By Laignee Barron
August 20, 2018

A kindergarten in Indonesia has apologized after a “cultural” parade featuring girls dressed in jihadist-style costumes and carrying cardboard rifles caused an uproar, the Guardian reports.

At an event celebrating the country’s Independence Day late last week, the veiled girls marched in lines down the street toting replica guns. Images and videos of the parade in Probolinggo, East Java, quickly stirred controversy on social media.

Teachers from the school insisted, contrary to the criticism, they were not trying to “instill violence” in kindergarten students.

“We raised the theme of the struggle of the Prophet to increase faith and devotion to Allah,” said TK Kartika kindergarten principal Hartatik.

Asked to explain the attire and the use of cut-out guns as props, Hartatik said the school had reused costumes from a previous function to save money, but did not elaborate on the original purpose for the outfits.

“[We] never thought about the impact. The important thing is to take part in the parade, that the children were happy, using the existing property,” Hartatik said, offering a deep apology for any offense.

The area military commander, Lt.-Col. Kav Depri Rio Saransi, likewise argued that the parade was about educating students on the “struggle of Islam,” not about radicalizing children.

“There is not the slightest bit of radicalism,” he said.

But the speaker of Indonesia’s parliament, Bambang Soesatyo, was less forgiving in his assessment, dubbing it an “inappropriate spectacle.”

“Ordering children to wear black veiled costumes and carry replica weapons gives a poor perception,” he told the Guardian, “Treatment like that could damage children’s ideas.”

The controversy comes as Indonesia tries to present a clean image as host of the 18th Asian Games, the largest multi-sport competition outside the Olympics.

The parade also follows a trio of church bombings in Indonesia’s second-largest city in May that were linked to the Islamic State. The attacks targeted Christian church services and were carried out by families with children as young as 9-years-old in tow.

For years, analysts have warned of festering militancy in Indonesia that could set off a homegrown insurgency in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country.

Write to Laignee Barron at Laignee.Barron@timeinc.com.

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