Mom vs. ISIS: Indonesian Student Torn About Going To Syria

Teuku Akbar Maulana, saved from ISIS
Teuku Akbar Maulana, saved from ISIS
Ade Irmansyah

JAKARTA â€" Teuku Akbar Maulana, 17, is from the westernmost Indonesian province of Aceh. He was a brilliant student and was offered a scholarship to study in Turkey. Akbar left for the Turkish city of Kayseri in 2013 to attend the International Imam Khatip High School but grew tired of it after a few months.

"We were studying something that I had learned before so I wasn’t getting what I wanted," he says.

Bored, Akbar, who was 15 at the time, started to spend more time on social media, including Facebook. His feed was flooded with brutal videos of what was going on in neighboring Syria. There was even a post from his Indonesian friend, Yazid, proudly carrying an AK-47 rifle. Yazid had joined terror group ISIS.

Akbar says he found ISIS quite alluring at the time. "They have a slogan: "This is the land of men". So indirectly they want to say, you're not a man if you are not here. So we feel challenged. And a teenager needs a challenge," he says.

The stream of videos from Syria made Akbar want to cross the border into the country to join the extremist group even though he knew little about ISIS or what was happening in the Middle East at the time.

Akbar searched for someone to take him to the Syrian border. He met Noor Huda Ismail, an Indonesian terrorism expert, in a kebab shop in 2014, hoping he would help him. As they got talking in his native Indonesian tongue, Akbar remembered what his parents told him, especially his mother who had expressly forbidden him from going to Syria.

"The most important thing was that I thought of my parents, especially my mother. What if I went there and then died? Regardless of whether God receives us or not, our parents would be so sad. Then I was thinking whether that was right according to God or not, about how God could bless us when our parents wouldn’t," Akbar remembers.

Akbar canceled his trip to Syria and returned home, where he joined Ismail on a different project â€" making a documentary film entitled Jihad Selfie.

Speaking from Jakarta, Ismail says that ISIS is increasingly using social media like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube to recruit new members. The militant group targets impressionable teens, he says: "Those children are smart, knowing very well the Koran, but they’re also tempted by ISIS. On social media there are evocative images of masculinity that encourage them to join."

Ismail estimates that around 500 Indonesians have joined ISIS in Syria. To prevent more from joining the jihadist group, parents need to speak to their children, he says.

"The emotional connection and happiness within the family can beat social media. So if there are problems on social media, children can get a second opinion from their parents," says Ismail.

"Unlike Akbar, three people who went to Syria, they were looking for a father figure. One was not close to his father, who is soldier, one of the boy’s father died and another was a victim of polygamy," Ismail says.

Today Akbar has a different understanding of jihad. He wins sporting competitions and has written his first book entitled, Boys Beyond the Light, about how he was tempted to join ISIS but decided against it.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!