Understanding the Phenomenon of Radical Groups Post-Reform

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Following the Reform movement in 1998, as the floodgates of democracy were opened wide, various new variants of groups emerged that were absent during the New Order era. Even if they existed, they had not surfaced significantly. These groups encompassed various sectors, ranging from religion, arts, to culture.

Within the religious sector, new variations emerged that had not previously been distinctly visible. Groups such as those advocating Arabization within Islam, modernist Islamic factions, and others surfaced. Additionally, new political parties emerged, adding hues to the political discourse in the country.


The emergence of these new groups, on one hand, had a positive impact by fostering a healthy democratic climate in Indonesia. However, on the other hand, it had negative repercussions with the emergence of groups inclined towards radical movements. Some of these movements aspire to establish an Islamic state or a ‘State of Islamic Indonesia,’ or even a ‘Islamic Caliphate.’

These groups vary in visibility, with some operating openly and others clandestinely. Among the former are groups like Laskar Jihad, Laskar Jundulloh, Front Pembela Islam (FPI), Majelis Mujahideen Indonesia (MMI), Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), and others. The latter category includes groups like Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) (Masdar Hilmy, 2015).

The presence of such groups emerged shortly after the fall of the New Order regime. They immediately engaged in various distressing incidents in Indonesia, including the Bali bombings (2002), the JW Marriott bombing in Jakarta (2003), Christmas Eve bombings in various cities across Indonesia (2000), Palopo bombing (2004), among others.

These occurrences underscore how the wide opening of freedoms during the Reform era often provided space for the seeds of terrorism practices. Nonetheless, as citizens of Indonesia, they have the right to live despite their actions having connotations contrary to the government (Beetham, 2004).

In a democratic nation, civil liberties become a privileged right for its citizens. This implies that the rights to voice opinions, to associate, to practice religion, among others, are safeguarded by the state even if they oppose it (Amartya Sen, 1999). This is contrary to non-democratic states where civil liberties of citizens are highly restricted. Therefore, the emergence of the aforementioned groups is an implication of the democratic system.

Fundamentally, the Reform allowed equal participatory space for various societal groups (Beetham, 2005). This was facilitated by the revocation of Presidential Regulation (Perpres) Number 11 of 1963, which pertained to the Eradication of Subversive Activities. This regulation was among many others repealed during the Reform era. However, radical groups in opposition to the government emerged and flourished despite these changes.

Countering Radical Groups: Whose Responsibility?

Arbitrarily, akin to the polarized extremes of right-wing and left-wing ideologies, radical groups are deemed adversaries to moderate groups. Thus, it is assumed that moderate groups bear the significant responsibility of countering and opposing radical ideologies. However, this doesn’t intend to negate the role of the government as an agent of control over its citizens. The role of moderate groups is equally vital in the context of combating radical groups.

Moderate groups are acknowledged as entities that play a role in mitigating radicalism and provide education and information about moderate and inclusive values. Religious groups such as Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah operate within this corridor. Throughout Indonesia’s history, both groups have played a significant role in fostering unity and peace.

Yet, according to Azyumardi Azra, despite being the majority in this country, moderate groups tend to remain silent when confronting radical groups. In Azra’s terms, this phenomenon is referred to as the “silent majority.”

Furthermore, Nur Khafid observed a similar phenomenon in the religious culture of Surakarta. Khafid observed that groups like NU and Muhammadiyah in Solo tend to stay silent and constitute the silent majority amidst minority (radical) groups (Khafid, 2023).

This poses a shared concern as the majority (moderate) groups tend to revel in comfort behind their majority status. They tend to turn a blind eye and underestimate radical groups, who are a minority in terms of quantity.

Dr. Nur Hasan Wirayuda once stated during the opening speech of the Yogyakarta Dialogue, “Our success in the fight against terrorism, in the medium and long term, will depend on our efforts to empower moderates within society and among moderate countries” (Banawiratma, et al., 2010).

In the realm of the digital world, research conducted by the Center for the Study of Islam and Society (PPIM) at UIN Syarif Hidayatullah Jakarta (2020) also indicates the minimal role of moderate groups in mainstreaming the discourse of moderate Islam. The mainstream discourse is often dominated by conservative (radical) groups, despite being in the minority compared to the moderate majority.

This has implications for discourse production in the digital realm. Radical groups tend to produce discourse aligned with their ideologies, far from principles of tolerance and peace. Consequently, they can internalize their ideologies among netizens and recruit new members through social media. Worse yet, if the latter succeeds and proliferates, their minority status can transform into majority. In other words, radical groups not only win discourse contests in the digital world but also in the real world.

Here lies the necessity for maximum involvement of moderate groups, especially in the digital dimension. They have been decisively surpassed by radical groups. Similarly, in the real world, moderate groups need to adhere to principles of law, democracy, justice, and human rights. Otherwise, the efforts to suppress radicalism might lead to the shift of moderate groups into a “new radical group” due to the use of violent means that contradict the aforementioned principles.

Translated from here.


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