This is a piece that I am working on about the terrorism that has been occuring in Indonesia over the past couple of years. the more I learn, the more i realize how crucial this country of Indonesia really is. It’s an amazing society that is changing so fast in its fledgeling democracy, there are these incredibly important issues that have to be solved, and it’s happening through that democracy, with incredibly passionate and intelligent people. Of course, there are those that want the change to come about in less ideal ways, as well… I truly believe Indonesia has to be successful.
Here’s a good supplement article from today’s IHT:
| The Associated Press
Published: October 9, 2006
Violence and terror erupted in October, 2002, on the idealistic and peaceful island of Bali in equatorial South East Asia. Kuta beach was struck by car bombs that killed many tourists as well as local Indonesians. Since then, there have been annual terrorist bombings in Indonesia, and suicide bombers struck Bali once again in October 2004, killing 15 Indonesians and 5 foreigners.
Watching on my TV in the cool autumn of 2002 in Minnesota, it was impossible for me to conceive of the causes, let alone the meaning and implications, of what was taking place. Placing it within the context of the WTC attacks of 9-11 seemed to make the events more understandable in the popular media. While the trend is in part related to a global movement, it is also very local to Indonesia. I never guessed that I would find myself, four years later, in the same country that was briefly highlighted by the media as a hotspot in a growing network of global terrorism.
Now, at the anniversary of that first bombing and the bombings that have followed almost annually here, the â€œwar against terrorâ€ continues, and Indonesia once again flashes across the televisions of America. What is really happening in this massive country, with its hundreds of languages, thousands of Islands, and millions and millions of citizens? Indonesia is, in fact, the worldâ€™s fourth largest population with about 222 million people, 88% of which make up the single largest Islamic population. Its Islam is unique to that of others in the world; immediately associating it with that of the Middle East is a fallacy. There is, however, a fundamentalist and even radical movement within South East Asiaâ€™s Islam. What is happening here in Indonesia is important and has implications for the United States and the rest of the world.
Traditionally, the Islam of Indonesia is moderate, similar to its peaceful neighbor Malaysia. Both countries practice a form of democracy, and both have pluralistic societies. Indonesia, unlike Malaysia, is not an Islamic state; while God is recognized in the stateâ€™s philosophy, Islamic law is not a part of the countryâ€™s laws.
A military coup took over the young democracy in the 1960â€™s, ousting the first president Sukarno and replacing him with an authoritarian oligarchy led by president Suharto. This, the New Order regime, lasted until 1998, when the economic crisis and a rising social movement brought about the fall of Suharto and the â€œReformasiâ€ period.
While â€œReformasiâ€ brought a truer democracy, there are obvious benefits to the kind of authoritarian regime that was in power prior to 1998. In terms of the rise of radical groups, the most obvious is that the government does not exercise the same violent suppression that it used against many groups, including such radical groups, for many years.
Malaysia, in contrast, also has a pluralistic population with a Muslim majority. It exercises a much more controlled form of political democracy; while people can join political parties based on religion, they are tightly controlled, and the same structure has maintained power since Malaysiaâ€™s independence. Political organizations that challenge this status-quo are suppressed, though perhaps not violently.
With the fall of Indonesiaâ€™s New Order in 1998, the government lost much of its ability to control the political organization of its population. The scene went from a few, watered down parties to a cascade of political parties from the entire spectrum. Fundamentalists were not able to manifest themselves politically prior to â€™98, as in Malaysia and Singapore today, whereas now they can.
While there has been a huge increase in the number of Islamic organizations in the country, this should be seen in the context of the fact that there was zero tolerance prior to 1998. NU, Nahdatul Ulama, a moderate and progressive Islamic organization, is still the largest organization in the country by far. Muhammadiyah is another of the largest organizations, and is described as prescribing to Reformist Islam.
However, the ironic fact remains that increased democratic rights in Indonesia has left open a space for a fundamentalist minority to organize. It is not politically feasible for the government to simply ban certain Islamic groups based on fundamentalist teachings, but the government has also been criticized as not exercising the political will to clamp down on those groups that have obviously gone too far.
One group, FPI or the Islamic Defenders Front, functions as a private army. Although considered little more than thugs by the majority of Indonesians, are no longer off-handedly suppressed as a threat to the existing power structure. Until they break the law, and are actually caught, and the judicial bureaucracy actually functions properly, they and their agenda of violence in the name of religion can operate out in the open.
This is an insult to Islam, according to the majority of the Indonesians that I have talked to. This includes those at the Center for Moderate Muslim (www.cmm.or.id), a research center founded by former Religion Minister Tarmizi to promote a progressive and peaceful Islam in Indonesia and Internationally.
From my experience, this reflects the general sentiment among Indonesiaâ€™s Muslims. Lia, a political science student at the University of Indonesia in Jakarta, was struck with sadness as well as anger when she first learned of the first bombings in Bali. She also felt shock and even fear upon seeing the deaths of the people in her country. She is proud to be an Indonesian, as well as a Muslim, and is angered by the way that both her country and religion are portrayed to the world because of the acts of these â€œcriminals.â€ She says that those people have been brainwashed into believing that they are fighting for their religion, when in fact she believes it is a twisted version of the faith that is serving the political interest of a few.
Speaking with other Indonesians about their view of the terrorism that has erupted in their country, I was struck by the similarity of my experience back in the United States following the WTC attacks of September 11, 2001. Sari, a Catholic from the island of Sumatra, remembers how she, her family and co-workers congregated around their television sets waiting for news updates for several days.
The events contributed to a sense of national solidarity, but it also added to the very real fear of national disintegration. This fear is especially acute for the minority populations in Indonesia, which there are many. The country is no stranger to ethnic or religious violence, and they are very aware of their countryâ€™s challenge to deal with this pluralism in a democratic system. They all feared the possibility of further attacks, and she remembers the police and security forces that appeared all over the capital city of Jakarta in high profile areas. In many cases, these armed officers have become permanent, and people and cars are now searched before entering many buildings, malls or offices.
Indonesia today is a rapidly changing society and an incredibly important country in the world. Very religious while at the same time very dedicated to progress and building its place within the modern world, it represents a pivoting point in a possible ideological confrontation with global scope and implications.