JAKARTA: European researchers and Indonesian kiyais - traditional religious scholars - are collaborating to develop theological arguments to debunk the ideology of radical groups like Islamic State (IS).
The cooperation will also see European and Indonesian Muslims promote moderate brands of Islam that are rooted in the culture and traditions of respective communities where Muslims live.
The University of Vienna has partnered with Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) – Indonesia’s largest Muslim organisation – and LibforAll Foundation in a research program on terrorism and extremism called VORTEX, which is funded by the Austrian interior ministry.
Researchers said key to addressing radical ideology is understanding the environment in which it is conveyed and spread, which is increasingly on social media at a highly sophisticated level.
Using a dynamic network graph, researchers are able to visualise extremist views in the cyber sphere. Over a four-month period they were able to show 3.4 million tweets relating to IS, clusters that acted as echo chambers to reinforce radical thoughts.
In addition, IS has produced high definition videos – visual representations of their ideology – which have become one of their most effective media tools.
“So we have about 1,300 videos. 98-99 per cent of these videos are in Arabic. We need to understand the theological interpretations they are conveying in these videos that are directly related to Muslim brotherhood, Wahabi teachings, AlQaeda and others since the 1980s in particular,” said Dr Nico Prucha, a research fellow at VORTEX.
In Indonesia, NU practices what it calls Islam Nusantara, peaceful teachings brought by the nine Javanese saints who introduced Islam to the archipelago centuries ago.
The organisation is one of the largest independent Islamic bodies in the world, boasting an estimated 40 million members, and was formed in 1926 to combat the ultraconservative Wahhabism movement, which has been widely accused of driving global terrorism.
“Our Ulama in Nahdatul Ulama will study the material and provide the counter-narrative – theologically – towards ISIS ideology,” said NU Secretary-General Yahya Cholil Staqful.
Dr Prucha said the West need to urgently introduce a coherent and overarching positive Muslim role model - similar to what Indonesia presently has, to change the negative perceptions of Islam.
“There is a consensus in the European society, and right-wing neo-Nazis feed on that consensus, that Islam is coming to Europe by the sword, by the suicide belts or by the Kalashnikov. So there’s fear and distrust within European native societies,” he said.
In May, NU will host a gathering of some of the world’s most renowned Islamic scholars, with the hope that the best minds in the Muslim world can produce a collective strategy to fight IS – theologically.