The government’s move to ban websites allegedly promoting radical views should come as no surprise. After being bombarded by several extremist-related problems, such as the group of Indonesians who attempted to cross over to Syria via Turkey and the broadcast of videos in the Malay language used to woo Indonesians to join the Islamic State (IS) movement, the government was forced to do something.
It has been somewhat of a pattern. Whenever signs of radicalism arise, the government reacts. But sadly, oftentimes it only shows that the government lacks the initiative to fight the radicals and can only generate hasty and reactive moves.
Shortly after the decision to ban the websites was made, there was backlash from the public. Some questioned how the government decided which websites contained content that warranted getting blocked, while many said the move was a threat to freedom of expression. On social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, netizens have voiced their opposition to the government’s approach.
The public reactions are understandable. Without proper transparency, the move to ban the websites will be counterproductive and perhaps even dangerous. Tim Stevens and Peter Neumann, in their study on online radicalization, conclude that “the state-driven content reduction strategies” are not only “crude, expensive and counterproductive”; they are largely ineffective against interactive new media and social networking platforms such as Facebook and do not treat the “conversational part of the problem.”
In Indonesia, this censorship can be used as ammunition by the radicals to justify their grand narrative that Islam is being attacked unjustly by infidels. Therefore, the fight must continue and Muslims must join them. Instead of winning, the government is risking the shift of more supporters toward radicalization.
Rather than making reactionary moves, the government needs to take proactive measures if it is serious about addressing the threat of online radicalization. Liat Shetret explains that there are several ways to fight radicalization in the online environment.
First, we can weaken the cult personalities using the tools available throughout the Internet. With regard to ideologies, it is common for extremely charismatic cult personalities to gain a large a following. We can use the Internet to shake that legitimacy.
Respected Islamic scholars, especially those who are independent from the government, former radicals or terrorists, must be identified and elevated, so that they can challenge these personalities. They must be provided with various platforms, such as specialized websites, videos, or even chat forums, so the weakening process spreads.
Second is challenging the radical doctrines. We must not only targeting the figures but also address the radical teachings. The Internet can be used to expand and amplify the non-radical voices from the elite and grass roots through extended yet targeted online content development and dissemination, increased access to the Internet and use of graphic visuals and multimedia to support persuasive language.
It is not hard to do that since the majority of Indonesian Muslims are known for their moderate and peaceful minds. The government must also work with the country’s two- biggest and oldest Islamic organizations, Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, to formulate content that can be easily accessed by Muslims.
Third, expose false propaganda. On the Internet we have to deal with radical propaganda through videos, images and text that often glamorize and aggrandize the life of the radicals. IS members, for example, use professional video editing tools to promote their lifestyle in Hollywood-like movies.
According to Michael Jacobson, we can use online content, such as graphics, memes, viral imagery and short videos, to highlight the inglorious nature of this lifestyle (victims, psychological and emotional distress, casualties of the so-called holy wars).
Although debate on what constitutes radical teachings may have no end, one thing that is for sure is that the majority of Islamic teachings in Indonesia promote moderation and peace. Good intentions might be behind the government’s move to prevent the radical teachings from spreading, but censorship is by no means a remedy.
The writer holds a master’s degree in journalism from the Chinese Culture University, Taiwan. He is a media and journalism lecturer at Multimedia Nusantara University, Serpong, Banten.