Islamic State Propaganda Targeting Indonesian Schools

5 July 2017 Jarryd de Haan, Research Analyst, Indian Ocean Research Programme

Background

Hundreds of notebooks inscribed with Islamic State (IS) propaganda were found in Indonesia following a raid on a suspected militant and put on display on 30 June at the national police headquarters in South Jakarta. The notebooks are captioned with ‘You are all obliged to go to war’ on top of every blank page with the front cover featuring a picture of IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (suspected to have been killed in Russian airstrikes in Syria), below the IS flag with the quote ‘Tell all the apostates in the Muslim countries, these are their last days. And tell every infidel, we’re not playing anymore’. The back cover of the notebooks also feature a quote credited to “HR. Muslim” which roughly translates to ‘Whoever dies that never had jihad or never intended himself for jihad, therefore dies on a branch of hypocrisy’. The police raid that discovered the notebooks was in response to a terrorist attack at a police station in North Sumatra on 25 June, in which one police officer was killed.

Indonesia IS books

Comment

What makes the find particularly concerning is that the notebooks were intended to be used by schoolchildren, with some already containing children’s handwriting on various school subjects. This is not a new tactic for IS, having published maths books that aim to normalise violence and using its own curricula to teach children in IS-controlled areas. The use of such propaganda could be effective and ongoing in some Indonesian religious schools. There are estimated to be approximately 90,000 to 100,000 religious schools in Indonesia, made up of pesantran and madrasa schools, with the majority advocating Indonesia’s form of more tolerant Islam. There is, however, a lack of government oversight and the possibility that some schools may be teaching radical Islam without being noticed by the authorities. One publicised example of this is the al-Mukmin Islamic school in Central Java which has had dozens of its graduates become involved in terrorist activity and has strong ties to the Jemaah Islamiyah (Islamic Congregation) terrorist group.

Saudi funding of madrasa schools could also exasperate the issue of IS-related propaganda in the future. As noted in a recent FDI Strategic Analysis Paper, although the growth of Saudi-funded madrasas largely stagnated in the early 2000s, an apparent trend of the “Arabisation” of Islam within Indonesia could see a revitalisation of Saudi-influenced madrasa in Indonesia. This could be problematic given that the strict Saudi version of Islam (Wahhabism) can be seen to be more sympathetic to the views of IS. Madrasas that are heavily influenced by Wahhabism, therefore, could be more susceptible to endorsing IS propaganda and bolstering its circulation.

As of 2015, around four per cent of Indonesians hold a favourable view to IS, although this may have fallen recently given the recent loss of territory and the destruction of the Grand al-Nuri mosque in Mosul. Even so, if just 0.05 per cent of Indonesian Muslims were to remain well-disposed towards IS, it would still equate to a total of one million sympathisers. The IS propaganda, therefore, only needs to influence a fraction of the Indonesian populace to have potentially dramatic consequences.

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