Reports | 07 September 2011

Talib or Taliban?

In Talib or Taliban: Indonesian students in Pakistan and Yemen, the Lowy Institute, in collaboration with the Centre for International Security Studies at Sydney University and the Centre for Muslim States and Societies at the University of Western Australia, examines whether Indonesian students studying at Islamic institutions in Pakistan and Yemen pose a risk in terms of future patterns of extremism in Indonesia.

  • Anthony Bubalo
  • Sarah Phillips
  • Samina Yasmeen

In Talib or Taliban: Indonesian students in Pakistan and Yemen, the Lowy Institute, in collaboration with the Centre for International Security Studies at Sydney University and the Centre for Muslim States and Societies at the University of Western Australia, examines whether Indonesian students studying at Islamic institutions in Pakistan and Yemen pose a risk in terms of future patterns of extremism in Indonesia.

  • Anthony Bubalo
  • Sarah Phillips
  • Samina Yasmeen
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Key Findings

  • A drop in the number of students attending extremist institutions in Pakistan.
  • A significant increase in student numbers in Yemen, with most attending mainstream institutions, although a significant number attend Salafi schools.
  • Most students seemed to attend institutions in Pakistan and Yemen that reflect their pre-existing ideological or religious viewpoints.

Executive Summary

SUMMARY

This paper looks at the issue of Indonesian students who study at Islamic educational institutions in Pakistan and Yemen. Its primary goal is to understand whether this poses a risk, either in terms of radicalisation of these students, or in the formation (or reformation) of direct contacts between Indonesian extremist groups and counterparts in these countries.  The reports found that there has been a gradual decline in the overall number of Indonesians studying in Pakistan over the last decade. In particular, there has been a sharp drop in the small number of Indonesian students attending extremist institutions, notably Abu Bakr Islamic University in Karachi.  Whilst a number of factors have played a role in reducing Indonesian student numbers in Pakistan, tighter visa regulations and closer supervision of institutions with known extremist leanings also appear to have had a particular impact. In the case of Yemen, the fact that in little more than a decade Indonesian student numbers in Yemen have grown from perhaps a few hundred to some two thousand might ostensibly be a cause for concern among counter-terrorism authorities. Yet the report finds that the bulk of the Indonesian student population – over three quarters – attends well-established Islamic educational institutions with a mainstream religious outlook. A common theme among the Indonesian students interviewed was how Yemen reflected an attractive mix of exotic locale but culturally familiar Islam.  Nevertheless, the significant number of Indonesian students attending salafi institutions in Yemen – about a quarter of the total Indonesian student body in the country – raises a number of risks in terms of potential extremist connections.