anashid from the point of view of jihadists’ victims. When Isis issued a ruling permitting fighters to have sex with prepubescent prisoners, it occasioned no tear-soaked poems or hymns.

I ask Hegghammer what makes it possible to show empathy in communal crying jags and yet remain indifferent to the pain inflicted on defenceless victims.

“I think these processes don’t always happen in the brain, but in the heart,” he says. “And they are often about the short term, the immediate emotional rewards they’re getting, the enjoyment of the situation there and then. They don’t stop and think about what’s going on. They go with the flow, and the flow is strong and deep.”

That flow, like it or not, is religious in nature. One of the most important aspects of Hegghammer’s and his co-authors’ research is that it establishes just how much religion plays a part in the jihadist’s worldview.

It has become common practice to dismiss terrorists’ pretensions to religiosity. “They’re not real Muslims” is now a set response to any atrocity committed in Islam’s name. It’s an understandable, perhaps even commendable impulse, but it suffers from the great disadvantage of being factually wrong.

“I think their religiosity needs to be taken very seriously,” says Hegghammer. “There’s a big and ongoing debate about how knowledgeable jihadis are about religion, which is not very helpful because you have to distinguish between depth of knowledge and intensity of belief.”

The signs are that the large majority of jihadists pray a lot, fast, don’t drink, and closely follow the rules of Islam, at least in their own interpretation.

If belief in the afterlife is one of several aspects of faith common to most Muslims (and indeed practising Christians) it is critical to jihadism. If the jihadist credo could be condensed into one sentence, it would be the often quoted statement: “We love death as you love life”. After all, suicide bombing, that jihadist speciality, trades on a desire to relinquish life for the eternal paradise of heaven.

“Where the jihadists will disagree with other afterlife-believing Muslims is about who gets there,” says Hegghammer. “The jihadists say that if you don’t fight you go to hell.”

Whereas those who fight and are killed are reserved a special place – famously filled with compliant virgins – in heaven.

This picture of religious conviction has been serially undermined by the backstories of many European jihadists, who have spent years drinking, taking drugs and having casual sexual relationships. It has created what Hegghammer calls a “tabloid narrative”, in which non-religious types have a religious awakening and atone for their sins with jihad.

“There’s an unspoken assumption there that they were more or less atheist before. I think that’s wrong. Even when they were in youth gangs, drinking and taking drugs, they defined themselves as Muslim and were aware of the ethical system.”

So the attempts to dismiss jihadists as just misguided criminal delinquents are, believes Hegghammer, misconceived. They may be confused, a mess of contradictions and conflicting identities, but they are often seeking to reconnect with a latent sense of religious belief.

Within that belief system, dream interpretation enjoys a history that far predates Freudianism. As the prophet Muhammad is thought to have received his divine revelations in “visions”, dreams occupy a special place in Islamic theology. In a fascinating chapter on The Islamic Dream Tradition and Jihadi Militancy, Iain Edgar and Gwynned de Looijer examine how jihadists search for meaning in their dreams.

Mullah Omar, the former head of the Taliban, was said to get his strategic warfare guidance in his dreams. And Osama bin Laden is on record as deriving reassurance the same way. When, a year before 9/11, one of his factotums mentioned a dream he had in which jihadists dressed as pilots played football against Americans, Bin Laden decided that as the dreamer was ignorant of the terror plot, it had to be an omen for its eventual success.

Robert Fowler, a Canadian hostage of jihadists in Africa, wrote about one of his captors who constantly inquired of his dreams “to exercise his training in interpretation”. And many jihadists in Syria report joining the cause as a consequence of a dream.

So much for the sleeping dreams, what of their waking ones? What world do jihadists want to create? It’s notable that so much of the descriptive work of jihadi films, poetry and artwork is fixated on two things: the base evil of the enemy and the sensual indulgence of heaven. What it seldom attempts to do is to describe the idyll of jihadi life on Earth.

I recall speaking to Anjem Choudary, the now imprisoned militant activist who is thought to have inspired scores of jihadists at home and abroad. I asked him to describe how he wanted life to be in his ideal world. He painted a bleak picture of crucifixions, no freedom of expression, enforced segregation, gay people and apostates put to death, no alcohol, no theatre, no concerts, and countless other prohibitions.

Is that it? I asked.

“We have a laugh,” he protested. “I could sing an Islamic song to you.”

No doubt many of the jihadists who set out for Syria with visions of a promised land encountered instead a harsh way of life for which no amount of poetry, dream interpretation and Islamic song could compensate.

But now that Mosul is once more under Iraqi control and Isis looks set to be ejected from Raqqa, the caliphate, of which Choudary strongly approved, appears to be nearing collapse. Will that destroy the allure of jihadism?

No, says Hegghammer, firmly.

“We’ll see IS flip into a lost caliphate narrative. They will say we had this amazing society and they came along and broke it again. You’ll get caliphate nostalgia just like you get communism nostalgia in eastern Europe. In five or 10 years’ time 17-year-olds will look at pictures of the Islamic State and want to fight against the people who destroyed it.

“I think that’s a very powerful narrative. And the culture is a glue that has kept lots of different groups together in the past and I see no reason why it shouldn’t in the future.”

But now that Mosul is once more under Iraqi control and Isis looks set to be ejected from Raqqa, the caliphate, of which Choudary strongly approved, appears to be nearing collapse. Will that destroy the allure of jihadism?

No, says Hegghammer, firmly.

“We’ll see IS flip into a lost caliphate narrative. They will say we had this amazing society and they came along and broke it again. You’ll get caliphate nostalgia just like you get communism nostalgia in eastern Europe. In five or 10 years’ time 17-year-olds will look at pictures of the Islamic State and want to fight against the people who destroyed it.

“I think that’s a very powerful narrative. And the culture is a glue that has kept lots of different groups together in the past and I see no reason why it shouldn’t in the future.”

It’s a perfect English summer’s evening when we finish talking, with children playing on the lawn and people arriving for a cold glass of something, one of those scenes of bucolic peacefulness in which it’s hard to imagine a more pleasant way of life.

But that’s just a particular perspective, a cultural disposition, even, perhaps, a subjective illusion. For jihadists, as Hegghammer’s and his co-writers’ compelling book makes clear, the struggle for a very different kind of world is set to continue.

Extract: Poetry in Jihadi Culture

Poetry is central to the self-fashioning and self-presentation of the jihadis; it lies at the core of their identity as well as their ideology, and it represents their most sophisticated cultural product. Most militant leaders and ideologues, including Osama bin Laden, have written poems of their own and make a point of reciting these, as well as verse by others, in social settings and in propaganda communiques. The jihadis’ poetry is not aesthetically innovative, and it does not try to be. Instead, it highlights the poets’ rootedness in tradition, presenting itself as an “authentic” expression of Muslim identity in a world that has perverted true Islamic principles.

Analysts have generally ignored these texts, as if poetry were a colourful but ultimately distracting by-product of jihad. Perhaps this is because they are linguistically difficult or because their purpose appears both alien and obscure. But this dismissal is a mistake. It is impossible to understand jihadism – its aims, its appeal to outsiders, and its durability – without looking into its culture. This culture comes in a number of forms, including anthems, documentary videos, and polemical essays, but poetry is arguably at its centre. And unlike the slickly produced videos of beheadings and burnings, which are made primarily for foreign consumption, poetry provides a window on to the movement talking to itself, as well as to potential recruits. It is in their verse that militants most clearly articulate the fantasy life of jihad.

When the militants’ literary interests are noted, the result is often amused incomprehension. The raid in May 2011 on the Abbottabad compound in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden also uncovered a trove of correspondence. In one letter, written on 6 August 2010, Bin Laden asks a key lieutenant to recommend someone to lead “a big operation inside America”. In the following sentence he writes: “If there are any brothers with you who know about poetic metre, please inform me, and if you have any books on classical prosody, please send them to me.” Commentating for Foreign Affairs on this exchange, an analyst remarked: “Because after a long day of planning to strike fear into the hearts of the infidels, sometimes a guy just wants to take a relaxing bubble bath and read some Emily Dickinson.”

It is indeed curious that so many militants, who are some of the most wanted men in the world, should take the time to study prosody and write poems in monorhyme – one rhyme for what is sometimes many dozens of lines of verse. This is far easier to do in Arabic than in English, but it still takes practice. And it is not only jihadi leaders who engage in such activities. On the contrary, poetry is widely practised in militant circles, and judging by the posts in discussion forums it is also widely appreciated. Certain members of the rank-and-file have been recognised for their literary abilities, earning sobriquets such as “the Poet of al-Quaida” or “the Poet of Jihad”. One of these is a young woman whose verse has made her a cultural celebrity among the militants.

The above is extracted from an essay by Robyn Cresswell and Bernard Haykel in Jihadi Culture

Reference: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jul/23/the-culture-that-makes-a-jihadi-thomas-hegghammer-interview-poetry-militancy#img-1

Ignoring Women Jihadis in The Ranks of Asia’s Islamic State a Fatal Mistake

By: Ardi Wirdana

Despite a clear willingness by radical groups to use women for their terrorist goals, authorities still do not see them as an important threat, experts say
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When the local media reported the story of eight Indonesian women who managed to flee Syria last month having decided to join the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria just over a year earlier, the public was yet again served a gentle reminder of the powerful appeal the radical group has for women in Indonesia.

Just a few months earlier, the Indonesian police foiled IS-inspired suicide bomb attacks by Dian Yulia Novi in Jakarta on December 10, 2016, and Ika Puspitasari in Bali just a few days after. Before their arrests, the two had been set to become Indonesia’s first female suicide bombers.

In neighbouring Singapore, a woman has been detained recently for allegedly attempting to fly to Syria to join IS.

While the presence of women in radical groups is not something new, there has been a notable change in their roles and level of involvement. This change, according to women’s rights activist and gender researcher Lies Marcoes, is “frightening”.

When it comes to women and radicalisation, her words are to be noted. Through an organisation she leads called Rumah Kita Bersama, Lies has followed and interviewed 20 women who are or have been involved with “clear-cut” fundamentalist groups. “Independent”, “educated” and “well-referenced” are just some of the words she uses to describe these “new generations of women jihadis”.

“They want to be visible. They want to be seen. It is clear that they want to take part in the movements,” Lies told This Week in Asia.

She explained that traditionally female jihadis were content with performing “soft jihad”, which was limited to carrying out their reproductive functions such as bearing and rearing children, especially boys, to grow up to become fighters. A prime example of this is Farhana Maute, the mother of the Maute family in the Philippines, whose six sons are all involved in the firefights to seize a number of Philippine towns and cities on behalf of IS.

Some of the younger generation, however, want to break free from the gender stereotype. Lies says that they carry some feminist ideas that look to challenge the patriarchal nature of the jihadist movement and its organisations. The best way of doing this is by duplicating how men show courage by carrying out acts like bank robberies, bomb-making and bomb attacks.

Online engagement

According to the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (Ipac), the increase in women activists is linked to the rise of IS in Iraq in Syria and its global appeal as a “pure” Islamic state which has been facilitated by the use of social media platforms.

A recent report by Ipac titled “Mothers to Bombers: The Evolution of Indonesian Women Extremists” suggests that the prevalence of social media and encrypted chat apps has led to a small but growing number of professional women and Indonesian maids working overseas to become interested in IS.

Dian Yulia, Indonesia’s first would-be suicide bomber, was working as a maid in Taiwan when she first became connected with an IS sympathiser on Facebook who later led her to being acquainted with Indonesia’s leading IS recruiter Bahrun Naim. Likewise, 22 year-old Syaikhah Izzah Al Ansari who became the first Singaporean woman to be detained for suspected Islamic radicalism, was radicalised by online propaganda. She also shared pro-IS material on social media.

In Izzah’s case, the information she received on social media did not only sell her the idea of salvation, but also the prospect of getting married to a militant husband. This idea of a better life presented on social media clearly sells, with women often willing buyers.

Leefa and Nur, two out of the eight Indonesian women that fled from ISIS soon after joining them, said that they had been promised ticket reimbursements, free health treatment and jobs by an IS representative over the internet. But upon their arrival, they found that the situation was different than they had expected, leaving them disappointed and wanting to leave.

Heedless authorities

As a women’s rights activist, Lies said that she was obviously concerned. But the source of her worries is not so much the development of women jihadis, but rather how little is being done to combat the problem.

“There are government institutions and academicians that deal with this issue, but they do not see women as an important part of radical movements,” she said.

Lies says that radicalised women have been the “victims and agents” of Islamic fundamentalism, and a failure to deal with them using a gender analysis approach could prove costly.

Terror analyst Sidney Jones agrees. She believes that the Indonesian intelligence agencies have not paid particular attention to women, despite the fact that women have played key roles.

Continuing to overlook the threat of women jihadis as main actors of terrorist attacks can prove fatal, Sidney said, as extremist groups are turning to women to carry out their big attacks.

“Bahrun Naim wanted female operatives because he saw women carrying backpacks as less likely to be suspected than men. Women suicide bombers are no different than men in the damage they can inflict, as cases in Palestine, Iraq and Chechnya have shown,” she said.[]

Adi Safri *)

Home and Away

According to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, a refugee is a person who is outside their country of origin, have a fear based around reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group, and because of this fear, they cannot or are unwilling to return to their country.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that at the end of February this year, about 152,570 refugees and asylum seekers are in Malaysia. They include about 141,570 from Myanmar, 3970 from Sri Lanka, 1200 from Pakistan, 1100 from Somalia, 960 from Syria, 850 from Iraq, 550 from Iran, 430 from Palestine and others.

What made me interested to doing this project is that I want to know about their lives deeper, by knowing what valuable and memorable items they have brought with them during the journey to Malaysia to seek refuge.

The main challenge I faced was how to get closer to them. I needed to spend time with them so that they will feel comfortable with me and share their lives and begin to show their belongings to me. Another challenge is to identify the location of their settlements and the limited communication is a bit complicated to progress my project.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Salimah Gafu, ethnic of Rakhine, 36 years old with her 9 years old daughter cloth. Her daughter lives in Myanmar with her relative.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Somali women, Filsan Jama Muse holding her son. During her escape, she was pregnant with her son and gave birth in Malaysia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Laila Amiruddin, 17 years old, ethnic Rohingya, Myanmar with her school bag.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Osman Bilal, 31 years old, ethnic of Rakhine, Myanmar, with his engagement picture (second from right is his fiancee). His fiancee is now living in Myanmar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tawhidah Mohd Ghafar, 18 years old, ethnic Rakhine, Myanmar, holding a plate of Thanaka (a traditional herb talc) that she brought from Myanmar and is for the used for the whole family before she came to Malaysia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Abdul Basik, 18 years old, with his slingshot. This is his favorite slingshot he brought from Myanmar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Osman Mohamad, 37 years old, ethnic of Rohingya, holding a Hadith book (collections of texts purported to quote what the prophet Muhammad said verbatim on any matter). He brought from Myanmar and always with him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mohd Ghafar Malik, 39 years old, ethnic of Rakhine, Myanmar, holding a picture of his kids. One of his sons is now in Myanmar and taken care of by his aunt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mohamad Haniff Hussain, Ethnic of Rakhine, Myanmar holding his last 200 Kyat note when he arrived in Malaysia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Somali boy, Bishar Abdisalam, 12, holding his shoes given by his father. Until now his father is believed to be lost due to the war.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Somali boy, Ali Abdisalam, 15 years old, wearing ‘Goa Shall’, a traditional Somali cloth. This cloth was giving by his father. Until now his father is believed to be lost due to war.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Somali child, Khafid Ahmed Khaif, 4 years old holding a toy that was taken by her mother during the escape to Malaysia. This toy is the only thing he loved, brought here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Somali women, Hawo Mohamed Abubakari, 32 years old, with her son, her only child.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shaban Amiruddin, 18 years old, ethnic of Rohingya, Myanmar with her slippers that she woreear to escape to Malaysia

 

 

 

Adi Safri is a photographer based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He studied Photography at a local University before working at a local newspaper and production house. He has covered a range of stories on Malaysian festivals and events. He currently works at The New Straits Times Press as an entertainment photographer.

Adi is took part in Exposure+5 and was mentored by Snow Ng.

*) Sumber: https://exposureplus..com/2015/07/06/adi-safri/

Indonesia Enlists Female Clerics in the Fight Against Extremism *)

Written By: Priyanka Borpujari

As more women become involved in violent extremism, Indonesia has embraced a new weapon in the fight against radicalization: its first recognized cohort of female Muslim clerics.
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JAKARTA, INDONESIA – “Who was washing the underpants of men who had joined fundamentalist groups when they were on the run? It was the wife!” So observes Lies Marcoes, a Muslim feminist and researcher in Indonesia, who is training women to help prevent violent extremism.

She says it’s time to explore the role of women in violent extremism in Indonesia, both in fomenting and preventing it.

In recent years, Indonesia has seen a number of men join radical Islamist groups, declaring themselves to be jihadists. Some have traveled to Syria to join the so-called Islamic State (ISIS), many with the support of the women in their lives.

Women are also joining the fight more directly. Since August 2015, several Indonesian women have been arrested for their roles in spreading jihadism and their intent to carry out terrorist acts. Dian Yulia Novi was arrested in December 2016, the night before she intended to blow herself up at Indonesia’s presidential palace. Another woman, Ika Puspitasari, was picked up a few days later in the ensuing investigation for planning a suicide attack in Bali. Indonesian women have also acted as fundraisers and online network organizers for ISIS.

Indonesia has the world’s largest Muslim population and prides itself on its secularism. As the threat of violent extremism has drawn more and more attention over recent years, new ideas have flourished about how to counter it. One of these is using female Islamic clerics to spread the message.

Now may be the best time to do so. Until recently, the Indonesian Ulama Council (MUI) refused to recognize women as clerics, or “ulama,” a position conferred based on a person’s knowledge of the Quran and the Book of Hadith, a collection of the Prophet Mohammad’s teachings. But that changed last month, when women ulama from across Indonesia gathered to assert their erudition and advance women’s rights through a renewed interpretation of the religious texts.

Ideologies held by women are crucial to understanding the actions of men. Many young women join extremist movements – or support their husbands in joining – because they care deeply about inequality and injustice.

Nor Rofiah, a lecturer at Institute of Koranic Studies in Jakarta and an ulama, says women often get involved in extremism because of skewed gender relations within families. “Women are expected to obey the male authority within their families; they are expected to be subservient to the husband.”

“Any disobedience is seen as not being a good Muslim, and radicalism is targeting this feeling of not being Muslim enough,” she says.

A report from the Indonesia-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict recently argued women in Indonesia who marry ISIS fighters do so in order to “reinforce social hierarchies [and] satisfy the ‘biological needs’ of prisoners.” But women also see opportunities in radicalization that allow them to break out of these hierarchies.

In 2014, Marcoes’ research organization Rumah Kita Bersama interviewed 20 Indonesian women who were in, or had been involved with, fundamentalist groups.

She found they had a wide range of reasons for joining fundamentalist groups, but one stand-out was the need to feel recognized as equal human beings on par with men, beyond their mere reproductive roles. “They want to learn to make a bomb, and put to use their intelligence,” she says.

In both cases, Rofiah and Marcoes assert that women ulama have an advantage that their male counterparts don’t: the experience of being a woman, trying to establish herself in a patriarchal world. Used right, this common thread of subjugation can be the catalyst in changing the narrative to counter radicalism.

The Asian Muslims Action Network in Indonesia is currently working to identify women ulama who would be able to speak to their communities about the devastating impacts of extremism, in the name of Islam.

Dwi Rubiyanti Kholifah is the network’s country director for Indonesia. “Not all women ulama are comfortable discussing this issue, as it seems sensitive,” she says.

“We have to start with what they are comfortable with: the Quran and the Hadiths, and understanding the concept of jihad. We need to emphasize that radicalism is not something that is taking place elsewhere,” she explains.

Marcoes, who has been a mentor to women ulama like Rofiah on gender issues, argues that clerics need to be given an understanding of violent extremism from the perspective of those behind it, and plans to do so through Rumah Kita Bersama.

“We will select women ulama from areas where men have been arrested for their radical links,” she says.

“We will develop a curriculum so that they are later able to work with the families of those whose male members are in jail,” she explains.

A key factor, adds Kholifah, is to ensure that the next generation of men is not consumed by revenge when they see their fathers are arrested for extremism.

While for some women, dedicating their wombs and their roles as wives and mothers to “soldiers of God” is their identity, the same idea can be flipped towards convincing women to use that same role to prevent the men in their lives from taking up arms.

“Women ulama have their religious knowledge, and agency over the communities,” Marcoes says.

“Violent extremism is not just in a man’s world.”

*) https://www.newsdeeply.com/womenandgirls/articles/2017/06/14/indonesia-enlists-female-clerics-in-the-fight-against-extremism

Female Ulama voice a vision for Indonesia’s future *)

By: Kathryn Robinson **)

Islam, the religion of the vast majority of Indonesian citizens, is a site of contestation in envisioning Indonesia’s future. Gender equity as a democratic value has been a strong claim since the fall of Suharto. Recent international focus has been on the Jakarta gubernatorial elections and the campaign against Chinese background Christian governor Ahok by hard-line Islamists, ending in his blasphemy trial and conviction (and electoral loss). While his Islamist opponents—apparently allied with crony capitalists—have seized media attention, their vision of Indonesia’s future under sharia law is not uncontested.

In April, Indonesian religious scholars and activists hosted a world first: a convention of female religious authorities (ulama). The conference title, KUPI (Kongres Ulama Perempuan Indonesia), played with a dual meaning: female religious authorities, and scholars (male and female) whose interpretations of the Qur’an and Hadith proclaim gender equity (kesetaraan jender) as a fundamental principle of Islam. Over three days, speakers and delegates discussed the history of female religious authority in Indonesia—a claim that is highly contentious to hard line groups who argue that male authority, as prayer leaders and hence as political leaders, is a fundamental Islamic principle. They also discussed the more abstract concepts of social justice and human rights, as fundamental Islamic values focusing on issues like sexual and domestic violence and child marriage.

Day one was an international seminar (pictured above) where female speakers from other majority Muslim nations, including Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, The Sudan and Kenya (which has a substantial Muslim minority) joined leading Indonesian female ulama. Many of the international speakers commented that it would be unthinkable to have such a convention in their countries, and in particular they would not get official support, as this convention did. A representative of the Minister of Religious Affairs (which regulates Islamic affairs including education and marriage) and the local district head (bupati) both spoke at the opening ceremony, and the Minister of Religious Affairs, Lukman Hakim Saifuddin, closed the conference on the third day. The first day ended in a pageant where seven women ulama from across the country enacted the sources that would be used in developing the fatwa that would outline the main findings of the conference: these included the Qur’an; Hadith (Prophet traditions); Kitab Kuning (‘Yellow Books’—the books of religious instruction used in Islamic schools [pesantren]); the Indonesian Constitution and international instruments like the UN Declaration on Human Rights.

The mention of the constitution as a source of principles for Indonesia’s Muslims is a direct challenge to the Islamist desire to have sharia law as the basis of Indonesia’s legal system. Further, the emphasis on international instruments challenges the attack by hardliners on what they see as ‘alien’ and ‘liberal’ values. The women also held up small trees representing the environment, indicating the role of Islamic values in stopping rapacious destruction of the environment as another key issue.

The international speakers outlined that while gender equity is a struggle in all the countries represented, in many places they face struggles already won by women in Indonesia. For example, the speaker from Saudi Arabia discussed the campaign ‘I am my own wali’ (guardian): Saudi women need their male guardians’ permission to marry (and travel abroad or have medical treatment) whereas for Indonesian women, the issue is the discrepancy in the minimum age of free choice of marriage for female Indonesian citizens between different legal instruments. The speakers from Pakistan, The Sudan and Nigeria discussed the sensitive issue of how women educators combat radicalism through working with young people and with mothers of radicalised youth.

Siti Ruhaini Dzuhayatin, a notable Indonesian female cleric who currently heads the Independent Human Rights Commission of Organization of Islamic Co-operation (IOC) was another international speaker. She argued for Islamic values protecting human rights and that the Qur’an basically pushes for monogamy, accommodating and humanising polygamy which was a pre-Islamic practice and not part of Islamic teaching. Another instance of international co-operation in promoting women-friendly Islamic values was reported by Zainah Anwar, a founder of Sisters in Islam in 1998 which has now developed an international organisation Musawah, a ‘global movement for justice and equity in the Muslim family’. She praised Indonesia’s record on gender equity, while acknowledging the challenges still to be faced.

The congress attracted nearly 2000 registrants—more women than men, and a mix of scholars and activists, of all ages. There were delegates from all over Indonesia. It was held at the State Islamic Institute and also on the campus of the pesantren (religious boarding school) Kebon Jambu Al-Islamy in Cirebon, West Java, which is headed by a woman scholar, Nyai Hj. Masriyah Amva. The congress site had a carnivalesque atmosphere, with small stalls selling clothes and food, banners lining the entrance road, a tent erected for the opening ceremony and some plenary discussions, and cultural and music performances, including many performances of Shalawat Keadilan, or joyous songs in praise of the Prophet with a theme of equity. These popular renderings of Islamic values have been promoted by the groups that organised the congress as a way of bringing their interpretation to a wide audience.

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Violence against women and women’s rights within marriage and the family were key issues. The Cirebon cleric Kiyai Haji Hussein Muhammad, who has been a pioneer of interpretations of the Qur’an that promote gender equity, and who has served in the National Commission on Violence against women (Komnas Perempuan), is well known for problematising polygamy as an Islamic practice. Hussein has been a leading figure arguing against textualism (interpretations of the Qur’an and Hadith that do not take account of social and cultural context), which is seen as a source of hard line Islam.

The Kiyai received a rousing cheer from the audience when the session chair identified him from the podium. Polygyny (poligami) has long been contentious in Indonesia, with the 1974 marriage law restricting it and putting it under the authority of the religious courts with strict rules for approval. One judicial challenge to the polygamy restriction on the grounds that it is a restriction on religious freedom was unsuccessful, but another is in preparation.

The second day of the conference began with the women ulama meeting to discuss the doctrinal issues related to the three core issues of the congress: sexual violence against women, child marriage and environmental protection as a gender issue. These topics were picked up in workshops in the afternoon, to discuss the religious textual foundation, social research, and action to combat the identified problems.

I attended the workshop on child marriage, another issue that has recently been highlighted through the practices of emerging hardline groups. Supporters of legal reform challenge to the minimum age of marriage for girls in the marriage law (16) had mounted a judicial challenge in the Constitutional Court. They argued that it was at variance with the age of marriage specified in the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child to which Indonesia is a signatory. The Constitutional Court rejected the appeal, and used Islamic texts in its decision. The workshop, led by several young male kiyai, reviewed the textual justifications for banning child marriage, arguing the focus of the Court decision had been too narrow. From the textual basis they moved to report on research on practices and impact of child marriage while working on strategies, including a further legal challenge that would present a broader set of texts, and the research results.

The vision of Indonesia’s Islamic future that the convention presented was that associated with Indonesia’s major mass organisation, NU (Nahdlatul Ulama). This promotes the view of Indonesian Islam as tolerant, fundamentally democratic and supportive of religious harmony; and promotes what Islamic scholar Azyumadi Azra calls Indonesia‘s ‘colourful’ Islam as variable and adaptive to local cultures. The movement for women-friendly interpretation of Islam has been occurring since the 1990s, especially associated with Kiyai Hussein and the groups Rahima and Fahima, that were instrumental in organising this congress. It was supported by women’s organisations of the major Islamic movements in Indonesia, NU and Muhammadiyah, both of whose members number in the millions. By contrast, the women’s wings of the emergent Islamist groups, such as Hizbut Tahrir, oppose gender equity on the grounds that it is a Western, liberal, agenda and support the regulation of gender relations through conservative application of sharia.

The congress ended with a declaration of three fatwa, reinforcing the value of female religious authority. The first fatwa argued for a minimum age of marriage of 18; the second, that sexual violence against women, including within marriage, is haram (forbidden). The third fatwa picked up the theme of environmental protection: environmental destruction is haram as it can trigger social and economic imbalances and place burdens on women. The congress called on the government to stop allowing the destruction of natural resources for ‘development’. Congress attendees have strong links into the community, and the organisers hold significant institutional positions, respect and support from government. This movement has been slowly building for a long time and is a significant voice in defining the future of Indonesia.[]
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*) http://www.newmandala.org/female-ulama-voice-vision-indonesias-future/

**) Kathryn Robinson is Emeritus Professor in the School of Culture, History & Language, ANU College of Asia and the Pacific.