Community leaders in Indonesia’s Aceh province are urging a group of former Free Aceh Movement (GAM) guerrillas to abandon their plan to join the Islamic State (IS) extremist group.
“They have to thoroughly reconsider their plan because it would cost them more than it would benefit them,” Yusni Sabi, who heads the Coordination Forum for the Prevention of Terrorism in Aceh, a local NGO, told BenarNews.
“If they insist on going, it would have a negative impact on Aceh. Therefore, all stakeholders have to approach the former GAM rebels to [persuade them to] scrap their plan,” he added.
Yusni was among provincial leaders reacting to a claim made to BenarNews by an ex-GAM fighter, Fakhruddin Bin Kasem, that he and 100 other former Acehnese guerrillas hoped to flee from poverty in Aceh and join the IS ranks in Syria.
The 35-year-old told BenarNews that neglect of Acehnese war veterans by the provincial government had compelled him to think of becoming a salaried jihadist because his family was facing desperate times and his only skill was fighting.
For 30 years, GAM fought the Indonesian armed forces in a war of secession that ended in a treaty signed in Helsinki in August 2005, in which Jakarta agreed to grant Aceh autonomy.
Fakhruddin also said that he intended to enlist with IS because he wanted to deepen his knowledge of Islam.
Yusni, who is also a professor at Ar-Raniry Islamic State University in Banda Aceh, said that IS, through its extremely violent reputation, is an enemy that has tarnished Islam’s good name.
“Islam is a compassionate religion. Islam is a religion that forgives. Islam loves peace. In Islamic teaching, no detainee shall be hurt, let alone killed without a legitimate trial like what IS does,” he added, referring to IS’s notorious executions of prisoners.
The doctrine espoused by the extremist group is incompatible with how Islam is practiced in Aceh, according to Teungku Faisal Ali, head of the Acehnese chapter of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), one of Indonesia’s main mass Muslim organizations.
The former GAM combatants’ willingness to join the extremist group is a “form of desperation,” he said, because they think that the Acehnese government doesn’t pay them enough attention.
“How can we say that we defend Islam when we are in despair? Islam forbids feelings of desperation deprived of Allah’s blessings. Aceh’s soil is vast and there are still plenty of things to do to provide for their families,” said Faisal, who is also deputy chairman of the Aceh Ulema Consultative Assembly, a clerical body.
When asked to comment on Fakhruddin’s claim that joining IS would deepen his understanding of Islam, Faisal dismissed it.
There are plenty of Islamic schools in Aceh, where people like Fakhruddin can learn about Islam if they are serious about doing so.
“There are a lot of ulema in Aceh who can teach that Islam loves peace and respects each other in a much better way that schools in Syria,” Faisal said.
Beyond common sense
In their quest to go to Syria, Fakhruddin and his comrades have sought help from a local Muslim legal aid group, its top official confirmed to BenarNews.
On Thursday, Aceh Police Inspector-General Husein Hamidi told journalists that his department would go after anyone who broke the law, but none of the former GAM combatants had committed a crime, he said.
He brushed off the report of a group of locals planning to join IS.
“There is no such thing. What Aceh people have in mind now is to have a secure Eid celebration. It is just some people being erratic, so never mind,” he said.
Aryos Nivada, an expert on Acehnese political and security matters, said that what Fakhruddin and the others were planning defied common sense, because the international community and Indonesian government reject IS.
“I don’t think the former GAM guerillas are ready to leave their families in Aceh because their departure would only burden the families,” Aryos told BenarNews.
“I am sure that IS would not enlist them in the group because GAM’s idea is secular while IS is about establishing an Islamic caliphate. Not to mention the economic reasoning. IS would surely reject them right away,” Aryos added.