Involving family in the ‘theatre of martyrdom’: A conceivable imminent trend

By: Sylvia W. Laksmi

A deadly suicide bombing occurred in Indonesia last year. A family of six rocked three churches in Surabaya as suicide bombers including the youngest child who was only nine years old. The Santa Maria Roman Catholic Church, the Christian Church of Diponegoro and the City’s Pentecost Church were three places of which the Islamic State-inspired family launched their attacks by using a motorcycle and a car.

Because of this shocking incident, 44 people were wounded at the scene, and 13 people were killed, according to the police.

Experts might ignore the role of women involving in violent terrorism, but the attacks proved that mothers played a significant role in leading their kids into terrorist action. There is a cynical perspective even in modern communities that most women have more feminine outlooks than men so that people view women and children as victims rather than as active offenders. Therefore, terrorist groups like the Islamic State then propagate them with the new concept of jihad by engaging family members locally.

The involvement of women and children in the narrative of violent extremism is not new. Even among terrorist groups, they now modify their strategies to exploit women as their agents of movement, which includes committing them as suicide bombers. The decision to bring family members into terrorist action is one of rational parental choice from the family of Dita Oepriarto, the mastermind of Surabaya bombing attacks. They believe that by doing amaliyah (the term of jihadist for self-sacrifice action), God will give them the highest prestigious rewards in the afterlife. This is their justification for their horrific actions.

The family is the closest linkage of socialization which imparts the value of ideology within the society. Parents are the main components who influence the behavior of their children including to whom they become loyal throughout their life.

In the end, if the parents choose to act on beliefs rooted in a violent radical ideology, soon after that, some if not the whole family adopt a similar way of thinking within the society.

In the Philippines, there is a great tendency for applying this strategy among terrorist groups including The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA).

Over the years since the 1970s, the trend of recruiting youth and children by the CPP NPA has been increasing significantly. They target the educated young people studying the country’s top universities by teaching openly the principles of Marxism, Leninism, and Maoism in schools and colleges. It is identified that those children who joined were primarily from large, disadvantaged, and rural families in areas of limited economic and social services opportunity.

However, besides the extensiveness of extreme inequalities and lack of governance in the countryside area, CPP-NPA also empowers its human resource by sustaining cadres based on the lifeblood of the organization. The vetting process of preparing the next generation of CPP-NPA is conducted in three stages such as spotting, social investigation, and actual participation. It covers the process of enhancing knowledge of political views and activities including the efforts of engaging the family members with the government officials.

Finally, the organization would be able to spot potential recruits as the next generation or cadres of CPP-NPA.

Against the backdrop of terrorism growth in the world, recently, Philippines has become a new hotbed of martyrdom theatre by IS-inspired groups, while the fifty-year old CPP-NPA movement continues to strategically destroy Philippine society from within families and government agencies alike.

The way Indonesian jihadists justify suicide bombing as the most rewarding activity in the afterlife could also be possibly copied by terrorists in the Philippines. At certain stages, the recruitment pattern in the CPP-NPA groups is an alert for the next developed concept of self-devotion of what has been done in Indonesia.

The government should be more aware of these vulnerabilities by involving the community to support and stop the massive propaganda done by the CPP-NPA among the youth generation in the Philippines as well as empowering women to be agents of peace for family and society.

Sylvia W. Laksmi is a Researcher and Ph. D. Candidate at National Security College, the Australian National University.

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