Islamic radicalism and anti-Americanism in Indonesia : the role of the Internet

Lim, Merlyna
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Washington, D.C.: East-West Center Washington
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This study uses Indonesia as a local site for examining how the technology and nature of the Internet interact with political and cultural struggles. It also shows how the creation and assertion of identity on the Internet become a focal point of contests over power. Specifically, the study examines the role of the Internet in Indonesia in disseminating the message of radical fundamentalist Islamic groups and, in particular, their anti-Americanism. It argues that the Internet serves as a key tool of self-definition and collective action for these groups—it communicates the global identity of radical fundamentalism as a means of self-definition for local Islamic fundamentalist movements. Two case studies detail these phenomena. The first examines Internet use by Laskar Jihad, the radical militia group involved in the Maluku conflict. The second looks at how radical fundamentalist Islamic groups have used the Internet after 9/11 to disseminate charges that the United States and Israel are conspiring against Islam. By examining how information flowed from cyberspace to real space in both cases, this study shows that the Internet has potential as a site for the revival of primordial, ethno/religious, and communal identities as forms of resistance to domination by both "non-believers" and global actors such as the United States. Deploying the concepts of identity politics, meta-narratives, and collective action, the study examines how the Internet is used by Islamic radical-fundamentalist individuals and groups. It shows that the Internet plays a crucial yet indeterminate role in the milieus of politics, culture, and economic structure. In the case of Indonesia, the Internet has played a key role in creating and sustaining political legitimation, resistance, and identity projects among Islamic radical fundamentalists. It has also helped these groups transform their identity into social and political power capable of scaling up social responses to effect political transformations at national and global levels. The Internet is becoming a major factor in identity formation—one that can allow users to access global sources of information while interpreting that information in local identity contexts through key nodes and sources. Indeed, Islamic radical fundamentalism has shown that the Internet has the potential to facilitate identity formation—such as the global fundamentalist movement—that is not territorially bound. But this development does not mean that national and other local identities have become obsolete in cyberspace. The Internet facilitates multiple identities: It can strengthen national identity while also fostering a de-territorialized identity. Radical fundamentalist groups also use the Internet to bypass local/national authorities and, in so doing, establish a new de-territorialized pattern of hierarchy. In addition, the ways these groups use the Internet demonstrate a mass nature that dovetails with the reductionist tendency and simplicity of the meta-narratives and more specific narratives of conspiracy these groups endorse. This resonance between the Internet and reductionism explains how the Internet can greatly facilitate the dissemination of radical fundamentalist ideas and opinions. However, in a country such as Indonesia, in which most of the population is not yet connected to the Internet, the Internet also needs to be explicitly linked to other media in order to extend its influence. Using the intermodalities of media networks, various individuals and groups can create linkages that allow information originating from cyberspace to reach audiences beyond the Internet. The Internet and its linkages to other media have enabled the realization of new connections. Radical groups use the Internet as a trawling tool to reach potential members at local, national, and global levels. But the Indonesian cases also show that the Internet is not persuasive enough to mobilize people for extreme actions such as killing and murder. While the Internet helps to form and disseminate a resistance identity, it alone cannot easily transform that identity into jihad in the form of physical war.
For more about the East-West Center, see
Internet - Social aspects - Indonesia, Islamic fundamentalism - Indonesia, Anti-Americanism - Indonesia, Islam and politics - Indonesia
viii, 70 pages
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