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Indonesian Youth Wage Peace Online

Eko Widianto and M. Sulthan Azzam
Malang and Padang, Indonesia
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Young people sing at the closing of a Cyberspace Peace Envoy training in Malang, Indonesia, July 27, 2017.
Eko Widianto/BenarNews

Young people are helping Indonesia’s National Counterterrorism Agency battle violent extremism online by uploading content that embraces pluralism and peace.

About 60 “Cyberspace Peace Envoys” gathered in Malang, East Java recently to discuss anti-radicalism campaigns they have launched – and the need for such efforts.

“We found 17,000 messages containing hate speech everyday, while positive contents were only 1,500. It’s really concerning,” said M. Yasin Arief, a participant.

He and some friends create images and short stories featuring the words of figures such as former Indonesian President Andurrahman Wahid, South Africa’s anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi, leader of the Indian independence movement.

Their Instagram account Sabda Perubahan (The Sound of Change) has 154,000 followers.

Viki Maulana also attended a “Cyberspace Peace Envoy” training held by the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) in Malang from July 23-27.

He said his group was responsible for delivering messages on social media every week that strengthen national unity and humanity.

The messages can be memes, graphics, videos, comics or texts. But his preferred medium is cartoons.

“Visual arts like comics are the best, because it’s easy for people to understand. We try not to be patronizing, because who are we, anyway?” he said.

The BNPT training is being held in seven Indonesian cities this year. Bloggers, programmers and visual artists are among those taking part.

Launching another training in West Sumatra this week, the nation’s top counter-terror official said that no region was immune from the threat of violent extremism.

“There is no region, province, city or regency free from terrorism or radical ideology,” BNPT chief Suhardi Alius said in Padang, the provincial capital, late Monday.

Sujatmiko, a BNPT official heading the counter-messaging efforts, said young people are needed to balance terrorist ideology online, which is spreading at an alarming rate.

“Why young people? Because the target of the brainwashing is young people,” he said. “So young people should be armed, not only with knowledge but with ideology and religion.”

“With these peace envoys we are creating a young generationg to help BNPT carry out counter-messaging in cyberspace with positive, peaceful content,” he said.

In July, National Police Chief Tito Karnavian said police had arrested 336 terrorism suspects from 2015 through June 2017.

In June, Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said that 430 Indonesians had been deported from Turkey after trying to cross over into Syria during that same time period.

The flow of foreign nationals to an Islamic State “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria has slowed considerably as its territory has shrunk. But the seizure of the southern Philippine city of Marawi by Islamic State-linked militants in May has re-energized IS supporters in the region, analysts say.

Philippine government forces have been battling the gunmen ever since, with a death toll close to 600 people, most of them militants, according to officials.

The dead include foreign fighters from six countries – Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Chechnya, Saudi Arabia and Yemen – one year after IS leaders urged followers who could not reach Syria to travel to the southern Philippines instead.


BNPT chief Suhardi Alius addresses reporters after opening a counter-messaging training in Padang, West Sumatra, August 7, 2017. (M. Sulthan Azzam/BenarNews)

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