Being jihadist as a lifestyle

Being jihadist as a lifestyle
PHOTO: The Jakarta Post

MELBOURNE, Australia - Being a jihadist is a tough and challenging life, especially if your activities lead you to be arrested by the authorities. Despite this fact, why do we keep seeing many young people aspire to be jihadists?

Today, the word "jihad" has been widely abused and misunderstood. This Arabic word is often translated as "holy war", but in a purely linguistic sense, the word "jihad" means struggling or striving.

It can refer to the internal as well as external struggle to be a good Muslim. The Arabic word for war is al-harb. However, Islamic State (IS) movement propaganda has successfully created hype and a fad among Muslim youths all over the world around the fantasy that violent armed struggle against non-Muslims and Muslims identified as "enemies of Islam" is a jihad that requires their urgent participation.

IS has also created false hopes and a perception that the perfect government system based on the purest Islamic principles has been implemented and is working, but it still requires Muslims from "impure" Muslim and non-Muslim lands.

Such a call is very alluring, especially for an Islamic activist like one man known as Joko Gondrong, 43, who has firsthand experience in a local jihad.

Joko was involved in conflict in Ambon in 2000 that has made him a hardcore IS supporter while in prison in Central Java. Gondrong, which means "long-haired", is his nickname, but because of his adoption of jihad as his lifestyle, recruits in the network call him "Joko Jihad". Joko is a recidivist.

One might assume he has a strong religious background and upbringing, but in fact he does not. He graduated from a secular high school in Surakarta and he has never attended any pesantren (Islamic boarding school). About 1,200 people have been arrested for terrorism in Indonesia; however, only less than 20 per cent have a religious education background.

Recruits are getting involved in terrorism generally because of the influence from social networks: their family, friends and mentors.

The discourse of being a jihadist as a lifestyle is usually transmitted and encouraged in small informal Islamic teachings and gatherings, which because of their perceived harmless nature, inhibits authorities from preventing possible violent outcomes.

It is in conflict zones like Ambon in Maluku where jihadists like Joko meet other jihadists from all over Indonesia and the world. It is with such individuals with whom he has a shared jihad experience, created bonds of loyalty and maintained contact through the years. Joko's involvement in terrorism started when he met another Ambon conflict veteran and comrade in Surakarta in 2005.

Joko, pleased to be reacquainted, readily accommodated him when his comrade asked him to provide a place for his guest. Joko revealed during an interview that he was not at all aware that the guest was in fact Noordin M Top.

Arrested in July 2005 for helping to hide Noordin in the aftermath of the Australian Embassy bombing in Jakarta, Joko was sentenced to three years and was released from prison in December 2007.

Having been incarcerated in a government prison has increased Joko's standing among new recruits, especially when the mainstream community continues to ostracise him. Moreover, there has been no systematic and comprehensive social engineering yet by the government to help him reintegrate as a useful member of the community in Surakarta.

Consequently, even after his release from prison he continued to be actively involved in organising regular discussions with other Islamic activists who have hands-on jihad experience like him.

To increase his commitment to the cause, he went to visit the three Bali bombers on the Nusakambangan prison island before their execution, to pay his respects to men he believed would die as martyrs.

Joko's case is only a small part of the complex issue of terrorism in Indonesia. There are many young recruits out there, especially those who aspire to be a jihadist like Joko, waiting to be re-activated to respond to either a local or global jihadi cause.

For example, Joko's recruits in Surakarta who were arrested recently by the Indonesian police following the discovery of their plot to attack the local police headquarters and churches in the city are linked to Indonesian jihadists who are in Syria with IS.

These fighters are trying to actively reenergise local hardcore IS followers who failed to leave the country to join IS in Syria.

IS isn't an endemic problem in Indonesia. Their supporters are relatively small in number compared to the majority of moderate Muslims in Indonesia.

Sadly, this majority group has been in denial, living in ignorance and silence. Putting aside sectorial egos, the Indonesian government, religious and community leaders must continue to come up with social interventions to counter the IS narratives and to help returned fighters and their families integrate back into society to prevent the emergence of these fringe movements.

(The writer is a PhD candidate on politics and international relations at Monash University, Melbourne, Australia.)

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