Saturday, August 22, 2009

Q+A-How can Indonesia tackle Islamic extremism?

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has said he wants to tackle the root causes of Islamic extremism following deadly attacks on two luxury hotels in Jakarta last month. The bombings shattered a four-year lull in attacks and came after the world's most populous Muslim country appeared to be tackling the problem of extremism by arresting hundreds of suspects and launching a de-radicalisation programme.

Here are some questions and answers on what policies Indonesia could pursue.


Some officials and analysts have said Indonesia needs tougher laws to fight extremism. Neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore still have colonial-era internal security acts in place that allow for lengthy detention without trial. While many observers do not favour such draconian measures, some think Indonesia needs greater powers to hold suspects.

"There needs to be a legal umbrella to give enough time for de-radicalisation to work," said Ansyaad Mbai, the head of the counter-terrorism desk at the security ministry, who labels Indonesia's laws among the softest in the world. The detention period without charge is seven days in Indonesia, while terrorism offences can mean the death penalty. But executing militants does risk making them into martyrs, with last year's execution of the Bali bombers attracting a big turnout of radical Islamists for their funerals.


"There's a huge capacity of terrorist regeneration in Indonesia because the ideological and supporting infrastructure of the terrorist network has not been dismantled," said Rohan Gunaratna, a terrorism expert based in Singapore. There are concerns extremist magazines, books and websites endorsing violence have been allowed to flourish, and radical preachers given too free a hand. There are also worries, that despite some progress, lax controls in some prisons allow militants to recruit other inmates


Some analysts say Indonesia should pay more attention to a few Islamic schools known to be centres of communication for militants. Officials say militants use some schools for "talent-spotting", although most analysts think closing them would be counter-productive and politically unpalatable. Noor Huda Ismail, a security consultant who previously attended the Al-Mukmin school linked to militant network Jemaah Islamiah (JI), said it was better to keep schools open so they can be monitored, likening them to "aquariums with fish".


Indonesia has a rehabilitation programme where authorities have tried to help former militants re-integrate. Sidney Jones of the International Crisis Group said the programme had been "reasonably successful" as far as it goes. "I think that it's important to underscore that the 'de-radicalisation' programmes are very much more economic co-optation than they are dealing with the ideology of jihadism and Islamic radicalism per se," she said. To have an even bigger impact, she said authorities needed to look beyond law enforcement and the prisons and examine carefully how and why new members are being recruited. The police investigation into the hotel bombings show the two suicide bombers were new recruits unknown to police. But there are also examples of militants returning to their old ways.


Fighting terrorism in Muslim majority but officially secular Indonesia is politically sensitive since it can be portrayed as fighting Islam. So far, de-radicalisation has been mainly a police effort, but analysts say mainstream Islamic political parties, schools and other bodies need to do more. President Yudhoyono has also said that the military should have a bigger role in fighting militants, although this has raised concerns given previous charges of human rights violations and atrocities when the army got involved in policing.

There have also been concerns different security agencies end up in turf battles. In addition, too much attention may be paid to the elite U.S.-trained Detachment 88 anti-terrorism unit, when more basic policing can be lacking. Some analysts say community policing needs to be developed so people will want to report suspicious behaviour, as local police are still widely distrusted and viewed as corrupt by many Indonesians.

By Olivia Rondonuwu

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