“Indonesia is the true embodiment of Islamic values,” Febri explained. He, then, compared how peaceful Indonesia is rather than the proclaimed Islamic State he visited in 2016. “It was a slaughterhouse. Heads were rolling in public places, and children threw stones at them.”
In 2015, Febri’s family, including his extended one, decided to move to ISIS. Their family was in the brink of bankruptcy, while his sister had a big tumor on her neck. From what they heard, going to ISIS would solve all their problems. The daulahpromised free healthcare, housings, and education without having to participate in any military acts — all under the just government who rules by Islamic law. Truly, it was like a dream too good to be true. And so, after selling most of their possessions, they left for ISIS. Febri, who was still taking his diploma education back then, was left behind.
Living alone was quite stressful for him. “I couldn’t help worry about my mother and sister,” he explained. After one year, he decided that it was time for him to go to the region himself.
All alone, he took a direct flight to Turkey by borrowing money from his friend. He then went to the border between Turkey and Suriah, going along with a group of muhajirins. “We were being chased around in the desert by border polices, and all of my IDs got taken,” he said.
After secretly smuggling himself to ISIS, hiding from other military forces, and was caught several times by Syrian jihadist groups, Febri was finally let go and able to meet his family. After they met, however, his mother got angry. “We were just planning to go back to Indonesia, what did you even come here for?” Febri said, imitating his mother.
It turned out that the paradise his family had been dreaming of was indeed too good to be true. His sister did got her tumor operated, but they were far from living a decent life. They were promised that they could choose to be civilians and would still have their daily necessities covered. In fact, the boys are urged to go to the army, and the girls to marry. They were told to wear black head-to-toe uniforms, but was told to buy it with their own money. Housings were inadequate. And, every ten minutes, the sound of bombings could be heard. They never did live a peaceful life as promised by the Islamic State. “They did not govern by Quranic verses and hadists. Everything they did violated Islamic values,” Febri said.
In 2017, after turning themselves in to SBF, the family was eventually able to go out of the country. For two months, the men were imprisoned and the women were sent to a UN camp. “Finally, it was over.” In August 2017, Febri and his family were finally able to go back home.
Febri’s family had sold most of their possessions to be able to afford a plane ticket to Turkey. After their journey, they were left with practically nothing to meet their daily necessities. Now, his family’s financial state was left worse than it was back then.
“The government did some deradicalization programs and taught my sister and mother to do household businesses.” Febri said. His mother and sister now produce homemade snacks as taught by the government. Febri, on the other hand, decided to work in an online media under Yayasan Prasasti Perdamaian, a humanitarian organization focusing on anti-terrorism campaign founded by Noor Huda Ismail. Through the organization, Febri constantly promotes anti-terrorism by spreading his story.
It was not only Febri who had returned to be an active campaigner of anti-terrorism after being involved in extremist organizations. Since over a decade earlier, Natsir Abbas, an ex-leader of Mantiki III, Jama’ah Islamiyah, a terrorist group of Al-Qaeda network in Indonesia, also decided to devote his time to facilitate terrorists’ families through deradicalization programs. After years of being involved in the group as a bomb consultant, starting from his teens, he finally found solace in a stable career while promoting anti-terrorism through an academic-backed institution, Division for Applied Social Psychology under Universitas Indonesia. Through the organization, he helped terrorists’ family members with counsels and entrepreneurial training.
“Being in an environment that would enable me to keep learning helps,” he said, referring to his career in an international company. He explained how, after he was released, people were pointing at him while whispering, “it’s that guy”. “When I was selling street side food to go by, there was a person asking me if I was Natsir Abbas”, he said. For that reason, finding a work was tough. Sixteen years after he was imprisoned, however, people in the streets don’t recognize him anymore, and he, finally, found a stable career.
Different with Febri who was only accessing online news, Natsir was making his way to radicalization from his teens, attending public preachings in the process. Najib Azca, an expert on terrorism network, explained how youths are often targeted by terrorist organizations. “They are more vulnerable. Psychologically speaking, they are still in the stage of finding and building their own identity. On the other hand, they are more easily exposed to media,” he explained.
Najib also explained how the numerous ex-terrorists turning into anti-terrorism activists prove that those radical extreme ideas can be broken. “There may come a time in someone’s life to look back and realize what they’ve done, thus deciding to turn on different paths — an epiphany.”[*]