Fortifying links between students, teachers, and families is essential to constructing an effective bottom-up security architecture. Observing a rise in recruitment efforts in Indonesia, Women without Borders (WwB) thus brought the ‘YOUthChange’ campaign to nine Indonesian high schools, universities, and pesantrens across West Java in early 2016. Joining WwB’s growing Sisters Against Violence Extremism (SAVE) network of grassroots activists, some two thousand pupils and students partook in a counter-messaging initiative to discuss the taboo topic and prevalent issue of extremist recruitment at Indonesian schools and universities. Following screenings of WwB’s ‘Your Mother’ film, which features five women who lost their sons to violent extremism, the participants shared their personal views on and experiences with radicalisation. This campaign worked to erode the stigma surrounding recruitment activities and contributed to heightening awareness of the need for prevention strategies at sites of learning.
Following thirty-two years of authoritarian rule, Indonesia experienced a period of reform during which democratic rule took hold but religious and political tensions prevailed. The onset of an era of renewed ideological conflict and a surge in violent extremist activities has favoured recruitment efforts of extremist groups who increasingly have been targeting those who universally are in the most vulnerable stages of their lives: adolescents and young adults. With a high number of extremists now targeting Indonesian youth, sites of learning like schools, universities, and pesantrens have become central recruiting hubs for various extremist groups. Despite presenting a critical, societal issue, however, violent extremism remains by and large a topic cloaked in silence while prevention initiatives continue to be rare.
With a view to empowering West Java’s youth to address the issue of extremism in their immediate environment by translating concerns and experiences into alternative narratives, Women without Borders (WwB) launched its ‘YOUthChange’ campaign in early 2016. Through the support of local mobilisers, including Anggraeni Dewiniri from Jakarta, WwB’s dialogue-oriented project reached an estimated two thousand students across nine high schools, universities, and pesantrens in a three-month period. The campaign offered participants an open forum for discussing possible experiences, grievances, and attitudes, as these relate to the issues of recruitment and violent extremism.
Each youth dialogue started with a screening of WwB’s ‘Your Mother’ film, which presents the testimonials of five mothers whose sons had planned or committed acts of violent extremism. The film encourages debate on possible reasons for engaging with extremists and alerts viewers to the impact that choices of this kind can have on those who are left behind. Based on a discussion facilitation guide, participants contemplated a number of questions with their teachers and professors, including: Does the film tell us anything about how and why individuals are susceptible to recruitment?; Have you come across extremists in any way, shape, or form?; If extremism poses a threat to your community, what could you do to make a change?
WwB sees that fortifying relationships between students, teachers, and families is essential to constructing an effective bottom-up security architecture. Drawing on insights gained in the course of WwB’s Indonesian ‘MotherSchools: Parenting for Peace’ programme and philosophy, therefore, the campaign emphasised the importance of personalising political debates by bringing the voices of mothers to the forefront and reminding the participants whom they could likely rely on to be their greatest ally in times of personal crisis and in the event of a recruitment attempt. After successfully having garnered community support and engagement through the MotherSchools programme, the students represented the next generation of potential agents for positive change who would contribute to and benefit from WwB’s growing Sisters Against Violence Extremism (SAVE) network.
Aside from mothers, teachers also have presented a missing link in preventing violent extremism (PVE) in Indonesia. Educators who prior to the campaign had never considered raising the issue of radicalisation with their students welcomed this space for reflection and discussion. The project provided them with a new platform to discuss the issue of recruitment with their students. In the words of an Arabic language teacher, ‘The school as a formal place of education needs this session [campaign] to help us as teachers engage the students about the knowledge that they don’t get in the classroom’. Through the ‘YOUth Change’ campaign in Indonesia, Women without Borders contributed to breaking down the stigma surrounding campus recruitment, encouraged a new culture of open dialogue on the topic, and offered educators and the youth of West Java a number of building blocks that are essential to any whole-of-community PVE approach.