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Putting Terrorism In Perspective
Dr. Terry Lacey
The Jakarta Post front page story Thursday 20th August expressed the concern that a role for the army in the fight against terror may bring back the bad old days of the Soeharto era for Indonesia. (Jakarta Post 21.08.09). But President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, about to take up his second five year term, is only reaffirming what is self-evident, that there is a role for the army, alongside the police, but in a wider civic context.
The lesson from other countries and of the previous decade is that when a government has to fight terrorism it must keep a sense of balance, and not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Here lies the challenge for the President and his people.
Indonesian democracy is strong and gaining strength, as proven by the recent general and presidential elections, with clear victories for the President´s Democratic Party and his Islamic coalition partners, with a clear democratic mandate to lead the nation for the next five years.
The Indonesian economy is strong and getting stronger, backed by a massive US$110 billion state budget. With 6 percent growth in 2008, about 4.5 percent growth in 2009 and a return to 6 percent predicted for 2010, plus high consumer confidence, falling unemployment, falling poverty rates, the best stock market performance in Asia and a healthy bond market, including outstanding success for Islamic bonds.
Many Western and ASEAN leaders would be over the moon if their countries had done half as well, but they did not, and suffered recession and contraction.
But the process of development, of building a nation and financing its infrastructure and industry, is above all a question of confidence. The foreign investors and foreign community will stay confident in the nation provided the nation stays confident in itself. So the bombers, and the aftermath to their destruction, must not be allowed to throw Indonesia off balance. Balance comes primarily from a good sense of perspective, as well as wise leadership.
So there are perhaps key three points at this moment to bear in mind to retain the confidence of 235 million, primarily Muslim, Indonesian people.
First to assure them that there is no unique or pervasively evil streak of violence in Islam that makes it different from other religions.
When I first studied political violence at the University of the West Indies I studied a group of Rastafarians who divided their African Reform Church congregation into black snipers, black smashers and black bombers. They were inspired to poison the public water supply of Kingston Jamaica by a misinterpretation of the book of Revelations in the Holy Bible. You cannot judge the vast majority of Christians or Rastafarians by what these people believed or did.
The excesses of the Sendero Luminoso in Peru or the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia attest to dreadful violence and political extremism in utter contrast to socialist-influenced Western Europe or the stability and friendship of our ASEAN neighbors in Vietnam, the Lao PDR and China.
All religions and political ideologies can be misused by extremists and sadly Islam is no exception, but it is also no worse than any other.
Wise leadership, economic prosperity and sensible security policies can usually solve and contain these problems, but due to the diversity of human personalities and interactions with religion and ideology there will always be risks, often reflecting historical and global trends.
If political leaders cannot deliver, and too many sufferers suffer, then the risks go up. This is elementary. A global recession and downturn is a dangerous time and can destabilize nations.
Second, it is important specifically for Muslims, not only in Indonesia, but globally, to retain a sense of confidence in the future. A process of Muslim modernization is under way throughout the world. This largely brings economic, social and political changes but is bound to include some conflicts with those excluded from, or opposed, to these changes.
Economic exclusion may account for most of their motivation, but the historical struggle between negatively narrower and positively broader universalistic Islamic traditions is not new. What Indonesia is experiencing now may be better understood in a cyclical historical perspective, whereby younger radicals, from time to time, are activated or inspired by foreign ideas.
Islam is much younger that the Christian religion and we may hope that the Muslim reformation - that is the global change in Muslim culture to adapt to modernity, democracy and a new compromise between spirituality and materialism, may work itself out much faster and comparatively less violently.
What we learned from history was that the politicization of religious differences, instead of mutual respect, can be highly destructive.
It is clear that the Indonesian public is coming to terms with a longer struggle against terrorism than they first thought, with roots in Indonesian history as well as links with current global trends and therefore with other countries. The main solutions are at home, but cannot be divorced from the need for solutions abroad to deal with sources of funds and inspiration.
Indonesian counter-terrorism strategy so far has been relatively successful, including the efforts to re-educate or ‘deradicalize’ arrested and convicted militants. (See Petrus Golose, Deradicalization for Terrorism, 2009).
What has come as a surprise to some is the extent of the rural support networks that extremist leaders have managed to construct, often drawing on rural family loyalties. (The Nation, Bangkok 15.08.09 quoting The Straits Times/Asia News Network).
This points to the regeneration of family networks going back to the old Darul Islam (1942-1962) also known as the NII (Indonesian Islamic State) as well as the restructuring of or off-shoots from the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), (see the comments by Dino Chrisbon in The Jakarta Post Special Report (15.08.09).
Even journalists are said to be nervous of covering religious issues (see the comments of Endy Bayuni, chief editor of The Jakarta Post and references to the recent book released by the Indonesian Center for Religious Freedom, “Blind Spot: When Journalists Don’t Get Religion”). (see the Post 20.08.09).
This brings us back to the role of the army in support of the police and the civil power rather than in any undermining of democracy. For example, the army clearly has a role in policing porous borders in this huge archipelago especially its links with the southern Philippines and southern Thailand.
Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono has shown an impressive grasp of the importance of non-military defense. I recollect him sending a staff member with a welcome donation to support a series of seminars on the importance of sharia banking as a means of financing social infrastructure and small enterprise to help tackle urban and rural poverty.
Similarly I had the chance to ask SBY in his first election campaign about security policy and he rightly emphasized a holistic approach to economic and social reform complemented by security measures rather than over-emphasis on security policy, a trap into which some countries have fallen, but not Indonesia.
To avoid this mistake several steps are needed and welcome.
First the President should continue to emphasize, as he did to me five years or so ago, and as he is doing now, that Indonesia should not and does not need to return to the bad old days in order to defeat terrorism, even though the country may now be in for a longer haul than first thought.
Second it is desirable, as recommended by Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono, that there should be a new set of regulations setting out the legitimate role of the TNI (the Indonesian Army) in the battle against terrorism and in support of the police and the civil power, not to usurp or undermine it, but to protect it. This should include, for example, cross-border security, an intelligence review and sometimes, as has happened in Western European democracies, some military deployment to help give confidence at major installations or events, without encouraging an over-bearing military presence.
Thirdly and finally the extraordinarily positive sentiments from Max Boon, the Netherlands citizen lying seriously injured in a Singapore hospital after the Jakarta Marriott hotel bombing, expressed in his letter to congratulate President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on the 64th anniversary of Indonesian independence, sums up the kind of commitment which will ensure Indonesian victory over terrorism.
Such sentiments paraphrase in the present Indonesian context what John F Kennedy said to the American people at his inauguration. Think not of what Indonesia can do for me, but think of what I can do for Indonesia.
The best foundations for sensible and successful security policies, aside from clear mandates and supportive budgets for the security services, are to rely upon non military defense. Bring services, clean water, electricity and higher income to the people, and they will support democracy and toleration. Do not fail them, and they will not fail you.
Terry Lacey is a development economist who writes from Jakarta on modernization in the Muslim world, investment and trade relations with the EU and Islamic banking.
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