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Why Successful Counter-Terrorism Can Beget More Terrorism?


Indonesia Since The 2002 Bali Bombings
Bilveer Singh


      While Indonesia has long experienced the threat of secular and religiousbased terrorism, since the 9/11 incident, it has been viewed as a ‘success’ story in managing the scourge. This is evident in the killing and capture of most terrorists associated with various bombings in the country since 2002 as well as pre-empting many others. More importantly, most of the terrorists have been tried and imprisoned. Still, by 2010, there was a resurgence of Islamist terrorism in the country and a new phase of warfare being inaugurated, with new leaders, groups, strategies and arms threatening to overturn what was achieved by counter-terrorism strategies in the past. Much of the resurgence and hence, ‘failure’ of the current counter-terrorism policies is due to the unbalanced concentration on ‘hard’ approach, with ‘soft’ strategies being neglected. Also, the tendency of the police to kill many of the terrorists has proved counter-productive, with increased networking among jihadists posing a new threat to the country’s security. While ‘hard’ counter-terrorism measures are necessary, they have proved insufficient as these have to be supplemented with ‘soft’ disengagement, de-radicalisation and rehabilitation measures, something gravely lacking in Indonesia so far.



     Due to the protracted nature of threat posed by both secular and religious-based terrorism in Southeast Asia, long predating the 9/11 incident by many decades, counter-terrorism policies have existed in the region, especially in the 1950s and 1960s. During the Cold War, countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines and Singapore experienced a spate of terrorism perpetrated by various communist parties and their armed wings, aimed at destabilising and overthrowing governments in the region. While the communists were largely obliterated after the attempted coup in September 1965, various extremist groups continued to operate in Indonesia, with terrorism often as a weapon of choice, especially by the Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (GAM) in Aceh and Islamist militants, best exhibited in the hijacking of a Garuda plane in 1980 and bombing of the historical Borobudur temple in 1984. Additionally, some countries were also victims of international terrorism. For instance, in 1974, members of the PLO and Japanese Red Army jointly attacked an oil refinery and took hostages in Singapore, referred to as the ‘Laju Incident’, as did four Pakistani nationals who hijacked a Singapore Airline plane in 1991 with the expressed purpose of freeing political prisoners in Pakistan. Religiousbased terrorism has long existed in Southeast Asia, especially in Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines with members of the Darul Islam, GAM, Pattani United Liberation Organisation and Moro National Liberation Front seeking autonomy and/or independence in Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines respectively (Singh, 2009, pp. 27-43).

     Against this backdrop, since the 9/11 incident, the threat posed by terrorism or ‘new terrorism’ has reached a new crescendo due to the nexus between national, regional and international terrorism. Even though no religion has a monopoly of religious-based terrorism (evident from Sikhbased Khalistani terrorist movements, Hindu-linked Tamil Tigers, Buddhist-based Aum Shinrikyo, Christian-based Irish Republican Army groups), what has come to dominate the Southeast Asian terrorism landscape has been Islamist terrorism, which will be the focus of this short brief (Juergensmeyer, 2010, pp.262-273). More importantly, as Indonesia is associated with the creation of the key regional terrorist group, Al-Jemaah Al-Islamiyyah (AJAI), it has also been the main target of its terrorism; hence, this study will focus on terrorism and counter-terrorism policies in Indonesia (Singh, 2007, pp. 50-99). Essentially, this study seeks to answer why successful counter-terrorism measures in Indonesia have not led to the end of the threat posed by Islamist jihadists.


Radical Islam in Indonesia

     Since Islam emerged as the dominant religion in Indonesia by the fifteenth century, it has played a crucial role in national politics. Historically, Islamic kingdoms such as Mataram, structured the political, social and economic order along Islamic principles and teachings. Islam also formed the basis of the nationalist struggle against the Dutch. Since 1945, the role of Islam has been strongly debated between those wanting to define Indonesia as an Islamic state, best championed by the proponents of the Jakarta Charter and those wanting a secular-oriented Republic as championed by supporters of the Pancasila state ideology (Turmundi and Riza, 2005; Zaki, 2008). Those championing the creation of an Islamic state fall into two main groups. First, those who have pursued peaceful and constitutional means, best evident in the Constitutional Assembly from 1955 to 1959, and by the Partai Keadilan Sejahtera and Partai Bulan Bintang today. Second, those who have opted for an armed struggle, championed among others by Darul Islam under the leadership of Kartosuwiryo and more recently, AJAI.

      With Islam dominantly entrenched in Indonesia by the fifteenth century, there have been attempts to ‘purify’ Islam by orienting it towards the radical course. Four phases are discernible, defined mainly by attempts to locate Islam at the epicentre of political discourse in the country (Wahid, 2009). As more Indonesians, through the Haj (pilgrimage) and study came into contact with Islamic centres in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, there were attempts since the nineteenth century, to terminate mixed (allegedly impure) practices in Islam and to follow ‘true’ Islam as much as possible.

      One of the earliest attempts to purify the religion took place in the Minangkabau region of Sumatra, culminating in the ‘Padri War’. This marked the onset of what was to dominate the discourse of Indonesian Islam, with the ‘modernists’, wanting to reform the religion in line with the Middle East; and the ‘traditionalists’ supporting the status quo, preferring to practice Islam in line with the culture and traditions found in Indonesia, especially in Java. The modernists eventually established the Muhammadiyah organisation and the traditionalists, the Nahdatul Ulama (NU), in early twentieth century, representing two key streams of Islam that have dominated and co-existed in Indonesia ever since. In this phase, Muhammadiyah, PERSIS and Al-Irsyad were the key purveyors of puritanical Islam in Indonesia.

      The second phase covered the period 1945 to 1965. Mainly under Sukarno’s nationalist leadership, despite challenge from Islamists, radical Islam was never given the chance to rise. This began with the rejection of the Jakarta Charter being included in the Indonesian Constitution and the eventual banning of the Masjumi Party in 1962. The third phase covered the period 1965 to 1998, embracing the New Order era under Suharto. Despite the Indonesian military’s initial collusion with various Muslim organisations such as the NU to crush the communists and marginalise Sukarno, eventually, by the early 1970s, Suharto adopted a hard line approach and succeeded in marginalising them.

      Since 1998, Indonesia has been in the fourth and current phase of the resurgence of radical Islam, where, through democracy, openness and the right to organise and express them, Islamist political organisations have mushroomed, attempting to transform Indonesia into an Islamic state. While Suharto played a critical role in sanctioning the rise of Indonesia as an Islamic society, the New Order was stringently opposed to Indonesia becoming a formal Islamic state. Since 1998, there have been concerted efforts, formal and informal, peaceful and violent, to formally transform Indonesia into an Islamic state.

      In Indonesia, the rise of radical Islam can be understood through a number of discourses (Mulkhan, 2009). First, is the literalist approach towards religion with religious teachings’ interpretation based on the written word. Arabs refer to this as ‘harfiah’ in command, meaning the supreme importance of the written word or huruf. Second, is the romantic importance of religion, with the unseen past viewed as good tradition and the ideal type that should be aspired. This is the basis of Salafism, the root source of modern day Islamist radicalism. Third is the view that there should be no new interpretation or ijtehad of what has been stated in the Holy Quran or Kitab Suci (sacred text). The opposition to new ‘tafsir’, exegesis or reinterpretation, is based on the notion that the Quranic text is all-supreme and sacred, relevant for all times, and the context in which it is being practiced is irrelevant. In short, the text is more important than the context or realm of practice. Linked to this is the sacredness of things Arabic, especially language, dress code, greetings, personnel and even experience. For instance, the Arabic language is viewed as ‘Bahasa Surga’, ‘Heaven’s Language’ or Luwa Khat al Jannah, largely explaining the leadership of people of Arab descent in almost all organisations

involved in radical Islam in Indonesia.

      Fourth, is the belief in ‘kebenaran tunggal’ or absolute truth, with any other view or interpretation treated as unIslamic and heretical. A believer of such ‘wrong’ views can be classified as an apostate or murtad, and regarded as a traitor to the religion. Fifth, is the practice of exclusivity and where working with adherents of other religions (Kafirs or nonbelievers) is considered ‘haram’ or forbidden. In fact, many Islamist hardliners will not even cooperate with Muslims who do not share their views, and where such Muslims are described as jahiliyyahs or ignorant, and lately, as thaghuts, evil people in power (“Ketika Teroris Balas Menyerang”, Gatra, p.87). This directly leads to intolerance of others. Sixth, the necessity to use violence (Jihad) to realise their beliefs. Radical Islamists believe that violence carried out for religious causes is just and legitimate, with martyrdom or syahid, the ultimate gain for those dying for such religious causes, including suicide bombings, with Syahadat (Paradise) their final resting abode. Seventh, the adoption of Islamist religious ideology in political discourse, with what should be adopted by the state, based on religious prescriptions. Eighth, the virulent opposition to modernisation and democracy, as these are viewed as un- and anti-Islamic. Ninth, and finally, the stringent stance that liberalism, pluralism and secularism should be totally opposed as these undermine the attainment of Islamic principles, especially of an Islamic state.

     What the above makes clear is that the ideologies of salafism represented by Wahhabism, Ikhwan Muslimin or the fusion of Wahhabism and Ikhwan Muslimin, are being aggressively propagated and infiltrated in Indonesia. What this is leading to is the Middle Easternisation of Indonesian Islam or what the locals refer to as Arabisasi Islam in opposition to Islam Pribumi. This has created an intense debate and conflict between those championing ‘Arabisasi Islam’ and ‘Pribumisasi Islam’. The essence of the conflict is the drive by modernists and conservatives to purify Islam of unIslamic thoughts and practices. There is also the promotion of monotheistic approach to Islam compared to the time-honoured pluralistic practice in Indonesia. The conflict between the two can also be viewed as an ideological difference between those who believe that Indonesian Islam should be approached as stated in the holy text and those who argue that the holy text is important but actual practices must be interpreted to suit present day era and context.


Indonesia’s Terrorist Pains

     While religious-oriented violence has a long history in Indonesia (Padri War, Revolt by Prince Diponegero, Kartosuwiryo’s violent attempt to create an Islamic State and the violence by Komando Jihad), the upsurge of jihadi violence since 2000 reveals that Indonesia has been unable to immunise itself from the rise of similar movements elsewhere, especially the Middle East. What makes AJAI and its affiliates so dangerous is its propensity to successfully undertake violence, almost to strike at will, including the use of suicide bombers, something which never happened in the past in Indonesia until the 2002 Bali bombings. This shows the influence of Middle East radical Islam, including the quest of syahadat through martyrdom. Some of the key violence perpetrated by AJAI and its associated groups (Singh, 2007, pp.100-118) include:

  • 1 August 2000: Attempted assassination of Philippines’ Ambassador to Indonesia. A bomb was detonated at his residence killing two people and injuring 21 others, including the Ambassador.

  • 13 September 2000: A car bomb exploded at the Jakarta Stock Exchange killing 15 people.

  • 24 December 2000: Coordinated bombings of churches all over Indonesia.

  • 23 September 2002: A grenade exploded in a car near the residence of an American embassy official in Jakarta killing one of the attackers.

  • 12 October 2002: The first Bali bombings killed 202 people and injured 300 others.

  • 2003: A suicide bombing took place in Jakarta at the J.W. Marriott Hotel killing 12 and injuring 150 others.

  • 9 September 2004: Bombing outside the Australian Embassy in Jakarta killing 11 and injuring 160.

  • 1 October 2005: The second Bali bombings killing 20 and injuring 130 civilians with three suicide bombers killed.

  • 17 July 2009: Bombing of Ritz Carlton and J.W. Marriott hotels in Jakarta killing nine civilians, injuring 16 with two suicide bombers killed.


Factors Explaining the Rise of Islamist-based Terrorism and Radicalism in Indonesia

    Many factors have combined to play a role in the rise of radical Islam in Indonesia (Singh, 2007, pp. 16-25, 51-61). These can be categorised as external and internal factors. There are two main external imperatives. First, the innate Muslim anger against domination of the world by the West in almost all aspects of politics, economics, social and culture. This is even the case when the West is almost totally dependent on others for resources and markets. Second, in addition to the West’s hegemony of the world, there is also the anger that the Muslim World is being dominated and occupied by the West, either directly or indirectly, to promote West’s interests and security, by disadvantaging most Muslims. This is best evident in the West’s aggression against Muslims, recently evident in Afghanistan and Iraq, the West’s enmity towards Iran and equally important, the West’s silence of Israel’s repression of the Palestinians.

    There are equally important internal imperatives. First, most governments in Muslim-dominant societies are viewed as un- and anti-Islamic, best evident in their unwillingness to accommodate and compromise with Islam and Islamic-oriented interests. Sukarno’s rejection of the Jakarta Charter, after initially agreeing to it, is seen as evidence of this attitude. Worst, many of these regimes tend to persecute Islamists, as was undertaken by President Suharto. The Tanjong Priok massacre in Indonesia, where more than 250 Muslims were shot dead by the military, merely strengthens this perception. Second, most governments are viewed as proxies or agents of the West, promoting their political, economic and security interests, including liberal democracy, even though it is socioculturally antithetical to Muslims societies. Instead, Islamists clamour for Sharia-based societies, not modeled on the West.

     Third, there is also anger and revulsion against the general late response to problems of injustice and repression by national governments, especially when interests of Muslims are involved. For instance, in Indonesia, the Indonesian Government repression of the Acehnese for more than fifty years and the late response to alleviate the sufferings of the Muslims in Ambon are pointed as evidence of this. Fourth, there is also the general belief that the Islamic community is facing a serious crisis of leadership and that secular-oriented leaders that tend to dominate governments usually harm Muslim interests.

     Fifth, the existence of democracy, and the openness and freedom provided by the new political system have allowed Islamists to openly champion their cause through mainstream media and politics. Sixth, the apparent failure of secular-oriented governments in power since 1945, especially since 1998 and poor all-round governance have provided Islamists with a basis to challenge the existing political system, arguing that Indonesia’s ills can be easily cured through a political system based on Islam. Finally, many Muslims in Indonesia also believe that since they constitute the majority of the population, not only are they entitled to power, but the power structure and policies should reflect the needs, character and orientations of the majority population, all the more, since the Pancasila state has failed to serve the majority of the populace.

     In view of these facilitating factors, the motivations for radical Islamic causes are many. First, there is the attraction of money and wealth, with many individuals and organisations, being funded by internal and external organisations to champion radical Islamic causes. Second, is the quest for power, believing that once state power has been grabbed, only then can a true Islamic society and state based on Sharia be created. Third, there is the continuous need for self-actualisation by individuals and they find solace and relevance in championing Islamic causes. Fourth, the belief that they are involved in the holy struggle to bring mankind, the Ummah (Islamic Community) on the path of righteousness and prevent them from straying away from the rightful path (perjuangan amar ma’ruf nehi mungkar). Fifth, the need to counter and react to what the ‘enemies’ of Islam, in and outside Indonesia, are perpetrating against Muslims. Finally, there are many who join such organisations because they are uninformed and can easily be misled by those leaders who propound radicalism as the only true path to salvation. In Indonesia, there is the notion of ‘ikutikutan’, of following what is said by the religious leader. This stems from the Arabic concept of ‘sanikk na wah atana’ or of being guided and 

following what is instructed by the leader (Sunarkno, 2006, pp. 43-59).


Why Indonesia’s Successful Counter-Terrorism Measures have Failed to ‘Clear the Swamp’ of Terrorists and Radicals?

     To Indonesia’s credit, it has succeeded in arresting and sentencing nearly 600 AJAI members, including top leaders such as Hambali (arrested in Thailand with American help), Mas Selamat (arrested first in Indonesia and later in Malaysia), Abu Dujana, Zarkasih, Omar al-Faruq (allegedly an al-Qaeda operative working with AJAI) and Abubakar Ba’asyir (who was later released and rearrested again in August 2010) as well as killed some of its key leaders such as Azahari, Noordin Top and Dulmatin. It has also executed three of the key leaders involved in the 2002 Bali bombings, namely, Imam Samudra, Amrozi and Mukhlas. Indonesia’s ‘success story’ is evident from the following figures: terrorists captured (563); terrorists tried and sentenced (471); terrorists killed (44); terrorists dying as suicide bombers (10); jailed terrorists released (245); terrorists still serving their sentences (126); terrorists being tried (61); and terrorists under investigations (31) (Kompas, 25 September 2010). Since then, seven terrorists have been killed with another 11 captured, mostly associated with bank robberies in Medan and Padang, Sumatra.

    Still, despite stiff laws and massive investments in counterterrorism, jihadists continue to be recruited and the flow appears unstoppable. This is evident in the non-stop arrests and killings of jihadists in the last few months of 2010 even though the arrest of 10 jihadists in Palembang, Sumatra in July 2008 was a forewarning of the continued presence of these ‘holy warriors’ in Indonesia. For instance, in February, the Indonesian security forces discovered a splintered AJAI network operating in Aceh, Sumatra, calling itself Al Qaeda Aceh, under the leadership of Dulmatin, involving 170 militants, of which more than 110 were captured and 13 killed. In February, police captured 27 and killed three terrorists. In March, Dulmatin and four others were shot dead and another eight captured in Jakarta. In April, security forces captured six men with close ties to AJAI, including Abu Musa, who was believed to be close to Noordin Top. In May, fifteen men were arrested in Jakarta, believed to be part of the militants who escaped from Aceh, and allegedly linked to AJAI spiritual leader, Abubakar Bashyir. Later in the month, another three AJAI terrorists were arrested in Solo, Central Java. In June, Abdullah Sunata, one of the most important leaders of the rejuvenated jihadi movement, who linked his militant KOMPAK group with AJAI, was arrested with two others with one killed. At the same time, dangerous first-generation AJAI terrorists such as Umar Patek, Abu Tholut, Upik Lawangga and Zulkarnean remain at large with many more new leaders emerging but are outside the security agencies’ radar screen. Beginning in August, highly-trained and armed men also began robbing banks in Medan and Padang as well as killing four policemen. The Indonesian Police Chief, General Bambang Hendarso Danuri has since announced the arrest of 31 and killing of 10 terrorists involved in the bank heists (Kompas, 26 September 2010).

     What the arrests and killings make clear is that despite the upswing in counter-terrorism policies by the Indonesian Government since the first Bali bombings in October 2002, the commitment to jihadi causes remain unswerving. While arrests and killings of its leaders may have dismantled the original AJAI group, like a hydra-headed monster, new jihadi groups, directly and indirectly linked to AJAI, have sprouted, posing greater danger to Indonesia and its Pancasila pluralist ideology, as the aim of establishing an Islamic State based on Sharia continues to be aspired. While there are peace-oriented jihadists who want to create an Islamic State through dakwah or preaching, at the same time, groups committed to achieving the goal through violence continue to exist. If anything, there is a split not just between the pro-bomb and pro-preaching group, but also between the pro-bomb groups. In the latter, there was the group (Tanzim Qaedat al-Jihad) led by Noordin Top which believed in suicide bombing, regardless of the cost (including to Muslims) and the one led by Dulmatin, which believed in targeted assassination, in order to reduce Muslim casualties. Still, their commitment to violence cannot be underestimated. Also, purely AJAI groups are now more difficult to find as all types of mutations are taking place, with group identity becoming less important and the mission to establish an Islamic State becoming more urgent, especially in the light of the successes of the security forces. This was clearly evident in the recent capture of militants in Aceh, Jakarta and Solo, where members from various groups seem to be coalescing, (practicing some kind of radicals/terrorist inter-operability) among others, disgruntled members of AJAI, those from Abdullah Sunata-led KOMPAK and Abubakar Ba’asyir-led Jamaah Anshorut Tauhid. Sunata, captured in Central Java, was planning to bomb the Danish embassy in revenge for a Danish newspaper publishing cartoons on Prophet Mohammad in 2005.

    While there are no simple explanations for the continued attraction of jihadism in Indonesia, one can conclude that there are a multitude of factors accounting for jihadi violence and continued attraction of jihadism in Indonesia. Most non-West etiologies about jihadi violence in general, especially in Indonesia, has blamed this on political factors such as the unending Arab-Israeli conflict and the West’s continued hegemony in the world, to social-cultural factors such as revolt against Western cultures, norms and mores, economic factors such as poverty as well as social issues such as injustice and alienation. Whatever the actual explanation, central to this is the critical role of radical Islamist ideology, calling upon an individual to do his duty as a ‘good Muslim’ and where the death and destruction is legitimised as a religious duty to help the Ummah and attain ultimate syahadat through martyrdom. Sayyid Qutb re-interpreted Islamic thoughts and traditions (ijtehad) arguing that the existing decadent order (al-nizam al-jahili) must be replaced by an Islamic one (al-nizam al-Islami) through jihad and only then can Muslims be able to live in peace and prosperity. Using a binary approach, Islamists view the world being divided between ‘Land of Islam’ (Dar al-Islam) and ‘Land of War’ (Daral-Harb) or ‘Land of Unbelievers’ (Dar al-Kufr), and here the first must eventually triumph. Still, despite successful counter-terrorism measures, a combination of external and internal factors account for the continued ability of radical leaders to recruit followers for the cause of jihad (holy war).

    While revenge is an important motivation, captured terrorists and extremists have also articulated the need to establish an Islamic State through violence as peaceful means have been exhausted and failed. Additionally, there is also the argument of perjuangan amar ma’ruf nehi mungkar which states that good Indonesian Muslims should invite and persuade other Indonesian Muslims towards the rightful path and not stray away from the holy scriptures and this can be undertaken by deeds as well as policies implemented by an Islamic State. Most jihadists have also invoked their involvement in violence as part of a religious duty against the enemies of Muslims in Indonesia and where this struggle is legitimised on grounds of jihad fisabillah or struggle in the name of Allah, especially against local authorities who are viewed as being anti-Islam and agents of the ‘Christian-Jewish Crusaders’. Violence against kafirs (non-believers,especially enemies) and jahiliyyahs (Muslims who have strayed) is justified and those undertaking it are viewed as holy warriors and martyrs if they die in undertaking such as a sacred religious duty. Radicals such as Tamiyyah, Qutb and Osama have consistently argued that the malaise of Muslim societies in the Middle East and elsewhere is principally due to straying away from ‘the path’ (as-sirat al-mustaqim) and problems would only be remedied if Muslims return to the original path as stated in Quran and Sunnah, except that the path is interpreted along the lines of radical ideology, including the use of violence. This is because in Islamist weltanschauung (worldview), politics and religion are fused and inseparable (din wa-dawla), and all problems would be solved if the ‘Islamic Way’ is adopted – in short, Islam is the only solution! 

     While the quest for jihadism was somewhat contained from 1945 to 1998, (due mainly to the tough, often repressive policies of the state), since May 1998, Indonesia’s democratisation has provided additional political space and opportunities for radicals to propagate their ideas openly in an attempt to capture the hearts and minds of the 90 per cent Muslim population. This has not been helped by the failure of governance, especially where widespread poverty, great income gaps, corruption, social injustice and blatant materialism tend to persuade many to reject the Western-based political, economic and social-cultural norms in favour of Islamic ones propagated by Islamic radicals. Interestingly, many youths and members of the middle class are beginning to embrace the Islamist ideology and if unchecked, it can lead to a ground-up paradigm shift, mainly in reaction to the failure of secular-based policies and misgovernance. The repression by the security apparatus against Muslims in the past and continued perception that the government tends to favour non-Muslims have also accounted for the rise of radicalism, with many prepared to support jihadism as a gateway for the creation of an Islamic State that would, in their perception, be just for the Muslim majority.

      In addition to the failure of governance, there is also the important role of transnational Islamic radical forces, which have succeeded in purveying their ideology into Indonesia as well as the massive funding that have been provided to institutions (mosques, madrassahs, foundations, religious organisations, etc.) that promote radicalism, especially of the Wahhabi and Ikhwan Muslimin mode. Here, the internet is widely utilised with jihadi-oriented websites successfully radicalising individuals in both Muslim majority and minority countries. The role of Saudi ‘Petro’ dollars, in particular, is a crucial determinant, channeled through charitable organizations, driven, in part, by Riyadh’s competition with Teheran for influence in the Islamic world. Also, foreign, mainly Gulf states’ funding for a flourishing jihadi-oriented publishing industry has played a vital role in propagating radical ideas to the masses with works of al-Banna, Qutb, Maududi, Osama and Zawahiri easily and cheaply available to anyone interested in reading them. In the end, radical ideology, including the legitimisation of violence, is ceaselessly propagated in educational institutions (state-controlled and privately-run madrassahs), mosques, social-cultural institutions, religious and charitable foundations, mass media, mass circulating publications and speeches of radical leaders, signaling that Indonesia is losing the ‘war of ideas’ to the radicals.


The Urgent Need to Supplement ‘Soft’ Measures to Indonesia’s Traditional ‘Hard’ Counter-Terrorism Strategies

    In essence, three factors, the continued existence of various problems and grievances, the strong attraction to radical ideology and the willingness to undertake sacrifices as a religious duty, largely explain why Indonesia continues to be threatened by jihadi-oriented terrorism. Like most societies afflicted with the threat of terrorism, Indonesia has adopted a wide range of measures to tackle the menace. This include killing terrorist combatants, imprisonment of captured terrorists, provision of financial and other inducements to terrorists to give up the struggle, amnesties, establishment of political dialogues as well as political concessions to meet half-way the demands to solve grievances that have made individuals adopt terrorism against the authorities. While these are important measures, by themselves, they are necessary but not sufficient to end terrorism.

    However, Indonesia’s experience with counter-terrorism has led to a new thinking that ‘soft’ measures are necessary as part of a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy. First, there is the realisation that Islamist terrorism and radicalism is a long-term struggle and is not about to end in the short term. Second, related to the first, following the 9/11 incident, the euphoria that all it required was for individual states and world community to launch a ‘war on terrorism’ and the problem would be terminated due to the finite number of terrorists, have been proven wrong. Instead, the ‘war’, if it is one, needs to be comprehensively calibrated as new recruits, for a host of reasons, are swelling the ranks of terrorists, and additional measures are needed to stamp the tide.

     Third, while traditional counter-terrorism measures have been somewhat successful, there is a quantum leap of people who are imprisoned and they cannot be imprisoned forever, all the more as radicalisation in prisons is becoming a dangerous breeding ground for dedicated and highly networked terrorists. Finally, states would need to solve various grievances and this include abandoning time-honoured policies of ‘no negotiations with terrorists’ as this can be self-defeating because eventually most governments would be forced to deal with the terrorists, especially if there are genuine grievances and abuses caused by the State. All these factors have led to the importance of ‘soft’ counterterrorism measures, supplementing, not supplanting, the traditional ones.

     Here, taking a leaf from how states dealt with terrorist groups in the pre-9/11 era, especially in Europe and South America, there is sufficient evidence of individuals and groups exiting from terrorism, renouncing violence for peaceful dialogues and integration into society, as was evident in Italy, Germany and the peace agreement that ended IRA’s violent campaign. Studies have shown terrorists may be prepared to reverse their involvement due to, among others: disillusionment with group’s goals, violence and leader’s behaviour; loss of position within the group; inability to take pressure of being hunted as a fugitive as well as tensions between loyalty to the group and family obligations. At the same time, the opportunity to exit from covert life; attraction of amnesty or reduced sentence for crimes; availability of education, job training and economic support; development of new social networks; longing for an ordinary and peaceful life; and starting a family, can lead an individual to abandon terrorism (Horgan, 2009, pp.17-29; Bjorgo, 2009, pp.30-48).

     It is in this context that if Indonesia is to enter into an endgame in its war with terrorism, then it would need to seriously adopt a comprehensive disengagement, de-radicalisation and rehabilitation (DDR) programme (Singh, 28 May 2010). This would include:


Using go-betweens to influence terrorists to abandon their cause, especially in prison and other counseling formats. This can involve family members, religious leaders, scholars, journalists, peers or even repentant terrorists.

Religious re-education where the terrorist is made conscious of what is in the Quran and Hadith, and how false theo-political interpretations had misguided him. Here, the important role of Imams, Muftis and religious scholars in the ‘war of ideas’, including acquainting terrorists with fatwas banning terrorism to alter their ideological outlook, must be stressed.

Mobilising repentant terrorists, especially those in leadership positions in the past, can be a critical ‘magic bullet’ in leading many terrorists, especially those in the lower to middle level ranks, to abandon terrorism.

Mobilising the family and peers to provide support, and a sense of belonging, has proved to be critically important, and something that has been used extensively to wean away an individual from terrorism as well as encouraging the individual to set up a family.

    While Indonesia has adopted, mostly on an ad hoc basis, some of these measures, they are few and far between to make an impact in ‘draining the swamp’. Some of Indonesia’s ‘soft’ measures include repentant terrorists such as Nasir Abbas and Ali Imron, being mobilised to win over dedicated members of AJAI. The national parliament has also endorsed a poverty-reduction programme as part of a pre-emptive strategy to deny recruits to terrorism. What is important is that the value of DDR will help to increase the government’s credibility and legitimacy, promote humane ways to manage terrorism, reduce the number of terrorist and extremists in the field and prisons, reduce violence, de-radicalise society, integrate repentant terrorists into society, learn more about why individuals adopt terrorism, as well as use terrorists who have abandoned violence to acquire intelligence and act as go-betweens to win over other terrorists in the hope of terminating the menace.



    As the largest Muslim nation and one with a long history of jihadism, one should not expect Islamic radicalism and violence to disappear in the near future. If anything, Indonesia has emerged as a cornerstone for struggle, where the successful victory by radicals would have a serious domino-effect on the rest of Southeast, South and Central Asia. Also, with the limited success of the government’s disengagement, de-radicalisation and rehabilitation of extremists and terrorists, the challenge posed by jihadism is a long-term one, something Indonesia’s neighbours, near and far, should brace for. What to do with the resurgence of radical Islamist ideology, especially in the face of the government’s failure to contain it, will emerge as a major non-traditional and asymmetrical security challenge in the coming years, something policy makers and the community at large must find ways to cope as it cannot be simply wished away.

    Here, the promotion of DDR is only meant as an additional ‘weapon’ in the armoury of States to fight terrorism. Unlike ‘hard’ measures, ‘soft’ ones can succeed in softening the hearts and minds of even the hard-core terrorists, especially when they are disillusioned, longing for a normal life and wanting to exit from terrorism. If adopted, DDR should be comprehensive, involving prevention programmes to preempt people from adopting terrorism, disengagement programmes to encourage individual to renounce extremism and violence, rehabilitation programmes to integrate former terrorists into society and finally, aftercare programmes to prevent recidivism. There is no one-size-fit-all strategy and no guarantees that DDR would terminate terrorism due to the danger of recidivism. Still, if terrorism is to be tackled from the long-term perspective, a new modus vivendi is needed, including addressing the root causes of why an individual takes up arm against the authorities. While terrorism and counter-terrorism require in-depth understanding of a complex phenomenon, DDR represents an additional tool that should be embraced and has proved successful in helping terrorists exit from terrorism in a number of countries, and only then can Indonesia enter into a discourse of an ‘endgame’ as far as jihadi terrorism is concerned. In the meantime, with so many armed jihadists on the loose and the terrorists launching some variant of an ‘urban war’ against the police, hard, traditional policies are likely to dominate Indonesia’s approach to counter-terrorism.



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