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Crackdown could strengthen the jihadist cause

The Syndey Morning Herald

Dr. Damien Kingsbury

The latest Bali bombings show that while the Indonesian authorities have cracked down on Islamic terrorism, they may have played into the hands of the terrorists by polarising Indonesia ‘s Islamic community.

In what has been characterized by some as a struggle for Indonesia ‘s Islamic soul, visitors to Bali and the Balinese are hapless pawns in a wider politico-religious game.

Since the first Bali bombings of October 12, 2002, dozens of members of the organization held responsible, Jemaah Islamiah, have been arrested, and further arrests and convictions followed the September 9, 2004, attack against the Australian embassy in Jakarta .

Assessments of Jemaah Islamiah show the organization has split, with some members in favor of militant struggle but opposed to indiscriminate bombings. A more hard-line faction within has chosen to continue the bombing campaign.

Jemaah Islamiah has been identified as being loosely linked to al-Qaeda, with some senior members having trained in Afghanistan . In this, Jemaah Islamiah shares al-Qaeda’s global, if narrowly defined, jihadist philosophy, and hopes to establish Indonesia as part of a South-East Asian caliphate under Islamic law.

But it has also charted a path that is independent from, if parallel to, al-Qaeda. This derives from Indonesia ‘s Darul Islam organization, which through armed rebellion attempted to establish an Indonesian Islamic state in the 1950s.

The legacy of Darul Islam lives on in Jemaah Islamiah, as well as a number of other jihadist organizations in Indonesia . These are grouped together under the Islamist umbrella organization Indonesian Mujahideen Council, established in 2000 by Abu Bakar Bashir, who also inherited the position of Jemaah Islamiah’s amir (commander or leader).

It is the explicit intention of the Mujahideen Council to turn the country into an Islamic state. The distinction within this organization is between those whose methods are more limited, and those who regard terrorism against non-believers as acceptable, or even desirable.

Terrorism is usually understood as having two purposes. The first is to compel the target of the attack to comply with the wishes of the attacker. In this, Jemaah Islamiah and its associates want to purge Indonesia of Western and other non-Islamic influences. Bali is a good place to start, being a haven for Western tourists, and having a Hindu population. A second purpose is to increase state repression, thereby forcing sympathizers into the arms of the terrorists and their more radical agenda. This is exacerbated within Islam by the requirement for Muslims to defend other Muslims in the face of what is claimed as religious persecution.

This second purpose appears to be the stronger reason for the continued attacks, as it has a deeper and longer lasting impact within Indonesia itself.

The split within Jemaah Islamiah over its bombing strategy, and the loss of members to arrest, means it has been unable to work alone. It has thus tapped in to the Mujahideen Council for practical support, in particular to members of the remnant Darul Islam movement, which provided the suicide bomber for the Australian embassy attack. In this, the intention of forcing sympathizers into the arms of Jemaah Islamiah’s harder faction is succeeding.

The latest Bali attacks bear the hallmarks of Jemaah Islamiah, but probably again included the assistance of Darul Islam or other Mujahideen Council members.

In response to the bombings, the Indonesian Government will again crack down on Islamic terrorists, but this will also have the effect of sharpening the divide between those who favor an Islamic state and those who do not, pushing many Islamists further towards the terrorists.

In particular, longstanding calls for the Indonesian Government to declare Jemaah Islamiah a terrorist organization and proscribe it will polarize many Muslims, probably increase its active support base and provide potential new recruits. Not acting against Jemaah Islamiah, however, will show that it is winning.

Either way, jihadist Islam in Indonesia will remain and may strengthen. That Balinese, Westerners generally and Australians in particular are victims of this militant agenda locates them as suitable collateral damage in a more focused Jemaah Islamiah strategy.

Dr Damien Kingsbury is senior lecturer in the School of Political and International Studies, Deakin University, and is author of The Politics of Indonesia ( Oxford University Press).