Universities in Indonesia to fight extremism with own intelligence body

File photo showing a student writing on a book in a school in Kediri, Indonesia. To combat extremism, schools plan to work with the National Counterterrorism Agency to develop an intelligence body of sorts.

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The heads of 122 state universities gathered at the Research, Technology and Higher Education Ministry in Jakarta for a closed meeting to address worrying findings from the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT): that many universities have been exposed to radical ideologies.

To combat extremism and prevent it from flourishing, the schools plan to work with BNPT to develop an intelligence body of sorts for campuses.

Dwia Aries Tina Pulubuhu, rector of Hasanuddin University in Makassar, South Sulawesi, who is also head of the Indonesian Rector Forum, said on Monday (June 25) that an organisation was needed to detect signs of radicalism in universities.

"When it was discovered that a radical group was operating on our campus, or someone was arrested (for radicalism), we learned about it from the news, not from the BNPT. So we were shocked when we heard about it. We have to fix (our communication)," she told The Jakarta Post.

Members of the intelligence body, she added, would work to identify radical movements. They will inform the BNPT when they find something and vice versa.

The silent approach will accompany the open approach of developing a nationalist spirit on campus, she said.

"Terrorists brainwash people with their radical ideology when they recruit them. Therefore, we must also ignite the spirit of nationalism among our students," she added.

Education expert Arief Rachman Hakim said while he agreed that universities must eliminate radical teachings and movements, he also asked them to give students room to express themselves.

"There must be enough space for them to communicate with the campus and express what they want," he told the Post.

In May, the BNPT revealed that many state universities have been exposed to radicalism, including some of the country's best, such as the University of Indonesia (UI) in Jakarta, Airlangga University and the November Ten Institute of Technology (ITS) in Surabaya, East Java, as well as the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) in West Java.

According to BNPT chief Suhardi Alius, the universities were exposed to various levels of hard-line ideals, some more serious than others.

In Monday's meeting, he told rectors about the methods radical groups employed to spread their ideology on campuses and how universities could prevent them.

"We hope this meeting will bring the same understanding about the situation and the same approach in handling radicalism on campuses," he told reporters.

ITS rector Joni Hermana said the meeting offered a glimmer of hope for universities that have struggled to combat radicalism.

"Honestly, we have been handling this issue in different ways. But through this meeting, we (the universities) agreed to handle radicalism in a more effective way," he said.

"This is not an easy task. If we use the soft approach, we could be accused of protecting hard-liners. But if we handle them too roughly, we might be accused of violating human rights," he noted.

UI rector Muhammad Anis acknowledged the difficulties in identifying radical movements.

"So far, they have been quiet. We can't detect how they spread their ideology and we don't have the skills to detect them either," he said.

Anis also said rectors planned to develop a guide with the BNPT that could be used by universities to handle radicalism on campus.

Gadjah Mada University rector Panut Mulyono said it was obvious why radical groups were targeting top university students.

"These students are smart, they passed the enrollment process. I can say they were chosen. They also have the potential to be leaders; that's why radical groups are targeting them," he said.

He underlined that anti-radical movements should also be established outside of universities, such as in mosques and dormitories.

"We also have to reach the communities around the campus, engage with them so that nothing can come between them and the universities," he added.

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