Breaking the cycle of terrorism
Jun. 15, 2017
Terrorism has become a fact of life in many parts of the world, and few places have been spared its effects. The Islamic State group started in the Middle East, but its influence has now spread to Southeast Asia. Children with parents or relatives who are terrorists often end up becoming marginalized and isolated. Efforts are now underway in Indonesia to save some of the forgotten victims of terrorism, their families.
In North Sumatra Province, a special school--the first of its kind in the country--opened last year.
It is an Islamic boarding school that educates children of terrorists in Indonesia.
Eighteen students study there. Their parents or relatives were detained on terrorism charges.
Thirteen year-old Abdullah Azzam is one of them. When he was 7, his father was arrested for robbing a bank to finance terrorism.
"As a 'child of a terrorist,' I was often bullied," he says. "One time, I lost my temper and hit someone."
At the school, children follow the precepts of Islam, including praying 5 times a day, along with regular classes such as math and English.
Azzam's classmates also went through the same experiences, so he now feels he has found his place.
"I'm glad I'm in school again," he says. "I used to get angry before I came here, but not anymore."
The principal of Al Hidayah boading school, Khairul Ghozali, used to be a senior member of a terrorist group himself.
He trained fighters of Jemaah Islamiah, a group that wants to overthrow the government. Its members have carried out several terror attacks in Southeast Asia.
He was arrested 7 years ago for masterminding an attack that killed 4 police officers.
Following his arrest, his family faced discrimination, which led to them losing their jobs.
"My 'jihad' or holy war only made people unhappy," he says. "Now, my real battle is to save the children of terrorists."
After his release, Ghozali opened the school with his own funds. He teaches children that extremism goes against the original tenets of Islam.
"The mission of the Prophet Muhammad was to make people happy," he tells the students. "Now compare him to Islamic State militants. The Prophet is the one you should follow."
Azzam has had a change of heart. He says he no longer bears a grudge against the police for arresting his father.
"I want to be a police officer to defend my country. So I will study hard," he says.
"I hope to break the chain of negativity by teaching as many children as I can," says Ghozali. "To eliminate terrorism, these schools should not only be in Indonesia, but should also be built overseas."
Despite being labeled "offspring of terrorists," the children are working hard to find a way forward. Hopefully, the school can provide the springboard for their future.
Jakarta Bureau Chief Yusuke Ota joined Newsroom Tokyo's Aki Shibuya and Aiko Doden in the studio to talk about terrorism in Indonesia.
Doden: What is the background behind the current situation in Indonesia?
Ota: Jemaah Islamiyah, an Al Qaeda-linked group was behind several terrorist attacks in the early 2000s. This prompted a government crackdown and many members were arrested.
But now a number of children whose parents were terrorists have been influenced by the Islamic State group's ideology.
One example is Imam Samudra, who carried out the 2002 Bali bombing that killed more than 200 people. Indonesian police have confirmed that his eldest son has traveled to Syria to join Islamic State militants.
A son of the man behind the 2004 attack on the Australian embassy in Jakarta is also alleged to have gone to Syria to join the group.
Indonesia's National Counterterrorism Agency says about 600 people have been detained in prison on terror-related charges. There are believed to be thousands of children whose parents or relatives are terrorists.
Counterterrorism experts in Indonesia say some children inherit the radical ideologies of their parents. They think they are following in their parents' footsteps and believe dying as a martyr is a shortcut to heaven.
Many of them have suffered from being branded as the children of terrorists and have grown to hate society. Joining the group's fight and embracing its ideology may seem like a good option.
Shibuya: It is said that Islamic State group is in a weaker position after losing control of parts of Syria and Iraq. Has it been losing influence in Indonesia and the rest of Southeast Asia?
Ota: No, its influence seems to be the same as ever. According to Indonesia's military and police officials, there are cells that support the group throughout the country. The only exception is the eastern province of Papua, where a majority of the population is Christian.
While the group has been weakened in the Middle East, Indonesian police worry that its supporters are trying to establish a base in Southeast Asia.
They believe more than 40 extremists from Indonesia have gone to Mindanao Island in the southern Philippines, to join militants affiliated with the Islamic State group and fighting against the country's security forces.
Given these facts, counterterrorism officials in Indonesia are considering opening 2 more free boarding schools for the children of terrorists.
They understand that combating terrorism involves more than just strengthening surveillance of extremist groups. It's also necessary to work at the grass-roots level to eliminate the causes of terrorism.