Friday, January 6, 2012

Local trends in Indonesian terrorism

Australia’s first academic conference on Indonesian terrorism was held at the Australian National University (ANU) early in December.

Entitled ‘Indonesian Terrorism in a Global Context’, the conference brought together researchers specialising in the study of Indonesia’s jihadists and scholars working on global trends in terrorism. The various topics covered, and insights drawn from related discussions, help build a picture of the current state of terrorism in Indonesia.

Rice University’s David Cook, gave the keynote address, tracing the history of jihad as a concept, first from its understanding in classical Islamic texts and then through its subsequent reinterpretation. Militant groups have used this later interpretation to help justify the use of terror as a tactic, and to provide a theological basis for suicide attacks in particular. Cook discussed the critiques of terrorist acts that have come from within militant circles, and argued that the most salient protest against terrorism is the rejection of indiscriminate violence against civilians, especially fellow Muslims. This critique is of particular significance because it undercuts claims that terrorists are acting in defence of the Muslim community.

Nelly Lahoud, from West Point’s Counter-Terrorism Center, examined the doctrine of defensive jihad, and how terrorists have reinterpreted this concept, especially those associated with al Qaeda, to be a duty incumbent on each individual Muslim, rather than a more diffuse collective responsibility. The diaries of al Qaeda operative, Fadil Harun, reveal, according to Lahoud, the essentially pragmatic nature of al Qaeda and the absolute primacy it gives to the doctrine of defensive jihad over all other aspects of religiosity. Additionally, she argued that the Arab Spring had dramatically undermined the jihadist project, because it grew as a democratic protest movement — rather than being led by terrorist groups — and was aimed at removing corrupt, repressive Muslim regimes.

Quinton Temby examined the murky relationship between Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and al Qaeda. He adduced new evidence of the close collaboration between key figures in the 9/11 plot, such as Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, and JI leaders like Hambali. Sidney Jones, senior researcher with the International Crisis Group in Jakarta, reviewed recent developments within JI, contending that it is now a largely non-violent organisation, but has the capacity to regenerate and provide logistical support to more extremist jihadists. She identified the successful police operation against the group’s operations in Poso, Central Sulawesi in 2007 as the ‘knock-out blow’ to JI. This operation, which led to the arrest of key leaders, pushed the organisation toward preaching and education and away from jihad.

Solahudin, an independent terrorism researcher, looked at case studies of two terrorist groups which he argues are unique: Jemaah Imron and Laskar Hisbah. Jemaah Imron, formed in 1980, was Indonesia’s first home-grown terrorist organisation and carried out the hijacking of Garuda flight DC9 Woyla in 1981. The second group, Laskar Hisbah, was involved in a series of attempted assassinations and bomb plots in Solo and Klaten, Central Java in early 2011. Solahudin argued that both groups mutated from being radical to terrorist because of the presence of a charismatic leader. ANU’s Greg Fealy looked at the nature and role of apocalyptic literature within Indonesian jihadism, paying special attention to the idea that the Antichrist (Dajjal) is present on earth and leading the forces of evil against Islam. For jihadists, perceptions of the approaching end of time — preceded by a cataclysmic struggle between Islam and its enemies — is a powerful factor in their beliefs about the need for physical struggle to defend their faith. Angus McIntyre examined the motivations of the Bali bomber Imam Samudra, contending that Samudra’s narcissistic personality led him to use terrorism as a means of disowning his own sense of humiliation at being unable to defend his community from Western ‘attack’.

Reflecting these international considerations, Curtin University’s Ian Chalmers also argued that a paradigmatic shift has occurred in Indonesian jihadism, and the terrorists’ ‘struggle actions’ are increasingly justified on global rather than local grounds.
Sally White, from ANU, discussed the case of Putri Munawaroh — a jihadist widow — and the reaction to her circumstances within jihadist circles. Despite reports that Putri wanted to die a martyr, White used analysis of jihadist web and blog sites to argue that Putri’s views on the virtues of martyrdom do not reflect growing radicalisation among jihadist wives in general.

A number of speakers addressed issues of disengagement from terrorism and deradicalisation. Julie Chernov-Hwang, from Goucher College, has conducted research among former jihadists and identified a number of factors that have led to individuals leaving terrorist activities. Most former jihadists cite the importance of building new relationships outside jihadist circles as crucial to their turning away from violence, even if they still ascribe to radical ideas. The terrorism researcher and journalist Noor Huda Ismail also discussed his personal experience of helping numerous jihadists disengage through productive work and by pursuing opportunities for broader social interaction.

By Greg Fealy Associate Professor at the College of Asia and the Pacific, the Australian National University. Dr Sally White is Senior Research Associate at the College of Asia and the Pacific, the Australian National University. East Asia Forum

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