Posts Tagged ‘indonesia’
Late last week, I published an article with World Politics Review looking at the threat that radical Islam presents to democracy in Indonesia.
I particularly highlighted Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s timidity in the face of the rise of Islamic extremism. The analysis is based on trends in the country as well as a presentation given to the Fletcher School’s ASEAN Society by Syafi’i Anwar, a senior research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School and an Indonesian religious activist, who considers radical Islam to be “the No. 1 threat” to the future Indonesian democracy.
The full article is only available to subscribers after a period of time, but let me just mention two brief paragraphs to offer an idea of what I argued.
The evidence [for the rise of religious extremism] is damning. According to the Setara Institute, religious intolerance is on the rise in Indonesia, with a 30 percent increase in documented acts of violence and discrimination from 2009 and 2010 — from 93 to 135, respectively. Most of these have included attacks on minority religious groups and their houses of worship as well as incitements of hatred through public statements. For instance, since Yudhoyono came to power in 2004, Muslim extremists have burned, attempted to shut down or opposed the construction of hundreds of churches. They have also conducted increasingly bold attacks against the minority Muslim sect Ahmadiyah, with 50 acts documented last year alone.
The Indonesian government’s attitude toward these groups has been timid and even accommodating at times. Instead of cracking down on radical Islamists, Yudhoyono decreed the victimized Ahmadiyah sect heretical in 2008 and banned the group from converting fresh members. He also remained silent while Suryadharma Ali, his minister of religious affairs, called for the group to be banned entirely and while several provinces imposed further restrictions on the group at the local level. In a particularly vivid illustration of injustice, Indonesian courts doled out suspiciously light sentences earlier this year for Muslim extremists who, as part of a mob wielding clubs and machetes, killed three Ahmadiyah members. The state’s feeble response has only emboldened rather than accommodated Indonesia’s Islamic radicals.
The web link to the piece is here.
Last week, Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir was found guilty of terrorism charges and jailed for 15 years. The 72-year old Muslim cleric, which some consider the spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, the Southeast Asian offshoot of al-Qaeda, is widely believed to have inspired the deadly Bali bombings of 2002.
Though this is his third arrest and imprisonment on terrorism-related charges, the other two were much shorter stints while this is seen as a life sentence. The conviction this time was for organizing and financing a terrorist training camp called Al-Qaeda in Aceh, where dozens of militants were allegedly plotting to assassinate Indonesia’s president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
While Indonesian authorities deserve credit for effectively putting the country’s most notorious Islamist behind bars for the rest of his life, it remains unclear to what extent this actually stems his potential ideological influence on others both from within prison and beyond. In most cases, imprisonment tends to at least somewhat diminish the threat the prisoner could otherwise pose to society. In Indonesia, however, experts have long warned that prisons are not only poor barriers against, but good incubators of terrorism.
Last year, a report by Carl Ungerer from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, based on in-depth interviews with 33 terrorists in Indonesian prisons, concluded that some prisoners were actually contributing to a surge in violent jihadi literature while in captivity, and that a full 30 percent shared Al-Qaeda’s view of global jihad against the West and were immune to de-radicalization.
And as early as 2007, the International Crisis Group had warned that while Jakarta had achieved some success with regard to its de-radicalization programs and was beginning to address prison reform, more needed to be done, including establishing an on-the-job training program for prison administrators, addressing corruption, and increasing coordination between correction officials. Sidney Jones, the ICG’s expert based in Jakarta, has said that Bashir’s connections with some members of the Aceh group were actually forged during previous prison stints.
Furthermore, while Bashir the man has been in captivity since last August, the jihadist ideology he helped spawn has remained free to wreak havoc on Indonesian society, and will probably continue to do so in the near future. The appetite for high-profile, high-casualty attacks on ‘Western targets’ such as the Bali bombings of 2002 and 2005, the Australian Embassy in 2004, or the J.W. Marriot Hotel bombings in 2003 and the Ritz-Carlton hotel in 2009 may have dried up. But other more localized, smaller-scale manifestations of religious violence targeting institutions like the police and other minorities, whether by splinter factions or ‘lone wolfs’, remain a major concern as militants try to undermine pluralism and push for an Islamic state.
Since Bashir was taken into custody last August, mobs have continued to take the law into their own hands, slaying members of the Muslim Ahmadiyya sect which was banned in 2008, razing churches and beating Christians to death over a blasphemy case earlier this year, and staging sporadic violent protests against unregistered Christian churches, karaoke bars and other ‘places of immorality’ organized by local clerics. Such religious violence can often be a prelude to more radical acts thereafter, such as the case of Muhammad Syarif, a member of Bashir’s Jema’ah Ansharut Tauhid who blew himself up at a police station mosque in April, killing one and injuring 28 people.
All this suggests that while the most prominent face of terror in Indonesia is now behind bars, the country faces an uphill struggle against the many faces of extremism still prevalent on its streets.