In­done­sia’s cy­ber war­riors take on IS

Pakistan Observer - - INTERNATIONAL -

JAKARTA— A group of In­done­sian “cy­ber war­riors” sit glued to screens, as they send out mes­sages pro­mot­ing a mod­er­ate form of Is­lam in the world’s most pop­u­lous Mus­lim- ma­jor­ity coun­try.

Armed with lap­tops and smart­phones, some 500 mem­bers of the Nahd­latul Ulama ( NU) — one of the world’s big­gest Mus­lim or­gan­i­sa­tions — are seek­ing to counter the Is­lamic State group’s ex­trem­ist mes­sages.

“We’ll never let Is­lam be hi­jacked by fools who em­brace hate in their heart,” tweeted Syafi’ Ali, a prom­i­nent mem­ber of the NU’s on­line army, a typ­i­cal mes­sage to his tens of thou­sands of fol­low­ers.

They are try­ing to hit back at IS’s so­phis­ti­cated In­ter­net op­er­a­tions, which have been cred­ited with at­tract­ing huge num­bers from around the world to their cause. In­ter­net pro­pa­ganda is be­lieved to have played a key role in draw­ing some 500 In­done­sians to the Mid­dle East to join IS, par­tic­u­larly among those liv­ing in cities where it is eas­ier to get on­line.

The dan­gers of the grow­ing IS in­flu­ence in In­done­sia were starkly il­lus­trated in Jan­uary when mil­i­tants linked to the ji­hadists launched a gun and sui­cide bomb­ing at­tack in Jakarta, leav­ing four as­sailants and four civil­ians dead.

It was the first ma­jor at­tack in In­done­sia for seven years, fol­low­ing a string of Is­lamic mil­i­tant bomb­ings in the early 2000s that killed hun­dreds.

- ‘ Wrestling with pro­pa­ganda’ -

As well as fir­ing off tweets, the NU mem­bers have sought to dom­i­nate cy­berspace by es­tab­lish­ing web­sites pro­mot­ing the group’s mod­er­ate views, an An­droid app and web- based TV chan­nels, whose broad­casts in­clude ser­mons by mod­er­ate preach­ers.

The ini­tia­tive has been build­ing mo­men­tum for a while but started to pick up pace a few months ago. A hand­ful of cy­ber war­riors op­er­ate from a small of­fice in Jakarta, while the rest work re­motely, and the group mostly com­mu­ni­cate with one an­other over the web.

But it will be an up­hill bat­tle and the NU, which has been pro­mot­ing mod­er­ate Is­lam for decades, con­ceded they have pre­vi­ously strug­gled to take on IS’s hate- filled mes­sages.

“NU has for a while wres­tled with this rad­i­cal pro­pa­ganda,” said Yahya Cho­lil Staquf, sec­re­tary gen­eral of the NU, which claims at least 40 mil­lion fol­low­ers.

“Ev­ery time we de­feated them, it didn’t take long for them to re­gain their strength.”

The on­line drive comes as the NU is set to take its cam­paign to pro­mote their tol­er­ant form of Is­lam onto the international stage this week, with a two- day meet­ing from Mon­day of mod­er­ate re­li­gious lead­ers from around the world.

They aim to show­case their par­tic­u­lar brand of the Mus­lim faith, known as “Is­lam Nu­san­tara”, to counter the IS ji­hadists’ rad­i­cal in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Is­lam. “Is­lam Nu­san­tara”, mean­ing “Is­lam of the Ar­chi­pel­ago” — In­done­sia is the world’s big­gest with over 17,000 is­lands — is ac­cept­ing of di­ver­sity and stresses non­vi­o­lence.

It grew up or­gan­i­cally in In­done­sia, as the re­li­gion en­tered the coun­try grad­u­ally and had to mix with ex­ist­ing tra­di­tional be­liefs such as pray­ing at tombs, mak­ing it a nat­u­rally tol­er­ant form of Is­lam.

Nowa­days, most of the ap­prox­i­mately 225 mil­lion Mus­lims in In­done­sia prac­tise a mod­er­ate form of Is­lam.

The NU wants to per­suade Mus­lims from around the world to look for in­spi­ra­tion to In­done­sia, where re­li­gious mi­nori­ties and a mul­ti­tude of eth­nic groups mostly co­ex­ist har­mo­niously, rather than to harsher forms of Is­lam from the Mid­dle East. - Fight the ris­ing tide - The group nev­er­the­less has a long way to go to fight the ris­ing tide of IS pro­pa­ganda. De­spite their good in­ten­tions, the NU cy­ber war­riors ap­pear ama­teur next to IS’s well- funded set- up. The ji­hadists, who con­trol huge swathes of ter­ri­tory in Iraq and Syria, have a so­phis­ti­cated on­line op­er­a­tion, us­ing so­cial me­dia, apps and slickly pro­duced videos.— AFP

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