Archives: Current Fellows

Defining “Radical:” The Problems and Politics of Deradicalizing Indonesia’s Muslim Boarding Schools

SOLO, Indonesia — How many graduates must be arrested on terrorism charges for the Indonesian government to shut down a school? Whatever tipping point you may have in mind, Ngruki’s alumni list is probably multiples of that number.

The school is among the most famous terrorist training sites in Indonesia. Since its founding in 1972, four teachers and 14 students who have called the pesantren (Muslim boarding school) home have been linked to terrorist attacks, including the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings, the 2003 Marriot hotel bombings in Jakarta and the 2009 Marriot and Ritz Carlton bombings in the nation’s capital. The International Crisis Group has dubbed Ngruki the Ivy League of recruiting for Jemaah Islamiah, an Indonesian terrorist group.

Its spiritual leader, who is thought to have links to Al Qaeda, is one of the school’s two founders. Abu Bakar Bashir spent more than a year in prison for his involvement in planning the Marriot hotel bombings, and upon his release started sending money to a military training camp in South Aceh that sought to send soldiers to Syria. That earned him a 15-year stint in a prison just south of Jakarta, where he remains today. But incarceration hasn’t kept him away from his Ngruki family—in June, he celebrated Eid ul Fitr holidays with his grandchildren and members of the school.[1]

The kyai (principal) who replaced him was quoted by a local newspaper affirming that the school will continue to teach jihad in Bashir’s absence.[2] Closely surveilled by government officials, Ngruki continues to operate in the city of Solo, Indonesia, where President Joko Widodo once served as mayor. The school’s leaders are also called to Jakarta annually for questioning. But even in the shadow of a mountain of suspicion, the institution has never been forced to shutter.

What does it take for the Indonesian authorities to deem an educational space “radical?” Once a pesantren such as Ngruki has been assigned that designation, what steps does the Religion Ministry take to deradicalize it? Are such programs of deradicalization working in Indonesia?

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Saudi “philanthrocapitalism” in Indonesian educational spaces

JAKARTA, Indonesia — An entourage of 1,500 people, consisting of more than 800 delegates, 25 princes and 10 ministers. Over 500 tons of cargo, including two Mercedes Benz limousines and two electric elevators. Seven planes. All for a one-week trip to Indonesia.

The grandeur of the proposed visit by King Salman bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud, the monarch of Saudi Arabia, led analysts to predict that the 81-year-old and his friends were going to invest heavily—to the tune of $25 billion—in security, infrastructure, aviation, health, information, Islamic affairs and education.

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It’s tradition: Female genital mutilation in Nigeria

ABUJA, Nigeria — Fourteen-year-old Chioma just recently began menstruating. Her father sits in his village compound with five male friends who happen to be local chiefs to discuss her coming of age and make plans for a special ceremony. “Finally my daughter will be welcomed fully into womanhood and I can start entertaining suitors,” he says of expectations she will undergo the ritual cutting of her genitalia, a practice called female genital mutilation. His friends congratulate him on the milestone and one says, “so your tiny daughter of yesterday will soon become a fully grown woman, that’s good—oh, the gods be praised!”

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Civil liberties and tyrannical majorities

“Everyone has the right to advocate individually or collectively to advance her people, nation, and country… to express her thoughts and attitudes in accordance with her conscience… [and] to communicate and obtain information to develop her personal and social environment.” —Article 28 of the Indonesian constitution (1945)[1] JAKARTA, …

Not another Western intervention

Can writers transcend archetypes, stereotypes and other misguided expectations? When I met an editor from an American newspaper five years ago, I sought guidance for crafting the perfect pitch. Having just begun working as a journalist in Cairo, I was developing an expertise in Arab political comics. The editor’s response was blunt: The rag was likely …

Empowering girls in schools

DUTSE, Nigeria — On a hot Saturday morning, I visited a government girls’ secondary school in this town on the outskirts of Abuja. There is not much to see except for the market and people selling food and goods along the unpaved, bumpy roads. I traveled there with Bella Ndubuisi, the founder of a leadership development program—Girl Lead Hub—that …


MAJENE, Indonesia — Oyhe and Chycong were teased as kids because their family struggled financially. Times got especially tough after their father died during their first year of elementary school, but their mother forbade her seven children to work. She wanted them to have a childhood. Throughout their youth, the boys were also teased more frequently …

Into the wind: Lessons learned from two years sailing a changing coast

Two years ago, my boyfriend and I set sail in a four-decade-old boat, built around the time we were born, heading down a coast we had never seen. Few modern vessels have traversed the entire coastline, more than 5,000 miles from the Sea of Cortez through the Panama Canal and into the Caribbean. We sailed to learn more about coastal climate change than we could read in books or news reports—we wanted to hear the stories of local fishers and grandmothers, not rely on government or academic reports. In the end, we found a new story about climate change and resilience, grounded in local experiences. And we found evidence of climate change in everything from coffee beans to canal commerce.

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An afternoon in Waru

Waru is an impoverished neighborhood in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria. In Waru, homes lack latrines, leading residents to use a community latrine outside or relieve themselves in the bush. The community also deals with high amounts of trash. I met a woman with three children, none of them in school. Although the mother worked full time as a housekeeper, …