Indonesia Backgrounder: Why Salafism and Terrorism Mostly Don't Mix
Indonesia Backgrounder: Why Salafism and Terrorism Mostly Don't Mix
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Report 83 / Asia

Indonesia Backgrounder: Why Salafism and Terrorism Mostly Don't Mix

One result of the "war on terror" in Indonesia has been increased attention to the country's links with religious institutions in the Middle East and the puritanical form of Islam known as salafism.

Executive Summary

One result of the "war on terror" in Indonesia has been increased attention to the country's links with religious institutions in the Middle East and the puritanical form of Islam known as salafism. Particularly outside observers but some Indonesians as well tend to assume that salafism is alien to Indonesian Islam, is growing by leaps and bounds, and is dangerous, because it promotes violence. All three notions are misleading. This report, the first comprehensive analysis of the phenomenon in Indonesia, concludes that most Indonesian salafis find organisations like Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), the group responsible for the Bali bombings of October 2002 and almost certainly the Australian embassy bombing of September 2004, anathema. Salafism may be more of a barrier to the expansion of jihadist activities than a facilitator.

The term salafism describes a movement that seeks to return to what its adherents see as the purest form of Islam, that practiced by the Prophet Mohammed and the two generations that followed him. In practice, this means the rejection of unwarranted innovations (bid'ah) brought to the religion in later years.

The strictest salafis in Indonesia:

  • are religious, not political activists;
  • eschew political or organisational allegiances because they divide the Muslim community and divert attention from study of the faith and propagation of salafi principles;
  • reject oath-taking to a leader -- central to the organisational structure of groups like JI;
  • believe it is not permissible to revolt against a Muslim government, no matter how oppressive or unjust, and are opposed to JI and the Darul Islam movement because in their view they actively promote rebellion against the Indonesian state; and
  • tend to see the concept of jihad in defensive terms -- aiding Muslims under attack, rather than waging war against symbolic targets that may include innocent civilians.

While some involved in terrorism in Indonesia, such as Aly Gufron alias Mukhlas, a Bali bomber, claim to be salafis, the radical fringe that Mukhlas represents (sometimes called "salafi jihadism") is not representative of the movement more broadly.

The report examines the rise of salafism in Indonesia, noting that far from being alien to Indonesian Islam, it is only the most recent in a long history of puritanical movements, and looks at the role of Saudi funding in its expansion in the 1980s and 1990s. As important as funding is the close communication between Indonesian salafis and their Middle Eastern mentors, most but not all of them Saudis.

Indonesian salafi leaders rarely decide issues of doctrine or practice without consulting their teachers. Laskar Jihad, the militia established to wage jihad in Ambon was forced to disband after one important Saudi scholar concluded it had strayed from its original purpose. The fact that the Saudi sheikhs most frequently consulted by Indonesian salafis are themselves close to the Saudi government is another brake on any attraction within the movement to Osama bin Laden.

A major split within Indonesian salafism is between "purists", who reject any association with groups or individuals willing to compromise religious purity for political goals, and more tolerant and inclusive groups willing to acknowledge some good even in deviant teachings. The "purists" categorically reject the Muslim Brotherhood and its Indonesian offshoot, the political party PKS, as well as organisations like Hizb ut-Tahrir, Jemaah Tabligh, and Darul Islam. Not only will they not interact with them, but they also reject funding from any source that has deviant organisations among its grantees.

Ironically, this means that the most "radical" of the salafis are the most immune to jihadist teachings, and the more "moderate", those more open to other streams of thought, may provide slightly more fertile recruiting grounds for the jihadis.

That said, ICG's information suggests that most salafi jihadis are not recruited from salafi schools but rather from schools linked to Darul Islam or JI itself; urban mosques; and areas with a history of communal conflict. The report examines the few concrete cases known of salafis who have crossed into or out of JI. Drawing on their own writings, it looks in depth at the difference between salafis and salafi jihadis.

More than ever, there is need for an empirical study of the educational backgrounds of known JI-members, but ICG concludes that salafism in Indonesia is not the security threat sometimes portrayed. It may come across to outsiders as intolerant or reactionary, but for the most part it is not prone to terrorism, in part because it is so inwardly focused on faith.

Southeast Asia/Brussels, 13 September 2004

Op-Ed / Asia

Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force

My four year-old daughter recently came home from her Jakarta kindergarten with a story about a visit to the school from the head of our local police station. 'If there is a robber and he's running away, the policeman will pull out his gun, fire in the air, and if he doesn't stop then he will shoot him in the leg', she recounted breathlessly.

I have spent 25 years working in and around conflict zones, including more than a decade in Indonesia. My reaction might not have been that of the average parent. 'That', I replied, 'is a violation of Perkap Number 8.' Needless to say, my reference to Police Regulation Number 8 of 2009 regarding Implementation of Human Rights Principles and Standards in the Discharge of Duties of the Indonesian National Police was lost on her. She thought the visit was great.

I had recalled Perkap 8 when re-reading the Hansard of the recent sparring between Australian Foreign Minister Senator Bob Carr and Victoria Greens Senator Richard Di Natale over the police shooting of protesters in Papua. But it is not just in Papua where questionable use of deadly force by the Indonesian National Police (INP) takes place. It happens across the country. And this was what Perkap 8 was put in place to prevent.

Article 47 of Perkap 8 says that 'the use of firearms shall be allowed only if strictly necessary to preserve human life' and 'firearms may only be used by officers: a. when facing extraordinary circumstances; b. for self defense against threat of death and/or serious injury; c. for the defense of others against threat of death and/or serious injury.' This is Indonesian law, taken from the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, and this is what should be used to assess police actions, wherever in the country they occur.

The fatal shooting on 14 June 2012 of Mako Tabuni, deputy head of the National Committee of West Papua (KNPB), in Jayapura, capital of Papua province, made Senate Estimates in 2012. The shooting of three protesters in Sorong on 30 April 2013, West Papua province, was mentioned in the testy 5 June 2013 exchanges between Senators Carr and Di Natale. You can watch it above.

In the first incident, detectives shot a suspect in the leg as he was running away and then left him to die in a hospital allegedly without making any effort to treat his wounds. In the second, police claim they were threatened by armed KNPB activists. Without more information it is difficult to judge if their response was disproportionate. Police always say they are shooting in self-defense, but it has become such a common excuse that it has started to lose its plausibility.

Cases outside Papua do not garner much attention in Australia, but lethal shootings happen all the time. On 1 September 2011 seven villagers were killed during a rowdy protest against police brutality in the Central Sulawesi district of Buol, a place so obscure even most Indonesians cannot find it on a map.

On 7 March 2013, soldiers burned down a police station in Baturaja, South Sumatra, after their off-duty comrade, First Private Heru Oktavianus, was shot dead by a police officer while speeding away from a traffic violation.

On 8 May 2013 police in Java killed six suspected terrorists in a series of raids. The police usually claim the suspects were armed and resisted arrest. But it is not always true, and many could have almost certainly been captured alive.

Ordinary criminals are shot with distressing frequency, as my daughter's visitor suggests, without any outcry at home or abroad.

Perkap 8 was signed by the then police chief Sutanto, a real reformer. It has not gotten very far. One foreign police officer working on a bilateral community policing program in a large metropolitan command told me he had once seen a copy of the Perkap on the chief's desk but suspected it had been disseminated no further.

Even when progressive regulations or orders are issued and disseminated, they are not always followed. In October 2012, the police chief of Papua, Tito Karnavian, former head of the anti-terrorism unit Detachment 88 (Densus 88), announced that he had banned police from using live ammunition when handling demonstrations in the region. This was progress and it was implemented for some demos, but the deaths in the Sorong case suggest live ammunition was used.

As Article 46 of Perkap 8 says, 'all officers must be trained in the use of power, equipment and firearms that can be used in applying force' and 'must be trained in non-violent techniques and methods.' Training almost 400,000 officers across 33 provinces is a logistical challenge, though it might be a good idea to start with elite units such as Densus 88 or personnel in the Papua provinces.

The new national head of the INP, about to be appointed, might breathe new life into two reforms already in place: implementation of Perkap 8 and Chief Sutanto's other landmark regulation on community policing, Perkap 7. The INP is a very hierarchical organisation that does follow firm orders from above. While its size makes complex reform difficult, its hierarchical nature makes implementing existing regulations with firm orders easier.

The first duty of the incoming INP chief, who reports directly to the president, will be to secure the 2014 elections. Making sure those deployed to safeguard this 'festival of democracy' are properly trained and equipped to use non-lethal force will be an important first step. After a new head of state is elected, he or she should consider issuing a directive that would see Perkap 8 properly implemented. The use of less deadly force could even be politically popular in some parts.

Outside help may also be needed, and this is where Australia comes in. A few decades back, the Victorian state police had a problem of using too much deadly force and created Project Beacon to try to rectify it. They changed the way they thought about the problem, overhauled training, and gave officers on the beat new tools, like pepper spray. Foreign assistance along these lines could help the INP improve performance and increase accountability. Crisis Group has long argued that the INP needs better orders, training, and equipment for the use of non-deadly force.

If the INP is to be more the service it aspires to be rather than the force it is, it needs to shed its military mindset, hold serious post-operation reviews after each fatal incident, and decrease reliance on shooting first and asking questions later, regardless of whether officers are following locally accepted standard procedure. When the time comes and the INP is ready to carry forward the reform of Perkap 8, Australia should be there to help.