The arrest of a school headteacher on suspicion of being involved in terrorism represents a much deeper weakness in many Indonesian educational institutions in that they are becoming known to be susceptible to religious indoctrination rather than vying for academic excellence. Writes Siktus Harson
The arrest of a school headteacher on suspicion of being involved in terrorism has shocked and disappointed fellow educators, raising fundamental questions about the recruitment of teachers in Indonesia.
It also represents a much deeper weakness in many Indonesian educational institutions in that they are becoming known to be susceptible to religious indoctrination rather than vying for academic excellence. Additionally, it seems to bolster claims that many students are being influenced by radical or extremist movements.
Indonesian anti-terrorism police arrested a male head of a state-run elementary school, and who is also a high school teacher, in Sumatra’s Lampung province on November 3.
The man, who has not been named, was arrested after police previously nabbed two people who had worked with the teacher for a charity linked to terrorism called Lembaga Amil Zakat Abdurrahman Bin Auf.
This organization is said to be a cash machine for the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) terror network.
The teacher served as the charity’s secretary, while the other two served as chairman and treasurer. Five other fundraisers linked to JI were also arrested.
The money collected by this group has been used to fund the operations of JI throughout Indonesia and to finance members sent to conflict zones such as Syria and Afghanistan.
Teachers being busted for having ties with terrorism is not something new in Indonesia. Previous cases were mostly related to conservative Muslim schools or Quran teachers
However, this is the first time that a state schoolteacher is being charged with terrorism, which experts say is a microscopic image of a much bigger reality surrounding civil servants.
It represents a black mark on the entire recruitment process and training of state teachers as well as the government’s supervision of state-owned schools.
Over the past decade, thousands of people linked to terrorism have been arrested. Among them were 31 civil servants, including eight policemen and five soldiers.
Although only one state schoolteacher has been busted, it’s believed that more are still out there working, independently or in groups.
According to a 2017 study by the Habibie Center, a democracy and human rights think tank founded by former president BJ Habibie, more than 30 percent of the Indonesian state apparatus has been influenced by radicalism.
This alarming conclusion prompted the government and anti-terrorism agencies to place public servants under closer scrutiny.
Infiltration by a terrorist network into state institutions is a serious issue. Besides getting easy funding, having people state agencies on board can help accelerate efforts to undermine secularism and establish an Islamic state.
Radicalism spreading through state institutions doesn’t happen overnight. It is a product of university life, particularly during the Suharto era when students were barred from having on-campus political activities.
As a result, many students joined conservative or radical organizations that eventually shaped the way they now think.
A similar situation exists today as many radical groups, according to previous reports, have infiltrated student bodies on campuses nationwide, while some lecturers have been found and sacked for having links to banned radical groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir.
Students influenced by them are later becoming teachers and passing on their anti-democratic and intolerant beliefs to their students.
Teachers are supposed to be role models for students and prepare them to face a modern democratic society. When a teacher is charged with terrorism, it not only casts a shadow over a particular school but over national education as a whole.
According to the Institute for the Study of Islam and Peace, over 76 percent of teachers back the implementation of Islamic Sharia in Indonesia.
It makes sense now why many Indonesian students, based on a survey by the Alvara Research Center, say they would be willing to join efforts towards establishing an Islamic state.
It also provides fertile recruitment grounds for terrorist groups such as Jamaah Islamiyah.
According to intelligence and terrorism analyst Stanislaus Riyanta, educational institutions are perfect places for terrorist groups to promote radicalism and recruit new members.
Based on the number of arrests of other civil servants, Riyanta says, it is almost certain other teachers are working to recruit students for terror groups. Much of it at present is being done online because of the pandemic, which makes it easier since it can be done less conspicuously.
What is needed right now are efforts to pull together all elements in society to straighten out this worrying situation.
Many parents would be concerned to hear news of teachers being involved in terrorist activities. The government and police must respond to such fears by weeding out such people with a new civil servant recruitment process, especially in schools.
All must cooperate with the government and police to eradicate this scourge, in families, communities and in education from elementary school to universities.
Authorities must also speak openly about the way terrorist groups recruit new members so that schools, parents and society can identify the warning signs pointing to a person becoming a potential threat.