Indonesia will host a meeting of “ulema” (Islamic scholars) from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Indonesia on Thursday in an effort to support the Afghan peace process, the country’s Vice President Jusuf Kalla announced last week.
In a concluding speech at a three-day gathering of international Muslim scholars, Kalla said Indonesia could play a role in building peace in Afghanistan by hosting the meeting on May 11. It was scheduled to be held in March in Jakarta but was delayed after a call from the Taliban to boycott it.
“We hope to resolve the conflict in Afghanistan, we still have a problem there,” Kalla said at the vice presidential palace on May 3.
The plan to hold the meetings of the ulema from Indonesia, Pakistan and Afghanistan arose after a delegation from the Afghan High Peace Council led by its chairman Karim Khalili visited Indonesia in November. The council had asked Indonesia to support the peace process in Afghanistan through the ulema’s role.
The plan was further discussed when Kalla visited Kabul in late February to attend the Kabul Process conference, where he was the guest of honor.
“The people will listen to the ulema and they have trust in fatwas that the ulema issued,” Kalla said.
Afghan cleric Fazal Ghani Kakar, who was one of the participants in the conference, confirmed that the meeting will take place and that he has been invited to attend.
Kakar, who is the former chairman of Afghanistan’s Nahdlatul Ulama, said that the meeting would be timely because there was an urgent need to find resolution to the problem in Afghanistan, which he said was suffering from radicalism and extreme interpretation of Islam.
“The core issue will be how to build trust between the Afghan and Pakistan ulema because both sides have their own influence on the warring factions in Afghanistan,” Kakar told journalists at the palace.
“This will be the first round and we hope this will open the gate for further discussion,” Kakar said.
He said that he had high hopes for the meeting because “most of the extreme ideas are coming from the Pakistani side, so sitting with the Pakistani ulema is the first step together to reach a better solution.”
He also said there would be at least five ulema from Afghanistan attending, and ulema from the Taliban were expected to come because the political faction of the Taliban has expressed interest in joining the meeting.
“We are very thankful for Indonesia; it has always played its role in brokering peace within the country, and in neighboring countries. We are looking forward to this being a good step for Afghanistan,” Kakar said.
Riefqi Muna, a foreign policy researcher at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, said there was a lot that Indonesia could share from its experience as a Muslim-majority country with a stable democracy that has had its own share of secessionist and communal conflicts.
“We are not going to lecture them, but there are best practices experiences that we can share, so it is necessary for Indonesia to take part in pushing for peace process in conflict-torn countries,” Muna said.
“Facilitating a place for conflicting parties to meet is a step to build peace and for conflict resolution,” he said.
Indonesia said its position remains the same after the US, the UK and France called on it to join forces in pressuring Syria’s Assad regime about its alleged use of chemical weapons.
Envoys from the three countries on Thursday asked to meet Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi and requested that the country go further in its stance on Assad’s regime.
Arrmanatha Nasir, Foreign Ministry spokesman, told journalists on Friday that Indonesia was deeply concerned about developments in Syria after the US and its allies’ missile strikes.
Nasir said during the meeting that the three Western countries’ ambassadors conveyed their views on Syria, while Marsudi reiterated Indonesia’s position issued on Apr. 14 after the strike, which underlines the need for all parties to respect international laws and norms, in particular the UN charter on international peace and security.
Indonesia also “strongly condemned the use of chemical weapons by any parties in Syria” and called on all parties to show restraint and prevent an escalation of the deteriorating situation.
Indonesia stressed the importance of a comprehensive resolution of the conflict in Syria through negotiations and peaceful means and expressed concern about the security of civilians, calling on all parties to ensure that the safety of women and children was always a priority.
Beginda Pakpahan, an international relations lecturer at Universitas Indonesia, said that the country’s position on Syria was clear and reflected its free and active foreign policy.
“They (the ambassadors) should be aware of Indonesia’s position,” Pakpahan said.
Rene Pattiradjawane, a former Kompas daily senior journalist and foreign policy commentator, said that it was natural the three countries would seek support from Indonesia as the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country.
But with its free and active foreign policy, Indonesia could not support US and its allies’ unilateral strike on Syria and it should not be interpreted as espousing either Russia or Syria.
“Indonesia sees this more as a humanitarian problem with a lot of collateral damage,” he said.
According to the Foreign Ministry, there are up to 2,000 Indonesian citizens in Syria.
Moazzam Malik, the UK’s ambassador to Indonesia, said after Thursday’s meeting that he and fellow ambassadors to Indonesia, the US’s Joseph R. Donovan and France’s Jean-Charles Berthonne, would like Indonesia to join them in holding the Assad regime accountable for the suspected misuse of chemical weapons against their own citizens and the abuse of the Chemical Weapons Convention.
Malik said that since Indonesia would soon become a committee member of the Organization of the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), they would like it to put pressure on Syria and Russia to open access for the investigation in Douma.
Ahmad met his friends Udin and Ari at a mosque, and Ari asked him why he had not been around for some time.
When Ahmad said he had just returned from Syria, Ari replied in awe that he, too, wanted to go there to wage “jihad”.
When a teacher approached them and asked Ahmad the same question, Ari replied, saying: “He (Ahmad) just returned from Syria to wage jihad. Isn’t that cool?” But Ahmad told both men the caliphate propaganda was false and many innocent people had been killed in the name of the caliphate.
“They were Muslims just like us,” he said. The teacher closed the conversation by saying that Ari had learned his lesson and should understand he did not have to go far to wage jihad. The teacher then asked Ari to join him assisting elderly people.
“This is also jihad,” he said.
Ahmad, Udin and Ari are characters in an animated film entitled “Kembali dari Suriah,” or “Returning from Syria,” produced by the Center for the Study of Islam and Social Transformation (Cisform) at Universitas Islam Negeri Sunan Kalijaga in Yogyakarta. The short film — one of 20 animated clips produced to counter extremism among teenagers — was launched in Jakarta on Wednesday, following the February release of the first 20 clips in Yogyakarta.
Muhammad Wildan, Cisform’s director, said the films had been made to counter radical propaganda after earlier efforts to publish two short comics largely failed because of the poor reading habits of Indonesian teenagers.
“We decided to develop these animated short clips to expand our reach. They will be more accessible through social media,” Wildan said.
Most of the clips are between 90 seconds and three minutes long, depending on the content.
Wildan said the real challenge was to condense the message with the correct reference to Qur’an and package it in a maximum three-minute clip.
“We are careful when choosing our arguments that cite the Qur’an and the Hadith,” Wildan said.
Lecturers from the university had offered their expertise on specific subjects, he said.
Also present at the film launch was 20-year-old Nur Shadrina Khairadhania, who went to Syria as a teenager with her extended family. She shared her own account of emigrating to the so-called caliphate and explained why going to Syria to wage jihad was wrong.
Speaking to an audience of high school students, Khairadhania said that after her interest in Islam began to grow, she fell victim to ISIS online propaganda introduced to her by an uncle.
“I watched their videos, which showed that life would be really good in the caliphate. I was enticed to join,” Khairadhania said.
She convinced her father, Dwi Djoko Wiwoho, a high-ranking civil servant in Batam, Riau province, as well as her mother and two siblings, to migrate to Syria.
A group of 26 extended members of her family, including two uncles and a grandmother, left for Syria in 2015. After 19 managed to cross the border to Turkey, they quickly discovered that life in the caliphate was very different to the propaganda.
“Everything is contrary to Islamic teaching. A male family member was forced to fight and was put in detention for months when he refused,” she said.
The family tried for a year to leave and finally returned to Indonesia in August 2017.
Family members completed a rehabilitation program run by the national counterterrorism agency, but now her father and uncle are facing terrorism charges.
Rebuilding her life had been difficult because of the stigma of her past, she said.
“But God gave me a second chance to live. This is probably my jihad, to tell the truth to people so no one will be deceived like us,” she said.
Embun Diarsih had been used to being in touch once a week with her husband Ronny William, a sailor for 35 years.
But in September 2017, after William did not contact her for two weeks, she became a bit anxious and her worries were confirmed when one of his fellow sailors told her that the Malta-flagged fishing vessel on which William was working was hijacked near Benghazi, Libya.
“I hadn’t heard from my husband for two weeks, then I had a call from his friend, an Indonesian sailor who was also working on a fishing vessel in Europe, he told me that the boat in which my husband was working on had been hijacked near Benghazi,” Embun said at the foreign ministry on Monday where Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi officially handed over William and five other crew members to their families.
Embun said she immediately contacted the Indonesian authorities and told them about the abduction.
Ronny, who was speaking on behalf of his five fellow crew members Joko Riadi, Haryanto, Waskita Idi Patria, Saefudin, and Mohamad Abudi, said they sailed from Malta looking for fishing grounds in the Mediterranean Sea with seven people onboard including an Italian captain.
The Salvatur VI vessel was seized by Benghazi-based militia on Sep. 23 last year about 23 miles off the Libyan coast. The militiamen seized everything, including communication devices and the crew members’ personal belongings.
“Since the vessel didn’t have any means of communication, the Indonesian government only found out about the hijacking on Sep. 28 from the vessel’s owner, who contacted the Indonesian Embassy in Rome,” said Foreign Ministry’s director for protection of Indonesians abroad, Lalu Muhammad Iqbal.
Indonesian authorities, including officials from the state intelligence agency BIN tried to contact the militia to gain access to the crew.
In December, the Indonesian embassy in Tripoli finally secured direct access to the militia in Benghazi, which gave approval for communication with the crew.
“The communication access enabled us to get proof of lives and to monitor their condition,” Iqbal said.
Embun said that was when she was finally able to talk to her husband again after waiting for three months.
“I just waited and waited. I understand it’s a conflict area and the process was difficult,” she said.
Following months of intensive communication with various parties in Benghazi, Indonesian officials reached an understanding with them on how to extract the hostages.
“On March 27, at 12.30 local time, the six crew were handed over to us at the port of Benghazi,” Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi adding that the whole process was delicate given the complex political situation in Libya.
“There were no ransom paid,” she added.
William said they survived on the run-down boat by fishing, and they asked one of the militiamen assigned to guard them to sell some of the fish they caught in the market, and to use to the money to buy rice and other provisions.
“Until December, we witnessed clashes between militia group that tried to take over Benghazi with Islamic State (IS) militants. A bomb fell not far from the boat where we were held captive,” he added.
“The port and the city are in ruins. It’s like a dead town. Decayed boats and damaged buildings were everywhere,” he said, adding that the Italian captain, who was ailing, had been rescued in October.
Retno said the Foreign Ministry is continuing to communicate with the boat’s owner in Malta.
“We will make sure that the crewmen’s rights are fulfilled,” she said.
Hebrew is unlikely to be among the most preferred list of foreign languages to learn in Indonesia. Not just because it is the language of Israel, the country that most Indonesians have a hostile view to, but also because there was not a place that offered the courses.
But a Muslim man who studied at an Islamic boarding school in East Java and earned his degree in Arabic literature from Al Azhar University in Cairo, Sapri Sale, saw this as an opportunity to introduce the language in Muslim-majority Indonesia.
Sapri said there is nothing political or ideological in his mission to teach Hebrew in a country where solidarity with Palestine is a strong issue and Israel is regarded as the enemy. He also said despite the religious and political contexts, he just wanted to introduce Hebrew as a language worth learning for Indonesians just like any other foreign language.
“We lack information about Israel because we don’t have access to their language,” he said on the sidelines of the course earlier this week, which is held every Monday and Wednesday at the office of Indonesian Conference on Religion and Peace (ICRP) in Central Jakarta.
“It’s like the old saying, ‘keep your friends close, but your enemies closer’, by learning their language so we can understand them better,” he added.
The course at ICRP is the first one that has been open to the public, but Sapri has taught private courses for groups in several places in Jakarta since August 2017. Now that he’s open with his activities, he said that various groups in other parts of the country have asked him to teach them.
According to Sapri, unlike in Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries where Indonesian as a language is learned out of necessity because of the significant presence of Indonesian migrant workers there, Indonesian is introduced in Israel through cultural studies program in university.
Sapri became interested in learning Hebrew during his student days in Egypt in the early 1990s and noted that Egyptians in general see Israel as an enemy.
“It triggered my curiosity, so I decided to learn Hebrew to be able to know more about it,” he said, adding that he self-taught himself the language for two years and at the beginning he used second-hand text books from Cairo University’s Jewish literature studies. He then took a Hebrew course at the Israeli Academic Center in Cairo.
Sapri, who also teaches Arabic, is aware that his positive intention to promote the language would result in a backlash against him and he has found himself the target of verbal intimidation from those who find his activities unacceptable.
“People have even called me ‘Sapri Jewish’, in a sarcastic way,” he said.
Sapri also wrote the first-ever Indonesian-Hebrew dictionary which he worked on for 10 years. The dictionary is divided into three parts, dictionaries for Indonesian-Hebrew and Hebrew-Indonesian as well as a glossary and was launched in late February.
Sapri said he was not surprised that he could not find a publisher that wanted to publish a book potential to trigger controversy, so he foot the bill to have the dictionary with 35,000 vocabularies published. As expected, major bookstore chains would not display it on their shelves, but Sapri said he could still make a sale through small, independent bookstores and online marketplaces.
The dictionary is acknowledged in the “Israel Berbahasa Indonesia” or Israel Speaks Indonesian official fan page on Facebook, which identifies its administrator as a government organization in Jerusalem and lists the Israeli foreign ministry’s web address in its profile.
His students come from different background, such as Alz Danny Wowor, a computer science lecturer at a university in Central Java and cryptography enthusiast. He signed up last month and since then, he has been commuting eight hours by train from Semarang in Central Java to Jakarta to learn the language in a 1.5-hour afternoon session. He takes the night train back to Semarang when the session is over.
“I have a keen interest in cryptography, and Israel is well-known for its sophisticated cryptography. I am learning the language so I can understand it better, such as the Atbash cypher,” Wowor said, adding that he hopes to study cryptography in Israel someday and learning Hebrew is part of his preparations.
Sapri said most of his students are Christians who want to improve their understanding of the Bible through its original language. They make up 70 percent of his students, with the remaining 30 percent being Muslims.
“The 30 percent can learn Hebrew faster because as Muslims, we are usually taught to read the Qur’an in Arabic, so it makes them easier to understand Hebrew because of the similarities in the two languages,” he said.
Sapri said that geopolitical issues aside, he hopes Indonesians would not be “allergic” to learn Hebrew just because it is associated with Israel.
Musdah Mulia, the chairwoman of ICRP said the institution was willing to provide the space for the course because they share the same vision in developing better understanding between faiths and cultures, though she is aware of the possible repercussion against the institution.
“Language is neutral. We can learn about another culture and history through language and Hebrew is a language,” she said.
This story has been expanded from its original version in Arab News
There are no direct links between Indonesian militants and the leadership of IS in Syria, an Indonesian terrorism expert said on Tuesday.
Taufik Andrie, executive director of the Institute for International Peace Building in Jakarta, was speaking during a meeting about changes in the global terrorism network and the impact those changes have had on extremism in Indonesia.
He said that attacks by self-proclaimed IS-affiliated militants in Indonesia “were not always related to IS, or even to Bahrun Naim or Aman Abdurrahman,” referencing an Indonesian militant believed to be fighting for IS in Syria and a convicted radical cleric who led an IS-affiliated network from his prison cell.
“There has never been a direct link between IS in Syria with those who claimed to be affiliated with the group here,” Andrie said. “Most of those so-called acknowledgements were self-proclaimed.
“If we follow the money trail, there has been little financial support coming in from Syria to Indonesia for terrorism activities,” he said.
However, Andrie said that remnants of the Southeast Asian militant network Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) — outlawed in Indonesia since 2008 — still remain, with a clear organizational structure and key figures implementing their strategies.
Nasir Abbas, a former militant who is now known as a de-radicalization activist, said the group now operates anonymously, but still works toward the same goals using a mixture of preaching and violence.
“They are still on the move, but they don’t put a name on their organization. They use a strategy, unlike other militants who think that they are waging war by being lone wolves,” said Abbas, adding that other militant groups were now emulating JI by putting a solid structure in place.
“They would try to settle in a small region and strengthen their base, preaching to the locals about their intention to establish a caliphate and making the locals believe in their propaganda,” he explained.
Abbas said the conflict-torn southern Philippines remains the go-to destination for Southeast Asian militants returning to the region after joining IS in the Middle East. He claimed they pass through the porous sea and land borders from Indonesia’s North Kalimantan province to Malaysia’s Sabah state before entering the Philippines in Basilan.
“It’s the preferred trail because there is a chain of small islands in the Sulu Sea and there are a lot of separatist groups there, which means there is an abundant supply of guns and ammunition,” he said.
Nava Nuraniyah, an analyst at the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) in Jakarta, said there has been little change in the role of women in extremist groups, particularly in Indonesian and Filipino organizations.
“Very few of them have become combatants. When they do, the reason is usually self-empowerment,” she said.
“But most of them play the role of financier, treasurer and recruiter. They manage the money because they are housewives who are also entrepreneurs,” she explained.
Dresden – It is not always easy to welcome migrants, especially from war-torn, Muslim-majority countries, in a stronghold city of Germany’s xenophobic movement.
“It’s a difficult situation. We have a minority of people who are against refugees, but a very loud one. That’s part of the reality,” Hans Georg Krauthäuser, the vice rector for academic and international affairs at Dresden University of Technology (TUD) told a group of international journalists that the German Academic Research Service (DAAD) facilitated to tour around the university campus earlier this year.
The capital of eastern German state of Saxony, Dresden is home to the Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West, known by its German acronym Pegida. The anti-immigration and anti-Islam movement held its rallies every Monday since October 2014 in the square called Theatherplatz in front of the Semperoper, Dresden’s historic opera house. At most, the rallies gathered roughly 20,000 protesters, according to media reports.
“This is not good for an international city of science like Dresden,” Krauthäuser added.
After all, Dresden hosts dozens of research facilities and institutions with a roster of international researchers. They are run by all four major German research organizations; the Helmholtz Association, the Max Planck Society, the Leibniz Association and Europe’s largest organization for application-oriented research, the Fraunhofer Society. Together with TUD as one of the top technical universities in Germany, they make Dresden as one of the three hotspots in the eastern German research and innovation system along with Jena and Berlin.
Michael Fristch, chair of business dynamics, innovation and economic change at the Friedrich Schiller University Jena in neighboring state of Thuringia, acknowledged that East Germany may not be very friendly to foreigners.
“It’s a legacy of the socialist system,” he said.
However, it didn’t stop TUD to launch a refugee aid program that started in August 2015 by setting up three refugee camps on its campus. Managed by the German Red Cross, the camps hosted a total of 1,220 residents from August to October 2015. By March, the program hosted 300 almost all-male residents, with 66 percent of whom were from Iraq and Syria.
According to Eurocities, the network of major European cities, Dresden welcomed 5,500 people from crisis areas by October 2015. But in contrast to Pegida’s strong sentiments against migrants, the city administration welcomed them with open arms.
In a statement provided to Eurocities website, Dresden mayor Dirk Hilbert said the city wanted to welcome asylum seekers professionally and socially with good-structured programs to avoid them feeling of being sidelined.
TUD picked up the speed to integrate them by organizing activities such as German language courses, winter clothes collections or additional security service, with the help of 600 registered volunteers including students.
For teaching in the language courses, students can get credit points similar to those they would get from an internship, Krauthäuser said.
Tatiana Sandoval-Guzman, a Mexican biologist at the university’s Center for Regenerative Therapies who participated in the program, said they started sewing class for women and kids corner for children.
“We plan to have scientific activities for various age groups of children, despite the language barrier,” she said.
Ulrike Mikolasch, TUD’s refugee aid coordinator said the university offered a limited space for refugees to attend courses free of charge. There were 34 guest students, including 20 from Syria who mostly attended technical and economic studies.
“The main problem is language and other skills that they need to start the course, not the documents,” Krauthäuser said.
Locals also mobilized actions to provide assistance such as introduction to the German language for migrants with the support of more than 80 initiatives. A group of local volunteers were spotted on a spring Friday afternoon teaching German to migrants in a corner of the modern art museum Albertinum near the opera house.
“Integration in the job market or in the education system is one of the most successful ways to integrate into our society. Unemployment, lack of training and no knowledge of the German language have the opposite effect,” Hilbert said.
The city administration and TUD’s efforts to welcome refugees reflected findings of a June 2015 survey by the university that showed most of the locals polled had open attitude towards asylum seekers and only 12 percent agreed with Pegida, while 60.1 percent disagreed. Most of them or 78.6 percent also rejected the idea to prohibit Muslim migrants.
On a larger scale, the first-ever Refugees Welcome Index that global rights group Amnesty International released on May 19 also ranks Germany as the second most welcoming country for refugees after China.
The index was based on people’s willingness to let refugees live in their countries, towns, neighborhoods and homes. It surveyed more than 27,000 respondents in 27 countries worldwide, including a national sample of 1,001 respondents in Germany, who were interviewed by phone on February 4-8, 2016 and found that 96 percent Germans said they would accept refugees into their country.
“The survey shows people say they are willing to go to astonishing lengths to make refugees welcome. It also shows how anti-refugee political rhetoric is out of kilter with public opinion,” the report said.
Data from the European Union’s statistics agency, Eurostat, showed Germany has the highest number of first-time asylum applicants registered during the first quarter of 2016, with almost 175,000 applicants or 61 percent of EU’s total. It also had the largest share of pending applicants within the bloc by end of March with 473,000 applicants or 47 percent.
Compared with the population of each member state, Germany had the highest rate of registered applicants during the first quarter 2016, with 2,155 applicants per million inhabitants. The top two countries of the applicants’ citizenship were Syria and Iraq, with 88,515 and 25,550 asylum seekers respectively.
The migrant influx was forecasted to positively impact on the local and regional economy. The EU first assessed the macroeconomic impact on the influx in its autumn 2015 economic forecast released in November last year. It estimated the flow of migrants could boost the region’s gross domestic products of 0.2 to 0.3 percent by 2020 through public spending on matters related to migrant inflows. It expected more positive impact on growth in the medium term when migrants integrate into the labor supply.
The International Monetary Fund said in a May 9 report that Germany could boost its economy if it speeds up structural reforms “by broadening the labor market participation of refugees, women and older workers” and set up new policies as the basis for refugees to integrate into its labor market.
The European Commission’s winter and spring 2016 forecasts also said Germany’s increased public spending to host and integrate asylum seekers would support growth to its moderate economic activity.
But for the university, economic growth was not the reason they welcomed the migrants. TUD’s Krauthäuser said it was understandable migrants who fled wars in their countries wanted to come to “a rich and free country” like Germany.
“If you are a refugee, where would you go? You want to live in peace. It’s quite obvious,” he said.
“We have to help those people just because they need help, not because it is good for the German economy,” Krauthäuser added.