and Lecturer in Gender Studies, Department of International Relations, Universitas Jenderal Soedirman, Indonesia

Are Indonesian Youth Muslim Swayed by Russian Narratives?

Dias Pabyantara Swandita MahayasaBimantoro Kushari Pramono

2 min read

Propaganda is an integral part of every war, whether digital or traditional. Today, social media posts are created by a political entity to influence public perceptions to benefit public figures, organizations, or the government. They often contain a “partial truth” twisted using a particular perspective/narrative.

The patterns follow down to the Russia-Ukraine war in 2022. The Russian embassy in Indonesia consistently casts a combination of masculine leaders and pro-Islam narratives on their Instagram official. It is well known that Putin repetitively projecting his image as a masculine leader to the international sphere is his trademark. The official Russian account then echoes this, creating a more masculine leader image who stands up for Muslim oppression. Our previous observations revealed that the official account depicts Putin as a patriotic-nationalistic and militarized masculine figure. The patriotic–nationalist articulated as someone who possesses a high sense of belonging to the nation during wartime. At the same time, militarized masculine nuance portrayed Putin as one who is brave enough to wage war on the opposing adversary.

In addition, at the end of January 2024, the official account also published content announcing a meeting between Indonesia and Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs to discuss the situation in Gaza. It is interesting how the captions stress “discussing the Gaza situation” and putting “other important bilateral issues” at the end. It suggests a design to attract the audience’s attention to the first notion. However, the strong presence of masculine leaders and Islamic narratives on the official account is essential in understanding how the public caters to the pro-Islam image of Russia.

Resonate with Youth Community Voices

The above official social posts depictions resonate well with the Indonesia Youth Muslim community perception, where Putin is considered a masculine ideal-type leader due to his bravery in waging war with the West and how he stands up for the Islamic cause. To get a clearer picture, we conducted one online survey targeting young Muslim communities to understand better how the Muslim community grasps the narratives. The online surveys involved 315 respondents across the Java region who have or are undergoing formal Islamic education, such as Islamic boarding school (pesantren), madrasah, or students at Islamic University, who are 15-24 years old.

We found that Young Muslims who clocked more extended hours accessing TikTok and IG have potentially sustained a more positive image of the Russian invasion. It is related to the finding that they claimed to have been exposed to content that contained a message to elevate the positive image of the invasion by repetitively exploiting Putin’s bravery to wage war against the West as the deemed enemy of Islam. The youth community, in general, was susceptible to propaganda because their source of information for international situations was only social media with a low level of verification. In addition, our previous studies suggested that a pro-Russia narrative in Indonesia’s digital sphere is projected using Islamic Narratives and that these structured narratives are found at every societal level: official, popular, and grassroots. Hence, we consider the young Muslim community to be situated at the center of these notions; thus, it is also essential to bring their perception up.

An Alarming Revelation

The finding was alarming that there is a tendency for Indonesia’s young Muslim community to stop at the surface of an international conflict rather than dig deeper into the substance of the conflict. While the Islamic narrative is still at the heart of the point of view, there is no discussion of the humanity side of the invasion. We only found a trace of networks that discuss or express admiration for Putin’s persona instead of substantial discussion of the substance of the war. How the invasion affects women, children, or the minority, or even how the invasion affects Indonesia, is entirely out of the conversation.

The banal conversation about Putin’s machoism amidst invasion proves that there is an urgent need to put humanity back into the heart of the community. While Islamic teaching is very attached to humanity, the community needs a reminder of the vital part of the teaching. In this context, every war must be situated within the proper framework. That whoever is involved in the war is on the path to damaging humanity.

The Need for Digital Literacy

The catastrophic nature of war might blur the spread of information. Thus, a well-designed digital literacy process must be at the stand to ensure that the community is immune from propaganda or disinformation. Our survey shows that most respondents claimed to get propaganda content from Instagram and TikTok. Judging by its content nature, a short video that exploits visual narratives will get the message right to the audience. In addition, the content should also mainstream Islamic humanity’s point of view and educate the community on the devastating impact of warfare at every level. That way, they get essential messages delivered to them, and they get it the way they want, through social media.

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Editor: Moch Aldy MA

Dias Pabyantara Swandita Mahayasa
Dias Pabyantara Swandita Mahayasa Lecturer in Gender Studies, Department of International Relations, Universitas Jenderal Soedirman, Indonesia

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