How social enterprise movement can stop acts of terrorism

Nothing is new in the use of social enterprise to promote peace. The phenomenon has won global recognition with Nobel Peace prize awarded to social entrepreneurs like Wangari Maathai of the Greenbelt Movement in 2004, Muhammad Yunus, the founder of Grameen Bank in 2006 and former US vice president and environmental campaigner Al Gore in 2007.

Recognizing the lack of post-detention programs for convicted terrorists in Indonesia, I have embarked on a controversial program by engaging directly with them through social enterprise initiatives in a food business chain called Dapoer Bistik in Semarang and Solo, Central Java.

My first client was Yusuf Adirima, a former Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighter from Indonesia who had been arrested in Semarang for storing explosive materials in 2003. I met him in the Semarang Police Detention facility in 2003 while I was a journalist for The Washington Post.

My personal life journey has provided me with a multi-layered identity, spanning vastly different worlds. As a graduate of Ngruki Islami boarding school, I know how these “radical” people think and behave. Ngruki as a school is controversial because its founder was also the founder of Jamaah Islamiyah (JI). Many JI members have been involved in bomb attacks in Indonesia in the last 12 years, including the Bali blasts on Oct. 12, 2002.

At the same time, as someone who has been exposed to the Western lifestyle through my work as an international journalist as well as a graduate of St. Andrews University, Scotland, I can accept Western values.

Basically, as a social broker, I have to know how to play well in both worlds.

Therefore, I understand that engaging people like Yusuf must include the element of empowerment, which means achieving reasonable control of one’s destiny, learning to cope constructively with depilating forces in society and acquiring the competence to initiate change at individual and system level.

Another part of engaging such people must include the social and psychological process, whereby individual commitment to, and involvement with, radicalization is reduced to the extent that they are no longer at risk of involvement and engagement in acts of violence.

To serve the nexus of the above interests is Dapoer Bistik, where good food is being served. Food provides an excellent platform for nearly everyone to start engaging with each other.

In Indonesia, food has been widely used to promote peace. One of the examples is the celebration of Padungku in the Central Sulawesi strife-torn town of Poso, where Muslims and Christians eat together to thank God during harvest time.

There are two main groups of beneficiaries from Dapoer Bistik: drop-out students and drop-out terrorists. Merely being employed is not everything for former terrorists.

Therefore, I asked Yusuf to start searching for drop-out students to work at Dapoer Bistik. It gave him a feeling that he was a useful member in the community because he was helping solve unemployment, one of Indonesia’s acute social problems. Moreover, youths are always at risk of being radicalized.

The fact that Yusuf’s decision has a direct impact on other people’s lives will prevent him from easily going back to his clandestine activities and reengaging with his
old network.

Dapoer Bistik provides him a new sort of social network, a network that gives him self-respect and dignity.

Comfortable with my approach, Yusuf started to invite other formerly convicted terrorists to join Dapoer Bistik including one of Noordin M Top’s former close confidantes and a veteran of the Ambon conflict.

He spent five years in jail. He came to Semarang and I took him to Dapoer Bistik for lunch. He then expressed his eagerness to have Dapoer Bistik in Solo.

Oct. 10, 2012 was a big day for Yusuf because it was the day when he became a free person. It means, he no longer needs to go to Surabaya every month to report to the corrections office.

For almost four years, he rode his motorcycle from Semarang to Surabaya for five hours just to sign a piece of paper — with the process of handling the paperwork lasting a mere five minutes.

There has been no systematic effort by the corrections office to engage him. There was no single visit from the corrections office to Dapoer Bistik, let alone to Yusuf’s house.

It might be good if the government would actively train these corrections officers to actively engage with former inmates, to support them in finding a new calling in life and to mentor them while doing so.

The underlying spirit of my modest work is that counterterrorism initiatives will benefit greatly from a focus on local places and people to promote peace through grassroots initiatives.

These days, terrorist strategists exploit local grievances as a way to provide cognitive and emotional openings for new recruits. Therefore, it is crucial to engage with locals to counter the narrative that terrorist strategists have created.

I hope my work can be useful as a possible model that can be leveraged and modified to fit the needs of each local space, cultural difference and context.

Furthermore, considering the significant amount of time and financial investment required, particularly with newly released convicts, I have no way to engage with them effectively all at once.

Therefore, the state must commit to supporting social enterprises that integrate released ex-terror convicts. Alone I can help perhaps 10 at a time.

But what if we have a network of 10 volunteers and NGOs, or 50? Together we will be able to reach out to 50 Yusufs, and through them, help 500 former militants reenter Indonesian society, so that we can stop the cycle of violence.

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