The story of a sociologist who went undercover inside NII

Dewi Triana found herself sitting cross-legged in a small room listening to sermons denouncing Indonesia and exhorting her to help make the country an Islamic state. But Dewi wasn’t looking to overthrow the government; she was going undercover to learn the secrets of the outlawed Indonesian Islamic State (NII).

Indonesia is facing an identity crisis of sorts. Islamic fundamentalism is seen making inroads here, eroding support for the country’s inclusive state philosophy, Pancasila. People point to regional bylaws requiring Islamic dress and mobs of Muslims shutting down churches and closing bars as proof that the country is losing its pluralism.

It is against this background that the NII and the Al Zaytun boarding school in Indramayu, West Java, allegedly affiliated with the movement and seen as a breeding ground for radicals, have re-emerged as hot topics of discussion. The movement has been around for decades, but now its stated goal of establishing an Islamic state here seems someone more of an actual threat to some people.

Dewi, a sociologist who graduated from the University of Indonesia, decided to look beyond the headlines to find out what the NII was really about after a few of her friends were recruited by the organization.

She went undercover in the group in 2008 and 2009 and turned her findings into a book, “Mengapa Saya Memilih Negara Islam” (“Why I Choose an Islamic State”), which was released last month.

In the book, Dewi shares her firsthand accounts of the NII’s recruitment methods and details interviews with six former members of the organization. Perhaps her most surprising finding was that the NII is hardly the threat to the state that is portrayed in the media.

Book: Mengapa Saya Memilih Negara Islam’ (‘Why I Choose an Islamic State’)
Dewi Triana, Mizan Pustaka, 265 pages, In Indonesian

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