Unholy War: Violent Extremism in Marawi and Its Impacts on Muslim Communities in Indonesia


  • Friday, 11 March 2022 02:47
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Muhammad A.S. Hikam and Fahlesa Munabari *

International Relations Department, President University, Jababeka, Indonesia

ORCID Fahlesa Munabari: http://orcid.org/0000-0002-4389-9090

Abstract. Religious radicalism in the form of violent extremism is against the principles of human rights and democracy. Religious radicalism also opposes the existence of the modern state of Indonesia and, arguably, also of other Southeast Asian countries. The global political commitment initiated by the United Nations, namely Responsibility to Protect, states that several countries in Southeast Asia, such as the Philippines, are at high risk of atrocities. Civilians in Marawi in the Philippines have experienced atrocities carried out by the Maute family-led militant group backed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). In 2017, for more than five months, the restoration of regional security and stability in Marawi by the Philippine security apparatus caused many casualties. This study aimed to identify, map and analyze the narrative structure of the goals and backgrounds of the actors involved in the Marawi case and its impacts on Muslim communities in Indonesia. The research focused on a narrative analysis that united various factors contributing to violent religious extremism. This study employed a narrative perspective that was multidimensional, consisting of the narratives of marginalization, invitation, symbolic violence, and violent extremism. It demonstrated that the narrative of marginalization and calls for Jihad served as the basis of solidarity among the members of the Maute militant group in Marawi. The narrative aimed at solidarity for jihad in Marawi had more influence on groups belonging to ISIS, such as Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid ( JAT), Jamaah Ansharut Daulah ( JAD), and East Indonesia Mujahideen (MIT)

Keywords: violent extremism, radicalism, terrorism, Marawi, the Philippines, Indonesia

1. Introduction

The military operations to restore both security and territory in Marawi for more than 5 months in 2017 led to considerable casualties: 165 soldiers and policemen were killed. Meanwhile, from the Maute Terrorist side there were 908 people killed. More than 10,000 people became refugees and lived in emergency shelters. The Philippine government, with the help of various countries, has finally succeeded in taking over territory that was occupied and controlled by the ISIS group. This dynamic is an effect of the Marawi conflict. The issue has now been taken into consideration by ASEAN countries, especially Indonesia as the largest Muslim country, and Malaysia. This is because a number of rebels in Marawi come from these two countries. The case of Marawi shows how religious-based radicalization and violent extremist movements have grown into political and military forces that can take over a region or a city. One of the main aspects of the Marawi case stimulated various jihadists from various countries, including Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and beyond those countries. In various analyses and studies, the network among the jihadists has already been formed. Several other indications are as follows: (1) The existence of terrorist organizations in various countries has begun to be active again; (2) Availability of funds and logistics; (3) Networks and information networks between terrorist organizations; (4) Mobility of these organizations across national borders, including allegations of smuggling of weapons and people in the Philippines (1).

The use of narrative as a process to mobilize sympathizers through social media has become an effective strategy for groups supporting religious-based violent extremism. The narrative of calling for involvement in jihad in Marawi has a powerful structure to attract targets who have been exposed to the same religious ideology and to build sympathy for those who are getting to know them. Therefore, in this narrative, there are aspects of humanity, religion, and even a narrative about the need for a caliphate as a justification for those who wish to carry out jihad. The last narration is to carry out a physical struggle in the forms of soul, body, and material (2).

The narratives built by groups supporting violent extremism do not use a single narrative. Instead, the narratives are diverse so that they could better meet the various interests of the accessors and readers of their sites. Through various narratives, the social, economic, political, justice, welfare, and caliphate aspects are then united as awareness for jihad against states in which these groups live. There are few reasons for those who have been invited to join as jihadists to say that the narrative is false because all is framed with religion (3). For example, the narrative related to the Marawi incident has the following structure:

“To my brothers and sisters in the Archipelago, Malaysia and Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines, it is time to join IS (Islamic State). It is time to unite against the thoghut (evil) kingdoms in your country. Join brothers in the Philippines under the leadership of Abu Abdullah Philippines who has been entrusted by the daulah (Islamic state) to lead.” “To all the brothers who have taken allegiance, kill their soldiers wherever you are. With your vehicle, hit them, you have a knife, stab them in the chest. Don’t be afraid

We will return to attack you or our friends who are there. God willing, they will cut off your necks.” ”If you can’t afford to go here (Syria), join the Philippines. If you can’t afford it because of your old age, take your children there. If you can’t afford it, do it in your country. Do not let those enemies of Allah fall asleep and trample on you. If you still can’t afford it, give your wealth for the sake of jihad.”

Such a narrative structure has been circulating from 2012 to 2019. Everything moves through social media across countries in a way that is unstoppable. Because it is easily accessible and re-circulated by the supporters and sympathizers of the extremist organizations. The development of the narrative indicates that all of this is the initial phase of the construction process of the caliphate in Indonesia. They tested whether the narrative effect was solid or not by creating a war in Marawi.

This research is based on two important questions, namely: (1) How did the Marawi case help affect the growing solidarity within the Islamic community in Indonesia in responding to the Marawi conflict? and (2) How did these conditions become the basis for the development of violent religious extremist groups in Indonesia? This study therefore aims to map, identify, and analyze the narrative structure of solicitation, motives, goals, and backgrounds of the actors involved in the Marawi conflict. It demonstrates that individuals who adhere to the interpretation of cultural Islam tend to be more socially liberal and moderate in terms of religious politics, while those who adhere to a literal or cultural interpretation of Islam have a strong tendency to adopt extreme religious political views, both socially and religiously.

2. Methods

This study uses qualitative and quantitative methods. A survey was conducted in this study to find out the degree of Islamic zeal (ghirah) among sampled population in Indonesia across a variety of age criteria. In addition, qualitative data were gathered through the content analysis of a collective of narratives among jihadists about the need to wage jihad in Marawi. Interviews with some key informants who have hand-on experience and deep knowledge on Islamic radicalism and terrorism were also used to add insightful data to this study. This study first examined the results of the survey about the degree of Islamic zeal among sampled population in Indonesia in order to account for the extent to which the formation of identity politics is strengthened. It then analyzed the concept of solidarity contestation between humanity and jihad war solidarity among jihadists in Marawi. Last, it attempts to explain the views of Islamic groups or movements in Indonesia on the Marawi conflict and the call for jihad in the region.