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Ex-Jihadists Deliver Speeches Against Extremism to Vulnerable Youth to Curb IS Appeal in Indonesia

Ahmad Sajuli, the FKAAI chairman said, By September of 2011, there had been several acts of terrorism in Indonesia, which, in our opinion, were not in accordance with Islam

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FILE - A vendor displays books written about jihad in an Islamic book store in Jakarta. VOA

Jakarta, October 31, 2016: Indonesia is filled with counter-extremism programs, but one major criticism of them is that anti-radicalism efforts from moderate Muslim groups like Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) target those who would probably not get radicalized in the first place.

But one group, former terrorists who fought with the Afghan mujahideen in the 1980’s, has been working in recent years to address more vulnerable populations.

Indonesia’s self-styled “Afghan alumni” are men with radical sympathies who fought with Afghan rebels in the Soviet-Afghan War. When they returned home, they joined domestic militant groups like Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), founded in 1993.

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New priorities

But after decades of terrorism and multiple prison stints, many of the roughly 300 alumni had different priorities. So in 2011, nine ex-combatants set up the Forum Komunikasi Alumni Afghanistan Indonesia, or FKAAI, to stem the radicalization of younger Indonesians.

“By September of 2011, there had been several acts of terrorism in Indonesia, which, in our opinion, were not in accordance with Islam,” Ahmad Sajuli, the FKAAI chairman, told VOA. “We wanted to establish a forum so that we could explain to people that those acts of terror were not true jihad.”

Sajuli and his friends came up with the idea for FKAAI after attending “de-radicalization” workshops for former prisoners run by Nasir Abbas, the famous JI terrorist turned government adviser, and Sarlito Sarwono, a psychology professor at the University of Indonesia.

“After several former fighters went through our ‘post-prison’ workshops in Jakarta, they wanted to do more for the community,” Abbas told VOA. “They realized they needed to do something to promote peace and minimize other terrorists’ actions.”

FILE - Indonesian anti-terror policemen hold their rifles as they stand guard at the business district in Jakarta. VOA
FILE – Indonesian anti-terror policemen hold their rifles as they stand guard at the business district in Jakarta. VOA

Abbas and Sarwono helped the nine founding members of FKAAI register the forum as a non-profit, establish its internal structure, and connect with the BNPT, the national counterterrorism agency. And then they stepped back.

“We do appreciate what they were willing to do all by themselves,” said Abbas. “They were never asked by anyone to set up something like the Forum.”

Growing effort

FKAAI which now has 40 members throughout Indonesia, is headquartered in Menteng, an upscale Jakarta suburb. It holds a discussion group for members after Friday evening prayers. The BNPT also sponsors forum members to travel to schools in cities like Aceh and Poso, delivering speeches against extremism to vulnerable youth.

The small courtyard has attracted waves of radicals through the years: in 2015, the mosque right next to FKAAI headquarters, Masjid Al Fataa, was infiltrated by IS supporters.

One FKAAI member is Farihin bin Ahmad, the group’s PR manager who is now 50 and has immaculate jihadist credentials. He spent three years in Afghanistan, was later very active in JI in Indonesia and he a hand in the 2000 Philippines consulate bombing in Jakarta. He also did time in prison and few understand the appeal of jihad more than he does. And yet, he’s entirely dismissive of the so-called Islamic State.

“It’s useless. Don’t waste your time, is my message to young people,” he said.

For FKAAI members like Farihin, there’s a huge gap between their jihad in Afghanistan and the activities of the current self-styled Islamic State.

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“What we did in Afghanistan was not radicalism,” Farihin told VOA. “We were helping Muslims who were oppressed by the government.” In contrast, he said, the Islamic State has dubious religious credentials. “ISIS and [ISIS leader Abu Bakr] al-Baghdadi laid claim to a ‘caliphate’ whose authority is not recognized by mainstream clerics,” said Farihin.

FILE - Muslim men watch a slideshow of pictures believed to be from Syria during a prayer calling for jihad to Syria at a mosque in Jakarta, Indonesia, Dec. 15, 2013. VOA
FILE – Muslim men watch a slideshow of pictures believed to be from Syria during a prayer calling for jihad to Syria at a mosque in Jakarta, Indonesia, Dec. 15, 2013. VOA

Return to normal

Besides undermining the appeal of IS, FKAAI members also talk candidly about the stigma they faced when returning to civilian life as “ex-terrorists.” Sajuli said he returned from stints in Afghanistan and Malaysia without a penny to his name, and struggled until he finally found his footing, in middle age, as a kebab seller.

This kind of detail, about the difficulty of returning to civilian life after sowing terror abroad, is rare in counter-extremism messaging. And it may be uniquely effective, since it helps puncture the mythology of foreign jihad.

“Being former jihadists, the ex-terrorists have added value in the eyes of their ex-terrorist comrades, as well as lay Muslims like the university students who are our and the BNPT’s target for counter-radicalization programs,” Professor Sarwono told VOA in an email.

Farihin says FKAAI specifically does not associate with moderate Muslim movements like NU and Muhamadiyya because, while they do good work, they are “too mainstream.”

“Young people listen to me because I was an actor in and witness to foreign jihad,” he said. “We don’t have much in common with groups like NU.”

Sujani says the students he’s met so far have responded “very positively” to FKAAI’s anti-radicalism messages. “After sharing my experiences with young people, both in high schools and Islamic boarding schools, my conclusion is that they have the knowledge to understand the threat of radicalism,” he told VOA. “When these young people see such activity, they try to avoid it.”

Lone wolf

One limit of FKAAI’s efforts is that they have limited resonance with the “lone wolf” actors that are now typical of the IS brand of terrorism, according to Sarwono.

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“Ex-Afghan fighters are no longer the majority of imprisoned jihadists. Today there are pro-ISIS terrorists and ‘lone wolves,’ who self-radicalize through the internet, who have no relationship with the ex-Afghan fighters,” he told VOA.

He said they are disinclined to listen to “anybody except their own leaders,” and largely through social media. Despite this structural obstacle, said Sarwono, FKAAI members have unusual clout among students because of their jihadist past.

Both Farihin and Sujani bring surprising levity to their work. Terrorism is not a new phenomenon, per Sujani. “Back when I was active, they didn’t even call us ‘terrorists,’” he said. “We were all ‘anarchists!’” By their account, extremism is a cyclical problem that can be intelligently addressed. What the Afghan alumni hope is their voices can help break the cycle. (VOA)

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Can Flourishing Islamic State (ISIS) be Stopped in Afghanistan?

The truth about IS and Afghanistan is definitely no picnic

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Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016.
Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016. The rise of IS in Afghanistan has become such a priority that U.S. and Afghan forces sometimes support the Taliban while battling IS, VOA
  • Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups
  • Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops
  • In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS

June 25, 2017: The Islamic State group is rapidly expanding in parts of Afghanistan, advancing militarily into areas where it once had a weak presence and strengthening its forces in core regions, according to Afghan and U.S. officials.

Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups.

Attacking IS has become such a priority in the country, that disparate forces sometimes join together in the ad-hoc fight, with Afghan and U.S. forces finding themselves inadvertently supporting the enemy Taliban in battling IS.

Confusion leads to mistakes

All too often, officials say, mistakes are made due to confusion on the ground.

Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops, provincial police chief, Rahmatullah Turkistani told VOA. The supplies were meant to help Afghan forces that are countering twin attacks by IS and Taliban militants but were used instead by IS.

“It’s not getting better in Afghanistan in terms of IS,” U.S. Chief Pentagon Spokeswoman Dana White told VOA this week. “We have a problem, and we have to defeat them and we have to be focused on that problem.”

Reinforcements for the IS cause reportedly are streaming into isolated areas of the country from far and wide. There are reports of fighters from varied nationalities joining the ranks, including militants from Pakistan, India, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia and Central Asian neighbors.

Confusing scenarios

Still, the Islamic State-Khorasan (ISK) as IS is known in Afghanistan remains a fragmented group composed of differing regional forces with different agendas in different parts of the country.

“IS-K is still conducting low-level recruiting and distribution of propaganda in various provinces across Afghanistan, but it does not have the ability or authority to conduct multiple operations across the country,” a recent Pentagon report said. But where it operates, IS is inflicting chaos and casualties and causing confusing scenarios for disparate opponents.

In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS. IS regained ground after a few days, leading to U.S. military air attacks on IS positions in conjunction with Afghan intelligence instructions and army operations.

IS fighters reportedly have fled from mountain caves of Tora Bora, where al-Qaida’s leader Osama bin Laden hid from U.S. attack in 2001.

Families displaced

IS fighters were also reportedly advancing in neighboring Khogyani district, displacing hundreds of families, according to district officials. It is one of several areas in Nangarhar province, near the Pakistani border, where IS has been active for over two years.

Fierce clashes in the Chaparhar district of Nangarhar last month left 21 Taliban fighters and seven IS militants dead, according to a provincial spokesman. At least three civilians who were caught in the crossfire were killed and five others wounded.

“IS has overpowered Taliban in some parts of Nangarhar because the Taliban dispatched its elite commando force called Sara Qeta (Red Brigade) to other parts of the country, including some northern provinces to contain the growing influence of IS there,” Wahid Muzhda, a Taliban expert in Kabul, told VOA.

ALSO READ: Flashback to Terror: 1993 Mumbai Blasts Judgement to Hail on June 27 After 24 Years

Recruiting unemployed youths

IS has also expanded in neighboring Kunar province, where, according to provincial police chief, it has a presence in at least eight districts and runs a training base, where foreign members of IS, train new recruits.

Hundreds of miles from Nangarhar, IS is attempting to establish a persistent presence in several northern provinces where it has found a fertile ground for attracting militants and recruiting unemployed youths, mostly between the age of 13 and 20.

IS has been able to draw its members from the Pakistani Taliban fighters, former Afghan Taliban, and other militants who “believe that associating with or pledging allegiance” to IS will further their interests, according to the Pentagon report.

Hundreds of militants have joined IS ranks in northern Jouzjan and Sar-e-Pul province where local militant commanders lead IS-affiliate groups in several districts.

Darzab district

Qari Hekmat, an ethnic Uzbek and former Taliban militant who joined IS a year ago, claims to have up to 500 members, including around 50 Uzbek nationals who are affiliated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) — previously associated with al-Qaida and Taliban in Afghanistan.

IS and Taliban are reportedly fighting over the control of Darzab district in Jouzjan which they stormed this week from two different directions and besieged scores of government forces. The Taliban has reportedly captured the center of the district while IS militants control the city outskirts.

Afghanistan faces a continuing threat from as many as 20 insurgent and terrorist networks present or operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, including IS, the Pentagon said.

“In areas where the government has limited influence and control, IS attempts to emerge and expand there,” Ateequllah Amarkhail, an analysts and former Army general in Kabul told VOA.

Hit-and-hide strategy

IS has also claimed responsibility for several recent attacks in urban areas, however, with a hit-and-hide strategy that is proving effective. And it is engaging too in more skirmishes with U.S. forces that initially were sent to the country to help Afghan forces halt the spread of Taliban.

Three American service members based in eastern Afghanistan were killed in April during operations targeting IS militants, according to the Pentagon.

“ISIS-K remains a threat to Afghan and regional security, a threat to U.S. and coalition forces, and it retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks in urban centers,” the Pentagon said. (VOA)

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India’s Textile and Fashion Heritage now part of Google project

Google's project 'We Wear Culture' is collaborating with 183 renowned cultural institutions from all around the world including India and its objective is to let people explore history of clothes dating as early as 3,000 years ago

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we wear culture
Google's new art project 'We wear Culture' digitizes fashion, Wikimedia
  • Google’s project ‘We Wear Culture’ is collaborating with 183 renowned cultural institutions from all around the world including India
  • It intends to trace the story and importance of Indian textiles from ancient sculptures
  • Its objective is to let people explore history of clothes dating as early as 3,000 years ago

June 15, 2017: To a certain extent, a culture is defined by what is worn by its people. In a country as diverse as India, vast and varied spectrum of cultures and clothes is one of the specialties. Google’s latest virtual exhibition project now provides us the opportunity to explore and know more about it.

Google’s project ‘We Wear Culture’ is collaborating with 183 renowned cultural institutions from all around the world including India and its objective is to let people explore history of clothes dating as early as 3,000 years ago, from the ancient Silk Road to the unmatched elegance of the Indian Saree,  from the courtly fashion of Versailles, to the Victorian ballgowns with intricate thread work.

According to Amit Sood, director of Google Arts and Culture,”We invite everyone to browse the exhibition on their phones or laptops and learn about the stories behind what you wear. You might be surprised to find out that your Saree, jeans or the black dress in your wardrobe have a centuries-old story. What you wear is true culture and more often than not a piece of art.”

Culture is defined by what is worn by its people. Click To Tweet

The company also mentioned that noteworthy collections from Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) and varied weaves from across India, from Gharchola to Patola to Temple to Ikat sarees will be included in the online project, as it intends to trace the story and importance of Indian textiles from ancient sculptures.

ALSO READ: New Google Project Digitizes World’s Top Fashion Archives.

According to PTI reports, the world fashion exhibit also includes designs from north-eastern India including the weaves of tribes such as the Nagas, Meitis. it will showcase the traditional attire from Meghalaya called ‘Dhara’ or ‘Nara’ worn by the Khasi women as well.

As a part of the exhibit, Sewa Hansiba Museum has brought the unique colorful and rich embroidery arts, applique and mirror work from different communities such as the Ahir, Rabari, Chaudhury Patel and many others from the western part of India online.

The exhibition conducted by Salar Jung Museum brings to light the Sherwani and its journey of becoming the royal fashion statement of the Nizams from 19th century Hyderabad. Fashion and textiles enthusiasts can revisit Colonial Indian attires with Dr Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum. Over 400 online exhibitions and stories sharing a total of 50,000 photos, videos and other documents on world fashion are open to exploration as well.

The ‘We wear Culture’ initiative highlights significant events in the growth of the world fashion industry; the icons, the movements, the game changers and the trendsetters like Alexander McQueen, Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Gianni Versace, Audrey Hepburn and many more.

– prepared by Durba Mandal of NewsGram. Twitter: @dubumerang

 

 

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Premature Babies Score Lower on Standardized Tests than Full-term Infants: Study

Very prematurely born babies did score lower on standardized tests than full-term infants, but as the length of pregnancy increased, the differences in test scores became negligible

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A nurse holds the hand of a premature baby
A nurse holds the hand of a premature baby, who was born at five months of pregnancy, at a hospital in Medellin, Colombia. VOA
  • Premature birth happens when a baby is born before at least 37 weeks of pregnancy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • The study found that two-thirds of those born at only 23 or 24 weeks were ready for kindergarten on time
  • The study also showed that almost 2 percent of those infants later achieved gifted status in school

June 14, 2017: A study following more than 1.3 million premature babies born in Florida found that two-thirds of those born at only 23 or 24 weeks were ready for kindergarten on time, and almost 2 percent of those infants later achieved gifted status in school.

Such very prematurely born babies did score lower on standardized tests than full-term infants, but as the length of pregnancy increased, the differences in test scores became negligible, according to the study, conducted by Northwestern University and published on Monday in JAMA Pediatrics medical journal.

“What excites me about this study is that it changes the focus for the clinician and families at the bedside from just focusing on the medical outcomes of the child to what the future educational outcomes might be for a child born early,” Craig Garfield, the first author of the study and an associate professor of pediatrics and medial social sciences at Northwestern Medicine, said in a statement.

Researchers analyzed the school performance of 1.3 million infants born in Florida from 1992 to 2002 who had a fetal development term of 23 to 41 weeks and who later entered the state’s public schools between 1995 and 2012.

They found that babies born at between 23 and 24 weeks tended to have normal cognitive functions later in life, with 1.8 percent of them even achieving gifted status in school.

ALSO READ: Treatment with Uterine Fibroids helps restoring Fertility in Women

During the time period the study covered, 9.5 percent of children statewide were considered gifted.

Premature birth happens when a baby is born before at least 37 weeks of pregnancy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

A normal pregnancy term is around 40 weeks, and a preterm birth can lead to serious medical problems, underdevelopment in early childhood or death for the infant.

The study does not account for why these extremely premature infants later performed well in school, Garfield said in the statement, and did not look at whether their success could be related to extra support from family or schools, or the children’s biological make-up. (VOA)