Student activists enlisted to fight radicalism on campus

The Jakarta Post, page 3, Thursday, June 29

For decades, the government has had a rocky relationship with student organizations, which were often viewed with suspicion by past regimes. In 1978 the New Order government issued the controversial Normalization of Campus Life (NKK) policy to ‘sterilize’ campuses from any kind of political activities.

In 2002, the Education Ministry issued a decree that strengthened the NKK policy, taking into account the need to ensure a “condusive” environment on campuses that is free from “political clashes.”

But the President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo administration, which is facing a growing threat of radicalism on campuses, is ready to roll back the policy, as it believes that student organizations could help it quell the threat.

In an unprecedented move, Research, Technology and Higher Education Minister Mohamad Nasir gathered representatives of student organizations at his office last Wednesday, which has been claimed to be the first formal gathering between the two parties since the implementation of the decades-old NKK policy.

The meeting was attended by representatives of the Association of Islamic Students (HMI), the National Indonesian Student Movement (GMNI), the Indonesian Christian Students Movement (GMKI) and the Catholic Students Union (PMKRI) and touched on numerous current issues: radicalism, nationalism, terrorism and drugs.

Nasir highlighted that student organizations were “partners” of the government in countering radicalism, an issue that has somewhat become a focus of the Jokowi administration amid a rise in sectarian politics triggered by the blasphemy case against former Jakarta governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama.

The minister further added that more forums were needed to set out how student organizations could be involved in anti-radicalism efforts, but saying that he was open to numerous options, such as revoking the 2002 decree.

Student organization representatives attending the meeting said they welcomed the proposal by the government to involve them in its anti-radicalism campaign, hailing the forum as a “momentum” to foster communication between them and the government.

Mulyadi Tamsir, chairman of the HMI, which has about 600,000 members and was a political training ground for Vice President Jusuf Kalla and former vice president Hamzah Haz, said that HMI has not been given enough space for years. If the government supports them, they will help it [curb radicalism].

While Chrisman Damanik, chairman of the GMNI, whose former members include the late People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) speaker Taufik Kiemas, praised the move by Nasir to invite them to help curb radicalism, saying upholding Pancasila was also a mission of his organization.

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