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Bates College

Publication Date

Spring 2020

Program Name

Indonesia: Arts, Religion, and Social Change


Indonesia has had a unique relationship with Islamic radicalism since the war for Indonesian independence in 1945. While the formation of an Islamic State in Indonesia has been at the forefront of radical movements since independence, the approaches to achieving this goal have changed drastically over time. This goal has also had multiple adversaries, from Dutch and Japanese colonialism, to the left-wing Sukarno regime, to the authoritarian Suharto regime, and finally the War on Terror. Across all of these different time periods, Islamic radicals in Indonesia have also had to contend with the different Muslim communities across the archipelago, many of whom are not keen on the creation of an Islamic State, as well as the non-Muslim minority who hold considerable political power despite their small numbers. The struggle for an Islamic State is a battle fought on many fronts, most of which domestic terrorists are losing due to a bilevel counterterrorism effort spearheaded by the Indonesian government and supported by the United States and Australia.

Although Indonesian domestic terrorism and counterterrorism alone is a rich and well-studied field, I wanted to use my experiences at pesantrens (Islamic boardings schools) in Java to inspire a new approach to the study of this topic. I decided I wanted to better understand the role of pesantrens as both proponents and opponents of Islamic radicalism in Indonesia. It did not take long to recognize that for every pesantren with links to radical groups in Indonesia, there are countless others working tirelessly to confront radicalism in the classroom, as well as having to face growing stigma surrounding the reputation of Islamic education due to its links with domestic terrorism.

As a result of the link between pesantrens and radicalism in Indonesia, pesantrens have the potential to become the strongest weapon in the Indonesian government’s arsenal for deradicalization in the country. Unfortunately, the government approach to deradicalization has been lackluster at best, as the American-backed War on Terror has made it easier to fight terrorism with an enhanced military and police state rather than diffusing radicalism in the classroom and the Mosque.


Asian Studies | Civic and Community Engagement | Islamic Studies | Politics and Social Change | Religious Education | Sociology of Religion | South and Southeast Asian Languages and Societies


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