Surabaya, Indonesia’s second largest city, witnessed a series of terror attacks in 2018. The suicide attacks were carried out by entire families, rather than individuals, who brought along children as young as eight years old.
“We were shocked because the ideology is being passed to children. The past year women have also engaged not only as supporters but as perpetrators,” said Mira Kusumarini, Executive Director of the Coalition of Civil Society Against Violent Extremism (C-SAVE), a network of civil society organizations collaborating to address violent extremism in Indonesia, as well as regionally, and internationally. C-SAVE is also a member of the Women’s Alliance for Security Leadership (WASL) which is spearheaded by ICAN.
“We are working on rehabilitating the children who survived”. Kusumarini talks to ICAN’s Aya Nader about C-SAVE’s efforts to alter the lives of returnees, and prepare their communities to accept them. She also discusses how women are effective players in the security arena.
How long have you been in the fields of security, peace and policy?
It evolved over the years from my life calling, the solutions sector. In 2000, I participated in peace building activities throughout different locations in Indonesia which have religious conflicts. We tried to bring the conflict parties together in different programs to create a situation where they interact and open up to dialogue. My full time engagement in the security sector began five years ago.
What drives you to work on rehabilitation and reintegration? Why is it important among so many other issues?
This work is important because it is not part of the system. The government does have programs for juveniles and ex-inmates; however they do not meet the society’s needs. Ex-inmates face stigma and it is hard for them to go back to being part of the society. We face the same with deportees and detainees. They have different motivations for joining violent extremist organizations, some would have religious motivations and others are more violent. But when they have been through the legal process, they all face challenges with social stigma in the community. The problem is not only the community members, the problem is also the retrievers who should have become the mediator between the community and the detainees and deportees. We do not have an effective system with the law. As part of the wider community, we need to give the opportunity and allow them to start a new life and together work for a better future.
While Indonesia does not appear often in international news, it is, like many parts of the world, currently facing the problem of extremism. How is C-SAVE involved?
C-SAVE is platform for collaboration. We are a network of organizations, currently nineteen civil society organizations are involved. We also work with non-member organizations. We are concerned with how people could have a new life when they return to society, and the community becoming part of that process instead of being part of the problem. Past experiences show that rejection from the society push inmates to return to radicalized groups. We try to build community capacity in how to deal with the ex-inmates and how they can open up opportunities for them. It is crucial in rehabilitation and reintegration to engage local people, as well as ensure the readiness of the returnees and deportees. At the end of the line we hope deportees and returnees disengage with extremist networks. We would like them to begin a new life as part of the community. We would like to see the connection between policy at the national level and how local communities on the ground are part of the whole mechanism.
We work with different ministries and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) on the development of rehabilitation and integration Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). These SOPs ensure that deportees and detainees can get their lives back at home, that they are not stigmatized, and that they can have access to public services.
We also aim at having a legal framework for these SOPs. The ministries should have a legal basis to run the process because it involves states, and the local government. There are challenges in how coordination takes place between the state and the local government, rehabilitation sessions are mostly taken care of by the national state, and the reintegration processes are taken care of by the local government and local CSOs. We would like to see a coherent approach implemented. So hopefully the SOPs would mediate coordination and synergy. In the future, we would like for the suspects or the convicts to be able to access rehabilitation instead of imprisonment and punishment. In fact, many have become more radicalized inside prison.
There is an important role for local governments. Unfortunately, many of their members themselves are recruited by extremists. So we try to talk to them on how the local governments can have some contributions, such as open up their pubic services for the deportees and the returnees. It has worked in some areas, when the government was approached they were positive in providing the services.
Alongside rehabilitation, efforts to prevent terrorism go a long way. What are your efforts in hindering potential extremists?
The focus on rehabilitation is very much in line with the piloting of an early warning system with different communities. It is basically an early detection and early treatment mechanism at the community level. We see women as potential actors to take the lead. We acknowledge the role of women religious groups to also engage in this, and hopefully the community could have resilient capacity in how they deal with the problem on the ground. We hope the issue is addressed before the police detains those who might be radicalized and it becomes a criminal act problem. We try to engage and empower the community to be part of the solution.
Media is important in the security field. We collaborate with the media, showing how they can have empathy while writing about different stories. Sometimes media would depict the bad news as good news and it becomes counterproductive.
We also work with the Directorate General of Corrections, a body affiliated with the Ministry of Law and Human Rights, to insure the rehabilitation and reintegration of the ex-terrorists’ inmates. Once they are released they face a social stigma, as well as self-stigma. We help them reintegrate in the society. We support the parole officers who facilitate the process.
We also involve those in the fields of family health, education, agriculture, and economic development. We encourage them to participate in any way they can because the issue affects every human angle, so whatever can be done counts.
How is your society treating women and girls returning from violent extremist groups?
Around 75% of deportees are women and children. There are communities that stigmatize them, and such a reaction has been counterproductive. In a recent incident, some women wearing veils were rejected from getting on a bus. It is because people are paranoid. If people continue to do that, it will allow radical groups to have an argument ‘look the kaffir (infidels) people treat you like that’ so it would trigger or even give the opportunity for radical groups to recruit more. They use grievances or inequality of access to their advantage. Stigmatizing or rejecting people from being part of society would trigger and grow the extremist network.
We try to make sure the basic needs of these women and their families are met, especially how they can be accepted by community and supported by government, and they can start their lives again.
How do you see the role of women in peace building?
We are the women, and we don’t want women to become victims or be recruited and later on engage in violent organizations. We work to ensure women understand that they have potentials, and that they have opportunities to actively engage, and we want to make sure policies and regulations give women an important role in the sector. The security sector has been perceived as the field of masculinity despite the fact that women have the sense and gut feeling to be the frontliner, the peace agent and the peacekeeper. The strategy with violent extremism so far has been to attack or overlook. We face challenges; it is still a long way to go in the patriarchal culture and masculine security sector, but we have to do something about it. As such, C-SAVE promotes and engages women-led CSOs. We try to raise the awareness that each and everyone of us counts in what we can offer.
What would you have Indonesia’s government do, if there was one thing you could change, to enable better rehabilitation and reintegration of women and girls?
We would like to see the government responsive to any challenges the communities face. Many of the government officials sometimes know the problem but do not do anything about it. However, our experience with many local governments, around 20, shows that they are very responsive once they know the problem. Opening up access to public services is crucial to countering extremist ideology. Deportees are usually very poor, their children have health problems, others have no education. We collaborate with the local government to ensure that the children have access to health services and schooling, and mothers have access to start small businesses. All the resources are available. Sometimes they are not mobilized for the community. We want to see the government more proactive. Involving psychologists is also pivotal.
What else is missing from the security sector?
Empathy. At the end of the line it is about how we, as part of the society, are able to understand other parties, and are able to put our feet in their shoes. Prejudices break by understanding each other. Being part of the security sector, I see that this is what it is lacking. Building engagement between the conflicted parties based on applied empathy and translating that into different programs and initiatives, that’s key. Secondly, this field has been addressing problems of conflicts in an adversarial manner. The government tends to respond in the same way as the people who raise the conflicts. It is important to understand the other side, and try to see the solution not as a short term intervention but a contribution to change the system. Sometimes problems are so systematic, and many of the interventions are short term that doesn’t really address the roots. We must try to understand the players, the regulations, the policies, the patterns, and how we can then create a better or revised system so we solve the problem sustainably.
Can you recount a story of successful intervention that touched you?
There were 17 returnees comprising four families: four children and four teenagers, and mothers. The husbands were caught in police detention centers. We were asked by the National Bureau on Countering Violent Extremism to facilitate reintegration for these families. At first, we were worried because they had returned from Syria and we thought that they were radicalized. So we tried to allow the time for both of sides to build trust. We tried not to push too hard so that they would accept our facilitation. Overtime, they opened up and shared their stories. We learnt that they returned because they discovered that all the propaganda and all the promises that ISIL offered, which made them go to Syria in the first place, were all false. So they were disappointed. They came back to nothing because they had sold everything they owned to travel. We don’t provide the support but we open up access to the government and other CSOs who provide education and other services. We pointed them to government housing and for that they had to stand in a long, fatiguing queue to gain access, and they did it. They were taught how to make cookies and how to run a small business and eventually they ran a small business of selling cookies in front of their houses. One of them was of higher socioeconomic class before she traveled to Syria, but she had no problem selling the goods in front of her house and at the market. We are in a very close relationship with them. We try to understand their worries, they open up their hearts to start living as part of the community. Now we work with them to spread the word that all ISIL propaganda is not true. They give public speeches at different occasions. We are pleased to see the lives of these families grow and how they are opening up to the society.