Not All JI Are Terrorists
Not All JI Are Terrorists
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Op-Ed / Asia 3 minutes

Not All JI Are Terrorists

For most in Australia, the name Jemaah Islamiah will be forever linked to the horrors of the first Bali bomb in which 88 Australians died. But to brand all JI members as evil incarnate is to suggest that the only real counter-terrorism option is to cast the net as wide as possible and lock up all suspects for ever. That’s what might be called the ‘‘Guantanamo option’’ – and it won’t work.

Why? Because people have joined JI for different reasons, and some can be dissuaded from using violence; because the biggest threat of more attacks may come from outside JI; because prisons can be a radicalising element; and because Indonesia is a democracy where less corruption and more justice may be as effective a means of fighting terror as police and spy satellites.

JI is a dangerous organisation because it promotes an ideology that condones violence against Islam’s enemies in the struggle to establish Islamic law. Towards that end it seeks to amass weapons and give members military training to prepare for the coming battle. But many members do not support indiscriminate violence against civilians and reject the notion that al-Qaida-style attacks on Indonesian soil are an appropriate response to the deaths of Muslims in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere.

Many would have opposed the first Bali bombings if they had known about the plans: not even every member of the JI central command was in on the secret. The next three major bombings – the Marriott Hotel, the Australian Embassy and Bali II – were effectively the work of a splinter group led by Noordin Mohamed Top. If Noordin and his opponents are lumped together as equally bad, the opportunity to use the influence of the less extreme against the more extreme is lost.

Not everyone is equally committed to the cause, but any hope of rehabilitation is undermined from the outset if anyone accused of terrorism is considered beyond redemption. In late March, 16 convicted terrorists – not JI – were moved from Ambon to Bali because local authorities found that some ordinary criminals had been recruited into jihadist ranks.

Of those moved, perhaps four were doing the recruiting. The others included young Ambonese who indeed had been involved in attacks but who would benefit more from structured vocational training programs than from being thrown together with hardcore ideologues who could make them far more radical than they are now. Some young men were caught up in operations reluctantly but felt it was a betrayal of their friends to pull out; others joined because they were persuaded it was a way of showing solidarity with persecuted Muslims around the world. Many of these men need to be seen not as steelyeyed killers but as individuals who could use some guidance.

At the same time, the ideology that teaches hatred of the U.S. and its allies is not going to go away any time soon. It is true that U.S. policies, from Iraq to various aspects of the war on terror to one-sided support of Israel, help keep it alive, but very few of the millions exposed to jihadism on the internet or through religious study sessions become terrorists.

In Indonesia, the factors used to explain terrorism elsewhere don’t apply: the country is not under occupation and it doesn’t suppress Islamic political parties. Those who join JI and other organisations are not a persecuted minority or alienated immigrant group.

In Ambon and Poso, two areas where bitter Christian-Muslim fighting took place in the years following Suharto’s resignation, unresolved grievances kept young men engaged in jihadi violence long after the sectarian strife had ended.

Address those grievances, and the ideology’s attraction diminishes. That’s not the case in Java, where a network of JI schools (some 20 out of a total of 30,000 schools, so the Islamic school system is not the problem) continues to produce a new generation of potential recruits, and where the increasing reluctance of JI leaders to sanction attacks is pushing some hotheads into the arms of more radical groups.

But even there, one recent graduate confessed he had no skills, and the only thing he was trained to do was teach in another JI school. It might be worthwhile to engage the local business community to set up onthe- job training programs to offer alternative prospects.

Some say the problem in Indonesia is democracy and that there was no terrorism under Suharto. But virtually all the men who later became JI leaders first joined a banned group called Darul Islam in the late 1970s and early 1980s as a protest against Suharto and went to Afghanistan to get the wherewithal to fight him.

Authoritarianism produced JI, not democracy. Now the task is to reduce corruption and make the Government more responsive. Those who see victory in the recent arrests of two top JI leaders should remember that in the early 1980s, virtually the entire leadership of Darul Islam was arrested.

It did not kill the organisation. Instead, in 1993, it produced JI.

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