The Role of the Media in the Recruitment of Terrorists: Mass Communication and the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of Muslims in Indonesia


Project Details


This project examines the role of the media in the recruitment of members to politically-active religious organizations. Two mechanisms are crucial in this process: (1) long range agenda-setting that places a given topic (e.g., the goals of terrorist organizations) as an important agenda item for the public; and (2) short range framing and priming effects that at a given moment draw the public's attention to terrorism as a topic. To gain insights on this issue, this project examines how three divergent organizations in Indonesia interpret and translate an ideological struggle into objectives, strategies, and tactics.  Specifically, we examine how they use mass media, their own media (the Internet in particular), and interpersonal communication to influence the Indonesian government and engage in a larger struggle for the hearts and minds of Indonesians.

Primary Findings:

The study examined three archetypal Islamic groups (moderate, fundamental, and radical) to determine their objectives, strategies and tactics for influencing the Indonesian Muslim population through the use of various forms of communication. Specifically, we focused on three communication modes: mass media, movement media and interpersonal communication. One major finding was that mass media as a strategic persuasion tool did not produce significant direct effects for any of these three groups. However, media products were used successfully by radical groups in combination with cell groups, also known as halaqa, usroh, and liko. In the battle for the hearts and minds of Muslims, once a person is introduced to a radical group through interpersonal contacts or small rallies, mass media are used in cell groups as an indoctrination tool. Graphic videos of atrocities committed against Muslims, ideological articles in magazines, books, and pamphlets, and radio/television arguments toward certain ideologies convert and mobilize new members into the radical brotherhood. For this reason, mass media effects occur when mediated by cell groups, and in such settings can create powerful outcomes. But it is predominantly the interpersonal communication as practiced in these cell groups that has the most powerful effect. As a spokesperson for the radical group Hizb ut-Tahrir stated, halaqa was the most effective tool in their movement arsenal. Our second finding was that the groups that capitalize on the cell group structure were more resilient and faster growing than those that did not. Over the course of our study, the influence of liberal and moderate movements waned, whereas the radical group Hizb ut-Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) has rapidly expanded. The liberal group JIL (Liberal Islam Indonesia) is nearly defunct, and the moderate group Darud Tauhid is about 1/3 of its original size from the beginning of our study, where as HTI in 2003 had 5,000 members attending its Caliphate conference, yet in late 2007 it had 90,000 in attendance.


We employed reviews of articles related to our target populations. We also reviewed most of the artifacts both published and unpublished by these groups. Many of the materials were in languages other than English. We monitored web sites of our target groups and developed a list of email addresses of participants of those web sites - normally from blog participants. We then conducted an online survey of attitudes and behaviors of participants of the radical blogs and who attended halaqa cell groups. From that survey we selected 19 people whom we met in Indonesia and conducted qualitative interviews with about media consumption and attitudes about certain radical groups and concepts. The results of these preliminary research methods guided our development of survey questions that we included in the START's international surveys. We also conducted interviews with known experts from Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), as well as multiple interviews with leaders from each of the three groups of interest.


Project Period: