When fight­ing rad­i­cal­ism, we have to go be­yond cen­sor­ship

The China Post - - COMMENTARY - BY HARRY FE­BRIAN

The In­done­sia gov­ern­ment’s move to ban web­sites al­legedly pro­mot­ing rad­i­cal views should come as no sur­prise.

Af­ter be­ing bom­barded by sev­eral ex­trem­ist-re­lated prob­lems, such as the group of In­done­sians who at­tempted to cross over to Syria via Turkey and the broad­cast of videos in the Malay lan­guage used to woo In­done­sians to join the Is­lamic State (IS) move­ment, the gov­ern­ment was forced to do some­thing.

It has been some­what of a pat­tern. When­ever signs of rad­i­cal­ism arise, the gov­ern­ment reacts. But sadly, of­ten­times it only shows that the gov­ern­ment lacks the ini­tia­tive to fight the rad­i­cals and can only gen­er­ate hasty and re­ac­tive moves.

Shortly af­ter the de­ci­sion to ban the web­sites was made, there was back­lash from the public. Some ques­tioned how the gov­ern­ment de­cided which web­sites con­tained con­tent that war­ranted get­ting blocked, while many said the move was a threat to free­dom of ex­pres­sion.

On so­cial me­dia plat­forms such as Face­book and Twit­ter, ne­ti­zens have voiced their op­po­si­tion to the gov­ern­ment’s ap­proach.

The In­ter­net can be used to ex­pand and am­plify the non-rad­i­cal voices from the elite and grass roots.

The public re­ac­tions are un­der­stand­able. With­out proper trans­parency, the move to ban the web­sites will be coun­ter­pro­duc­tive and per­haps even danger­ous.

Tim Stevens and Peter Neu­mann, in their study on on­line rad­i­cal­iza­tion, con­clude that “the stat­edriven con­tent re­duc­tion strate­gies are not only ‘crude, ex­pen­sive and coun­ter­pro­duc­tive’; they are largely in­ef­fec­tive against in­ter­ac­tive new me­dia and so­cial net­work­ing plat­forms such as Face­book and do not treat the ‘con­ver­sa­tional’ part of the prob­lem.”

In In­done­sia, this cen­sor­ship can be used as ammunition by the rad­i­cals to jus­tify their grand nar­ra­tive that Is­lam is be­ing at­tacked un­justly by in­fi­dels.

There­fore, the fight must con- tinue and Mus­lims must join them.

In­stead of win­ning, the gov­ern­ment is risk­ing the shift of more sup­port­ers to­ward rad­i­cal­iza­tion.

Rather than mak­ing re­ac­tionary moves, the gov­ern­ment needs to take proac­tive mea­sures if it is se­ri­ous about ad­dress­ing the threat of on­line rad­i­cal­iza­tion.

Liat Shetret ex­plains that there are sev­eral ways to fight rad­i­cal­iza­tion in the on­line en­vi­ron­ment.

First, we can weaken the cult per­son­al­i­ties us­ing the tools avail­able through­out the In­ter­net.

With re­gard to ide­olo­gies, it is com­mon for ex­tremely charis­matic cult per­son­al­i­ties to gain a large a fol­low­ing. We can use the In­ter­net to shake that le­git­i­macy.

Re­spected Is­lamic schol­ars, es­pe­cially those who are in­de­pen­dent from the gov­ern­ment, for­mer rad­i­cals or ter­ror­ists, must be iden­ti­fied and el­e­vated, so that they can chal­lenge th­ese per­son­al­i­ties.

They must be pro­vided with var­i­ous plat­forms, such as spe­cialised web­sites, videos, or even chat fo­rums, so the weak­en­ing process spreads.

Sec­ond is chal­leng­ing the rad­i­cal doc­trines. We must not only tar­get­ing the fig­ures but also ad­dress the rad­i­cal teach­ings.

The In­ter­net can be used to ex­pand and am­plify the non-rad­i­cal voices from the elite and grass roots through ex­tended yet tar­geted on­line con­tent devel­op­ment and dis­sem­i­na­tion, in­creased ac­cess to the In­ter­net and use of graphic vi­su­als and mul­ti­me­dia to sup­port per­sua­sive lan­guage.

It is not hard to do that since the ma­jor­ity of In­done­sian Mus­lims are known for their mod­er­ate and peace­ful minds.

The gov­ern­ment must also work with the coun­try’s two big­gest and old­est Is­lamic or­ga­ni­za­tions, Nahd­latul Ulama and Muham­madiyah, to for­mu­late con­tent that can be eas­ily ac­cessed by Mus­lims.

Third, ex­pose false pro­pa­ganda. On the In­ter­net we have to deal with rad­i­cal pro­pa­ganda through videos, images and text that of­ten glam­or­ize and ag­gran­dize the life of rad­i­cals.

IS mem­bers, for ex­am­ple, use pro­fes­sional video edit­ing tools to pro­mote their life­style in Hol­ly­wood-like movies.

Ac­cord­ing to Michael Ja­cob­son, we can use on­line con­tent, such as graph­ics, memes, vi­ral im­agery and short videos, to high­light the in­glo­ri­ous na­ture of this life­style (vic­tims, psy­cho­log­i­cal and emo­tional dis­tress, ca­su­al­ties of the so-called holy wars).

Although de­bate on what con­sti­tutes rad­i­cal teach­ings may have no end, one thing that is for sure is that the ma­jor­ity of Is­lamic teach­ings in In­done­sia pro­mote mod­er­a­tion and peace.

Good in­ten­tions might be be­hind the gov­ern­ment’s move to pre­vent the rad­i­cal teach­ings from spread­ing, but cen­sor­ship is by no means a rem­edy. The writer, who holds a mas­ter’ s de­gree in jour­nal­ism from the Chi­nese Cul­ture Uni­ver­sity, Tai­wan, is a me­dia and jour­nal­ism lec­turer at Mul­ti­me­dia Nu­san­tara Uni­ver­sity, Ser­pong, Ban­ten.

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