Saturday, January 15, 2011

INDONESIA - How Convicted Terrorists’ Children and Families Live With the Consequences

In the Name of the Father

Like father, like son could not be more appropriate to describe how children of some convicted terrorists dream to follow in their footsteps and one day become holy warriors.

Nusaibah, 15, the eldest child of Abdul Ghoni, who was sentenced to life imprisonment for his involvement in the 2002 Bali bombings, has no doubts about wanting to be a mujahid [holy warrior]. “That’s what all Muslims are supposed to do; fight on the right path according to the religion,” he says.

Nusaibah has been separated from his father since 2003 and lives with his mother and sister in Karanganyar, Central Java, where he is studying at an Islamic boarding school.

“I don’t have any problems with my neighbors, I do have friends at school and I don’t really care about any stigma affecting terrorists’ children because I’m proud of my father,” he says.

Separately, the fourth daughter of Joko Handolah, a k a Joko Purwanto, who was detained for his involvement in an armed paramilitary group in Aceh, says she has nothing but vitriol for Densus 88, the police antiterror squad that arrested her father last year.

“I hate them, they are evil. My father is a good man,” she says, not wanting to be identified. “Let God punish them with painful punishments in the hereafter.”

Joko was arrested at his workshop in Solo in May. His daughter was returning home from school when she saw Densus 88 officers apprehending him.

“I ran home and cried into my mother’s arms. But then mom told me that my father will be fine — his faith was being tested by God — and she also told me to proud of him. And I am proud of him,” she says.

Joko has six daughters and a son from his second marriage. Since his arrest, his wife has been trying to support the family by selling honey.

Aulia Syahidah lives with her 1-year-old daughter and elderly mother in Boyolali, Central Java. Aulia is the wife of Joko Sulistyo, who was arrested in March for his involvement in the Aceh paramilitary group, and also happens to be the sister of Amrozi, who was executed in 2009 for his key role in the 2002 Bali bombings.

She says she continues to receive threats ever since her husband was arrested.

“I often get anonymous letters, mostly telling me to leave my home, my faith. And there’s also one letter that told me to leave my husband,” she says.

“The most cruel letter I’ve ever received was about two months ago. It said my husband was a playboy, and they also said they planned to kill my husband and take his skull and heart.”

The field where Aulia plants vegetables was also vandalized recently, right before harvest. She says that some of her neighbors refuse to talk to her.

But in spite of the continuing harassment and threats, Aulia says she has no intentions of moving away and is planning to stay in Boyolali until her husband is released from prison.

Protecting the Children

Arist Merdeka Sirait, head of the National Commission for Child Protection (Komnas Anak), says the children of convicted terrorists should be afforded special attention to protect their rights and address their psychological needs.

“They also have the basic right to an education, playgrounds, security, etc., just like any other normal child,” he says.

According to Arist, the state should be responsible for the well-being of the children until they reached 18 years of age, including shielding them from persecution. “These children could be victims of discrimination and stigma for what their fathers have done, and we should all protect them from this discrimination, which could adversely affect their psychological and mental growth,” he says.

Asvi Warman Adam, a historian from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), says the fate that befell the children of suspected communists and supporters of the botched coup attempt in 1965 should not be repeated with the children of convicted terrorists. “It’s different era. Since the reforms, discrimination has been rolled back and the government should be on the front line in efforts to guarantee that discrimination does not happen again,” he says.

Asvi says that although they experience discrimination in their local communities, “discrimination from the state should not be a threat to them.”

Harry Hikmat, head of children’s services at the Ministry of Social Affairs, says special programs have been set up to support the children of convicted terrorists. “We realize that if they are not handled properly by the state, they could become a threat in the future because they may want to become like their fathers,” he says.

Harry says that the ministry has specific policies to deal with children who have special needs — orphans, the homeless, the abandoned, those with disabilities, youths in trouble with the law and those in need of special protection.

“And the terrorists’ children fall under the category of children in need of special protection, with social workers in 25 regions across Indonesia according them full-time protection,” he says.

The social workers, he adds, keep the children company, provide counseling and help protect their rights. They are also tasked with approaching members of the community to help prevent discrimination. But Harry says the most important thing is for the social workers to help build up the confidence of the children and to provide psychological balance in their lives.

“We’re trying to avoid creating new terrorist networks, as these children live in the same environments and share the perceptions about becoming mujahid,” he says.

The Social Affair Ministry has set aside funds for annual scholarships of Rp 1.5 million ($165) for each child, which are set to be disbursed for the first time this year. But only children officially registered with the ministry are eligible for the funds.

“We are open to anyone who has information about children in need, and sometimes we even get information from the media,” Harry says.

But at the same time, he also warns the media against exploiting the children, causing further psychological damage.

Rejecting the State

But Sri Ida Royani, Joko Handolah ’s wife, has rejected the scholarship scheme out of hand.

“I don’t think I need any government assistance for my children,” she says, “fortune comes from God, not from the government. Aside from that, I’m not sure whether the funds are halal [permissible under Islam].”

Sri Ida says that while she does not hate the government for arresting her husband, she will not support it. “As long as our government is still running the country not based on Islamic Shariah laws, that means that me and my family won’t side with the government,” she says.

Aulia echoes Sri Ida’s sentiments, saying that she has both the means and capability to look after her daughter. “I don’t think I need government handouts,” she says.

Some charity foundations, mostly linked to hard-line Muslim figures or groups, are also sending aid to the families of detained terrorist suspects and convicts. The funds are meant to help families cope with rent and living costs while the breadwinner is absent. Some aid is also given in the form of loans to help families set up small businesses.

Harry says that while he understands it is not easy for families to accept assistance from the government, patience would yield results.

Hope on the Horizon

Nurul Huda, a terrorism expert, says it is important the government does give up. “There are many ways to help these children,” he says.

The government, he says, needs to understand that these children come from a different environment with a “special” perspective on life. “There should be an institution or someone who can come and help give them a new perspective on life — a better and more convincing one,” he says.

According to Nurul, the children of terrorist convicts, especially the young ones, are the “true victims” of their fathers’ deeds because they are the ones left to face the consequences.

“We are talking about children who’ve been living in an environment that taught them to do just the same as their father, so no wonder they share the same aspirations,” he says.

“Sometimes, if you hear them saying they want to be just like their father, you must understand that it’s probably not what they really want, but it’s because that’s all they’ve been taught.”

Nurul also believes Densus 88 needs to make changes to its operations, because many raids have been carried out in the presence of family members.

“This triggers the children’s hatred toward the police, and this will not solve the problem,” he says. “We cannot fight violence with more violence.”
Ronna Nirmala Jakarta Globe

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