Climate Change and Radicalization: A Case Study of Indonesia

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Climate change is one of the greatest threats facing the world in the 21st century. It has also been identified as a threat to global security by organizations such as the U.S Department of Defense. In addition to its environmental consequences, climate change can intensify catalysts of conflict and instability by putting strain on food and water resources, spurring cross-border migration, and increasing the frequency of national disasters. The growing focus on the intersection between climate change and global security necessitates specific analysis for how climate impacts can contribute, directly or indirectly, to specific global security challenges. Radicalization, which this article will define as the process by which individuals adopt violent extremist ideologies, is one security challenge which may be affected indirectly by climate change. The potential link between climate change and radicalization to violent extremism can be studied in Indonesia, a country vulnerable to the consequences of climate change and with a history of violent extremism.

The primary extremism threat in Indonesia comes from Islamic extremist groups, which seek to use violence to replace Indonesia’s democratic, pluralist political system with a fundamentalist Islamic regime. Indonesian Islam has a tradition of tolerance and plurality, shaped by its gradual spread through commerce, cultural exchange, and conversion, as well as Indonesia’s religious and cultural diversity. However, more fundamentalist interpretations of Islam began to take root in Indonesia during the 20th century, as Indonesian students returning from Islamic schools in the Arab World brought back more conservative interpretations of Islam. The introduction of more fundamentalist interpretations of Islam to Indonesia created a clash between those seeking to preserve Indonesia’s more tolerant version of Islam and those supporting more conservative interpretations of Islam. When Indonesia gained independence after WWII, Islamic extremist group Darul Islam waged an insurgency against the secular government in an attempt to create an Islamic caliphate. While extremist groups were suppressed under the Sukarto and Suharno dictatorships, more conservative interpretations of Islam continued to spread as Arab countries—particularly Saudi Arabia—promoted more fundamentalist interpretations of Islam through building mosques, schools, and charities. After Indonesia’s transition to democracy in 1998, extremists from abroad were able to return to the country, organize groups, and conduct attacks in the early 2000s.

Today, there are a number of extremist groups operating in Indonesia such as Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), and the Islamic State of Indonesia (NII). During the height of the extremism threat in Indonesia in the early 2000s, JI was the largest and most organized group, conducting several high-profile attacks—the most deadly being the 2002 Bali Bombing. Currently no extremist groups in Indonesia are as well resourced or organized as JI was during the 2000s, thanks to an increase in counter-terrorism efforts. However, occasional attacks do occur, demonstrating the still-present threat of extremism and radicalization in Indonesia.

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