THE suicide bombing of a police station in Poso, Indonesia, in June illustrates how terrorism in Indonesia has changed since the October 2002 Bali bombings. The Bali attacks used a one-tonne car bomb and killed 202 people. The Poso attack used a much smaller bomb and killed only the suicide bomber
This diminished lethality does not mean we should be sanguine about terrorism in Indonesia. Between 2000 and 2013, there have been 289 acts of terrorism in the country, according to police data. These cases, from plots and threats to church bombings, shootings of police and large-scale attacks have killed more than 344 people.
Among the 800-odd suspected terrorists police have arrested in this period, more than 95 per cent have identified themselves as "Islamic activists" who believe that terrorist attacks are legitimate acts of jihad. Many Indonesians still believe terrorism has no connection with religious teachings, although progress has been made in recent years.
It is difficult for Muslim leaders in Indonesia to admit that terrorism is linked to a particular understanding of religion, and some commentators are worried about making the link for fear of offending Muslims. Such an attitude is completely unhealthy. It suggests that Indonesians don't want to understand what's wrong. When we refuse to admit that the problem lies in ourselves, it means we look for outsiders to blame.
One motivation for me to write a history of the jihadi movement in Indonesia was to take on apologists for violence. That terrorism was religiously motivated was clear from the terrorists' own writings.
The Bali bombers Imam Samudra and Mukhlas, for example, frequently cited the Koran and the traditions of the Prophet (Hadith), interpreting these texts in a way that justified murdering women, children and the elderly.
Such an interpretation is completely at odds with the understanding of Islam among most Indonesians, for whom it is forbidden to shed the blood of women, children and the elderly. But the Bali bombers acknowledged that they followed the ideology of Salafi jihadism, - the ideology promoted by al-Qa'ida.
In the course of my research I discovered that such teachings had been around in Indonesia since the 1940s, even if they weren't called Salafi jihadism.
The group that promoted these teachings was Darul Islam, which wanted to establish an Islamic state in Indonesia. People linked to Darul Islam have carried out most of the violence in the name of religion in Indonesia, including terrorist attacks in the 70s and 80s. Jemaah Islamiyah, which perpetrated the Bali bombings, was a splinter group of Darul Islam.
Even today, many acts of terror are linked to Darul Islam members. Between 2010 and 2013, active or former Darul Islam members were involved in 50 terrorism cases. And one of the most notorious terrorist alliances today, the Poso-based East Indonesia Mujaheddin, includes a Darul Islam group from South Sulawesi.
If I could convey one message from my book it is this: ideology is important. We can't understand terrorism without understanding the ideology that justifies it. All Indonesian jihadi groups believe that every act of terrorism must be rooted in Islamic law, at least the Salafi jihadist interpretation of it.
I recently met an official from Indonesia's counter-terrorism agency BNPT. He told me the deradicalisation program for terrorist prisoners was relatively successful. He mentioned that dozens of prisoners had signed statements of loyalty to the Indonesian government and the state ideology, Pancasila. But if we understand Salafi jihadism, we have to wonder whether these jihadists have really changed.
Many Salafi jihadists regard their imprisoned colleagues to be in an emergency situation that makes lying permissible, even to the point of expressing non-belief in the faith. Others believe that one principle of war is deception, and that in any warlike situation, you are permitted to lie. Accordingly, most terrorist prisoners believe they can say anything the government wants to hear, in order to deceive their captors.
We also have to understand that Salafi jihadism is evolving. The ideology was formulated in the 1980s during the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. From time to time, ideologies undergo corrections and new teachings emerge, usually in response to the security situation or political developments.
We have to be alert to ideological changes because they can result in new understandings of tactics and targets. Even if al-Qa'ida and its affiliates seem to be switching their focus from attacks on foreign or Western targets to governments in Muslim countries, this does not mean they will not switch back one day.
To trace the history of the jihadi movement in Indonesia and the decisions its adherents have made, one must understand Salafi jihadism. Tracing the evolution of this ideology is also key to anticipating the development of terrorism in Indonesia in the future.
Solahudin is a leading expert on jihadism in Indonesia.’The Australian’
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