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Indonesia: Jemaah Islamiyah’s Publishing Industry
Indonesia: Jemaah Islamiyah’s Publishing Industry
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Report 147 / Asia

Indonesia: Jemaah Islamiyah’s Publishing Industry

A handful of members and persons close to Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), Indonesia’s most prominent extremist organisation, have developed a profitable publishing consortium in and around the pesantren (religious school) founded by Abu Bakar Ba’asyir and Abdullah Sungkar in Solo, Central Java.

Executive Summary

A handful of members and persons close to Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), Indonesia’s most prominent extremist organisation, have developed a profitable publishing consortium in and around the pesantren (religious school) founded by Abu Bakar Ba’asyir and Abdullah Sungkar in Solo, Central Java. The consortium has become an important vehicle for the dissemination of jihadi thought, getting cheap and attractively printed books into mosques, bookstores and discussion groups. The publishing venture demonstrates JI’s resilience and the extent to which radical ideology has developed roots in Indonesia. The Indonesian government should monitor these enterprises more closely, but they may be playing a useful role by channelling JI energies into waging jihad through the printed page rather than acts of violence.

Examining the titles printed permits tracking of a lively internal debate within JI over the desirability of al-Qaeda tactics. That debate seems to be taking place spontaneously, without any assistance from the government “deradicalisation” program, and it is important that it continue. Banning the publishers or their books would be counterproductive. But more scrutiny of the publishing activities would be desirable for several reasons:

  • Publishing has increased as JI has weakened, likely reflecting a decision from the top to focus on religious outreach and recruitment as a way of rebuilding the organisation. The books produced may be part of that effort.
  • From translator to distributor, the publishing web is an example of the social network that holds JI together, particularly at a time of weakness. JI has proven itself extraordinarily able to rebound from setbacks, and the networks underpinning it may help explain why.
  • Although the publishing houses are owned by individuals, not JI per se, some revenues are almost certainly being ploughed back into JI activities.
  • Individual members close to Noordin Mohammed Top, perhaps the region’s most dangerous at-large terrorist, may be working as translators for JI publishers, despite the ideological gulf between Noordin and the JI mainstream.

The best way to ensure adequate scrutiny would be for the Indonesian government to enforce its own laws with respect to publishing, labour, corporate registration and taxation. Such enforcement would not only offer a means of monitoring these enterprises, but it could also yield valuable information about the size and status of the JI organisation.

Jakarta/Brussels, 28 February 2008

Briefing 139 / Asia

Indonesia: Tensions Over Aceh’s Flag

A dispute over a flag in Aceh is testing the limits of autonomy, irritating Indonesia’s central government, heightening ethnic tensions, reviving a campaign for the division of the province and raising fears of violence as the 2014 national elections approach.

I. Overview

The decision of the Aceh provincial government to adopt the banner of the former rebel Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, GAM) as its official provincial flag is testing the limits of autonomy, irritating Jakarta, heightening ethnic and political tensions, reviving a campaign for the division of Aceh and raising fears of violence as a national election approaches in 2014.

On 25 March 2013, the provincial legislature adopted a regulation (qanun) making the GAM’s old banner the provincial flag. It was immediately signed by Governor Zaini Abdullah. The governor and deputy governor are members of Partai Aceh, the political party set up by former rebel leaders in 2008 that also controls the legislature.

The central government, seeing the flag as a separatist symbol and thus in violation of national law, immediately raised objections and asked for changes. Partai Aceh leaders, seeing the flag as a potent tool for mass mobilisation in 2014, have refused, arguing that it cannot be a separatist symbol if GAM explicitly recognised Indonesian sovereignty as part of the Helsinki peace agreement in 2005 that ended a nearly 30-year insurgency. Partai Aceh believes that if it remains firm, Jakarta will eventually concede, as it did in 2012 over an election dispute.

Indonesian President Yudhoyono’s government is torn. On the one hand, it does not want a fight with the GAM leaders; the 2005 peace agreement is the most important achievement of a president who, in his final term, is very much concerned about his legacy. It also is unwilling to provoke GAM too far, fearful that it will return to conflict, a fear many in Aceh discount as unwarranted but one that Partai Aceh has exploited with relish. On the other hand, it does not want to be branded as anti-nationalist as the 2014 election looms, especially as some in the security forces remain convinced that GAM has not given up the goal of independence and is using democratic means to pursue it. The president and his advisers also know that if they allow the GAM flag to fly, it will have repercussions in Papua, where dozens of pro-independence activists remain jailed for flying the “Morning Star” flag of the independence movement.

GAM leaders see little to lose by standing their ground. The flag is a hugely emotive symbol, and defying Jakarta is generally a winning stance locally. Some individual members of parliament see it as a way of regaining waning popularity for failing to deliver anything substantive to their constituencies. Also, Partai Aceh took a controversial decision to partner with Gerindra, the party of former army General Prabowo Subianto, for the 2014 election. Leaders like Muzakir Manaf, deputy governor and former commander of GAM’s armed wing, may want to use the flag issue to show they have not compromised their principles by allying with a man whose human rights record is often questioned.

Within Aceh, adoption of the GAM flag has sparked protests from non-Acehnese ethnic groups in the central highlands and south west. The GAM heartland has always been along the east coast; to highlanders like the Gayo, the flag thus represents the domination of the coastal Acehnese at their expense. The issue has revived a dormant campaign for the division of Aceh into three by the creation of two new provinces, Aceh Leuser Antara (ALA) for the central highlands and Aceh Barat Selatan (ABAS) for the south west. If GAM does not back down on the flag, support for that campaign by the intelligence services is likely to rise, and with it, the probability of increased ethnic tensions.

The options for breaking the stalemate seem to be as follows: the government concedes; GAM concedes, making slight changes to the flag by adding or removing an element; GAM agrees to limits on how or where the flag can be displayed; or the dispute is taken to the Supreme Court, thereby delaying any resolution.

In the meantime, the power of the GAM machinery in Aceh continues to grow.

Jakarta /Brussels, 7 May 2013