Indonesian ex-militant seeks to prompt dialogue on extremism

Indonesian ex-militant seeks to prompt dialogue on extremism

Khairul Ghazali, the author of Kabut Jihad, says he wrote the book to correct misperceptions about the nature of Jihad. He appeared at a book launch in Jakarta on June 20th. [Elisabeth Oktofani/Khabar]

A book launching in Jakarta is the occasion for open discussion among moderates and militants concerning Islamic values and the nature of jihad.

Khairul Ghazali, also known as Abu Yasin, is a former member of the Indonesian Islamic State (NII) militant group. He was allegedly involved in a 2010 bank robbery at the CIMB Niaga branch in

Renouncing the path of violence, however, he has now written a new book aimed at showing the dangers of extremism. The 370-page work, “Kabut Jihad” (“The Cloud of Jihad”), has elicited strong reactions.

A book-launching event, held at the Hotel Borobudur in Jakarta on June 20th, drew not only representatives of the government and Islamic organisations, but also former jihadis and members of the Jemaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT), which the United States has designated a terrorist group. Its founder, hardline cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, is behind bars after being convicted of supporting a terrorist training camp in Aceh.

The Indonesian National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT), a non-ministerial Indonesian government institution with a focus on counterterrorism, gave the green light for the book launch in the hope that Khairul, as former extremist himself, is well-positioned to explain why violence is the wrong direction for Muslims.

Khairul, who is serving a five-year prison term, arrived at the launch dressed in a batik and black skullcap. Guarding him at the public appearance was Special Detachment 88 (Densus 88), a special Indonesian counterterrorism squad.

“It needs to be understood that Indonesia is not a war zone because Muslim people are not attacking or fighting an enemy. Jihad must not threaten other people who lead peaceful lives,” he said, explaining that he wrote the book in order to counter mistaken perceptions among some Muslims.

Supporters say dialogue can combat violence

BNPT chairman Ansyaad Mbai said the book would promote a healthy dialogue about values, and in this way help the government reduce and eradicate the threat of terrorism.

“We want to motivate many prominent and influential anarchic ideologue terrorists and Islamic fundamentalist figures to write and publish more books on terrorism and radicalism in a fair kind of way,” he told Khabar Southeast Asia.

“The BNPT will facilitate a public discussion and invite moderate and radical people to sit, discuss, and criticise the book together so they can share their views – especially on jihad,” he said. Such open dialogue, he said, is “better than having anarchic-ideological figures writing and publishing books secretly with the purpose of provoking people.”

A spokesman for Muhammadiyah, the nation’s second-largest Islamic organisation, agreed that a former terrorist writing a book could help minimise the spread of violent ideology.

“I would say that this is a cultural and persuasive way to prevent the growth of terrorism. However, it must be done naturally where individuals truly regret committing acts of terrorism,” the spokesman, Abdul Mukti, told Khabar.

He warned that the Indonesian government must provide extra protection for Khairul and his family because fundamentalist organisations disagreed with Khairul’s decision to share his experience and regret.

“For sure, they will be hated by his former group because he had changed his view and has opposed acts of terrorism through his writing,” Mukti said.

Militant group takes a dim view

The JAT organisation has already criticised the book, with spokesman Son Hadi bin Muhadjir attributing the book to the author’s “confusion”.

“He is under physical and psychological pressure as a convicted terrorist,” the JAT spokesman said.

Abdul Munir Mulkhan, an activist and professor at Sunan Kalijaga Islamic State University, offered a contrasting perspective. In his view, the book does not go far enough in opposing violent jihad,

Even so, he said, it can help prevent the growth of terrorism and radicalism in Indonesia.

“I think the most important thing from Khairul’s book launch was the discussion where BNPT gave space for the radical and moderate Muslims to gather and share their views about jihad,” he said.

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