Monday, May 24, 2010

The preventive approach to terrorism in Indonesia

The saga of "terrorist" hunting goes on in Indonesia. More targets are killed. More suspects' names are detected. This news coincides with the hotter news of chasing down those suspected of corruption. What a hard task for us Indonesians!
Many TV stations broadcast the drama of the chases, the arrests, and the shootings, as dramatically as scenarios in Hollywood movies. Of course, the former is more real than the latter.

Some Indonesian commentators, who appear in the electronic media, criticize this approach employed by our policemen, which is seen as curative rather than preventive.

It is true that shooting people is cruel. Some lawyers remind us that "terrorists" are also human beings who deserve humane treatment. They should not be treated like the objects of a hunting game. Consider too that they also have families and friends who watch TV every day. It is not hard to imagine how these friends and family members feel when their friend or relative is discredited in the media and chased by the police. Note that their children may want to take revenge.

However, what these commentators call preventive is still ambiguous. The Densus 88 anti-terror squad's approach is curative. No doubt. The team extinguishes a fire that is already burning.

A preventive approach is not the burden of the anti-terror squad. The preventive approach is a long-term task which should be shouldered by Indonesian society through educational institutions - be they formal, such as schools and universities, or informal such as pesantren (traditional boarding schools) or mosque groups. These institutions should give a balanced view of reason and religion, religious duty and humanity, dogma and history, and between the content of the scriptures and their interpretation.

Bear in mind that we have to be prepared to be bold when talking about a preventive approach, particularly with regard to any possible relationship between terrorism and conservatism.

Of course, conservatism does not automatically mean terrorism. However, terrorism is a violent act as a result of radical ideology, which conservatism often harbors. It cannot be automatically assumed that those who embrace a conservative ideology are those who agree with acts of violence.

However, conservatism often shares a "black and white", ideology which radicals wholeheartedly advocate and spread. In their rhetoric, they sharpen the division of people between believers and unbelievers. You are either with us, the believers, or against us, the unbelievers!

Think why the soil of Aceh, where sharia and conservative ideas found fertile ground, became the radicals' choice. Radicals hope that a conservative land is a safe place to exercise their plan. We, on the other hand, hope that they are wrong in that the Acehnese refuse to be dictated by radicals. Of course, radicalism is alien to any culture, except when a land is in crisis or at war. The crisis in Aceh is over. Yet conservatism is still on the rise there, like anywhere else in Indonesia.

Conservatism somehow gives room to the seeds of radicalism. In a heart where people are divided merely on their faith; where the line is sharply drawn between the faithful and unfaithful; where friendship and brotherhood is restricted by faith; and where a human being are seen as unequal due to his beliefs - the germ of radicalism can spread.

Unfortunately, we Indonesians over the past five years have not paid enough attention to the growing conservatism in the public space and educational institutions.

Compared to five years ago, wearing a veil has now become more of a trend not only in religious and public schools but also in traditional markets. Five years ago, when I went along a main road in Yogyakarta in the mornings, I still saw the hair of pretty girls in uniform riding bikes on their way to school. Now, their hair is hidden under headscarves, and they ride motorcycles. Likewise, in the traditional markets, such as the ones in front of the Prambanan and Kalasan temples, you can easily spot vendors with veils.

We Indonesians are eager to build more mosques, which are often left empty. Indeed, more and more mosques are being built in my neighborhood in my kampong in East Java and in my current town of Yogyakarta. Ironically, there is no significant activity in the mosques except for the call to prayer from the loudspeakers at dawn prayer time (maghrib). Children do not even receive religious lessons (ngaji) in these mosques.

Currently, President SBY is worried about himself and other Indonesian political leaders, who have become the targets of terrorists. He should be more worried about the current growth of conservatism, and the latent threat it poses in the long term for future generations.

Al Makin lecturer State Islamic University Sunan Kalijaga, Yogyakarta

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