The Image of Islam

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Over the past month or so, my Facebook feed was an endless stream of news articles and shared links to videos discussing the advancement of ISIS or the image of Islam in the world. We all acknowledge that social media is a powerful platform for self-expression and networking. However events such as the November Paris terror attacks have also, in a sense, reminded us of its limitations. Although I had developed a deep respect for the great solidarity we’ve displayed as a global online community through painting our profile pictures blue-white-red and posting the iconic Eiffel tower peace symbol with the #prayforparis on Instagram, it was only after I read an International Business Times article that I truly appreciated the support we managed to demonstrate.

On a sunny and uneventful Saturday (Nov. 21), a friend of mine urged me to read a freshly published IB times article written by Taku Dzimwasha. Thinking that it would be an easy way to kill time while I was stuck in the infamous daily Jakarta traffic on my way home, I gave it a shot. The article claimed that Anonymous (a hacktivist group) had supposedly unearthed ISIS’s plans for future chain of terrorist attacks to follow up from Paris. ISIS was going to strike at the Al-Jihad One Day One Juz event in Jakarta the following day. Anonymous, as an organisation, claims to disclose this information freely to 1) warn citizens to be careful and 2) force ISIS to cancel the attack and re-think their strategy. It only took one seemingly-reliable article to raise and sustain tensions for the next week. Suddenly, rumours were spreading that ISIS would target people dressed in school uniform and likely attack in high population density areas like malls. Some people from my grade decided not to attend parties or concerts they had already bought tickets for in fear of an attack. Suddenly, the issue of ISIS was no longer a distant Model UN topic that I had debated multiple times but never wrote a successful resolution for. For the first time, it honestly felt real. I wanted to know more about my country and its stance concerning the threat of ISIS. After a quick Google search, thanks to the Business Insider, I now know that Indonesia has an ‘ISIS problem’.

It was a 2014 article that had completely went undetected by my radar. It stated that “The danger posed to Indonesia from IS was brought into focus last month when police arrested four ethnic Uighurs they allege were being taken to meet the country’s most wanted militant to discuss recruitment for IS. The militant, Abu Wardah Santoso, has taken responsibility for the killings of several Indonesian police officers and has pledged allegiance to IS.”. But that was last year. What has been going on this year to address this ‘ISIS problem’? An article from the Straits Times (http://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/indonesias-nahdlatul-ulama-leads-charge-against-isis) makes me feel proud to be an Indonesian living in Indonesia – the largest Muslim country in the world. Even though Indonesia still experiences religious tensions, like the clashes between the hardliner Islamic Defender’s Front group and our first Christian and ethnically Chinese governor of Jakarta, I felt proud when I read about the recent release of a film titled  ‘The Divine Grace of the East Indies Islam’. The 90-minute film – which will be translated to English and Arabic for the global audience – seeks to explore the birth and growth of Islam in Indonesia and how Indonesia nurtures its pluralistic and democratic values hand-in-hand with Islam. Interviews with Indonesian Islamic scholars discussing ISIS’s misinterpretations of the messages of the Quran, the Hadith and the book of Prophet Muhammad’s teachings are featured too. Muslim countries publically fighting against ISIS ideology may be the strongest counterattack we have in our global arsenal. We need to dispel the myths that describe Islam as a religion with a skewed and primitive sense of justice or system of values. And we cannot deny that these myths exist and that they are widespread. On September 30th, Media Matters for America uploaded a video on Facebook of a conversation between CNN anchors and UC Riverside professor Reza Aslan that highlighted the generalisation and bigotry that occurs when reporting Muslims in the media. At one point, the CNN anchor boldly asked “So your point is that Muslim countries are not to blame. There is nothing particular … in Muslim countries – that you can’t paint with a broad brush – that their justice system … in terms of stoning, female mutilation etc. is different than in other countries like Western countries?”. Even though I am not Muslim, I’m Indonesian and I’ve lived in Jakarta my whole life. Do I feel that Indonesia – the world’s largest Muslim country with over 200+ million Muslims – has a justice system that is, for example, oppressing women? Indonesia has already had its first female president. What about the USA?  It’s not a secret that corruption is one of Indonesia’s largest problems but its justice system is not based on some twisted notion of truth.

The image of Islam is something we all need to stand together to improve to see a change in the future. Why don’t we try to flood our social media feeds with content that raises awareness and nurtures a global mindset open to Islam specifically? Perhaps the key to success in international relations and politics in the future is a simple change in perspective in every heart and mind of our generation. We’ll be the ones running the world in a couple decades from now, right? Perhaps I’m not well-informed enough with the latest developments in American politics and the race to presidency to say this, but perhaps the world would be a more peaceful place without politicians hinting at ‘Muslim databases’ or news anchors asking people like Mayor Karen Majewski whether she’s afraid of governing a city with a majority-Muslim council. Articles about politics and religion don’t seem too scary when you’re reading about the Pope, there shouldn’t be a difference when it comes to Islam.


Written by Nathan Silalahi.

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