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Symposium: Indonesian Jihad

By Jamie Glazov

Militant Islam is gaining ground in Indonesia , the world’s most populous mostly Muslim nation. This development is of crisis proportions, since Indonesia plays a crucial role in guaranteeing security in Asia . This year’s second Bali terror attack was only the symbol of Islamism’s skyrocketing war on the country. Indeed, jihadists are intensely concentrating on annihilating any non-Muslim presence in Indonesia . The Ulema Council, the highest Islamic authority, has issued a fatwa condemning religious diversity. Christian churches have been closed and a law has been passed discriminating against non-Muslim schools. Three Christian girls were beheaded earlier this year.

The growing Jihad in Indonesia is directly connected to Islamist terror in the Philippines and Thailand , forming a deadly terror network in the Far East . The leadership of the Indonesian jihadist group Jemaah Islamiyah is terrifyingly clear in its intent, proudly bearing the motto: “Death in the way of Allah is our highest aspiration

In light of these dire circumstances, we ask the questions: How stable is Indonesia ? What is the real dimension of Islamism there? What will happen if Indonesia falls? How would it impact Australia , Philippines , Malaysia , Singapore , and even China ?

To discuss these and other questions with us today, Frontpage has assembled a distinguished panel. Our guests today are:

Dr. Rohan Gunaratna, the author of Inside Al Qaeda: Global Network of Terror. He is head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies in Singapore ;

Badrus Sholeh, the head of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University Jakarta;

Andrew Cochran, the Founder & Editor of The Counterterrorism Blog. He is Vice President of GAGE, a business consulting and government affairs firm headquartered in Washington, DC. and advises clients on terrorism and homeland security, corporate governance, and appropriations issues;


Walid Phares, a Professor of Middle East Studies and Senior Fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. He is the author of the new book Future Jihad: Terrorist Strategies Against America.

FP: Dr. Rohan Gunaratna, Badrus Sholeh, Andy Cochran and Walid Phares, welcome to Frontpage Symposium.

Andrew Cochran, let me begin with you. I think a good place to start is with the recent second strike against Bali. What was its significance? And what does it say about the state of jihad in Indonesia?

Cochran: The significance of the second Bali bombings is that (a) Jemaah Islamiyah is alive and capable, and (b) the Indonesian government’s refusal to recognize the dangers of Islamic extremism and to outlaw JI has come back to bite them.

We have yet another lesson that a government that intentionally blinds itself to the excesses of the worst strains of Islam, and fails to protect its citizenry from Islamist extremists who pursue terrorism.

In September 2004, the newly elected president continued the policies of his predecessors and announced that he would ban JI only after he had proof that the organization exists, since it “is not a formal organization with card-carrying members.” And the former foreign minister of Australia pronounced Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) virtually dead and gone during the very week of the second bombings.

Meanwhile, Islamist parties of one kind or another have gained in recent parliamentary elections, led by PKS, which has its roots in the Muslim Brotherhood and is committed to sharia and to imposing Islamic law. The spiritual leader of PKS, Hidayat Nur Wahid, is now the speaker of the upper house of the parliament. This senior official in the Indonesian government had the gall to blame the second bombings on “interstate competition in the tourism industry,” in effect a sanction of murder.

The damage to JI since the first Bali bombings should not have been assumed to have relieved the dangers from either JI or other Islamist extremist groups. Counterterrorism Blog contributor Zachary Abuza, who never accepted the hypothesis that JI had melted away, listed eight reasons why JI is still alive in a post on October 12.

Other Islamists, such as FPI, have engaged in aggressive recruiting and overt anti-Christian activities, such as the forced closing of churches. As long as the current government refuses to outlaw JI, and as long as the speaker of one of the elected houses of parliament leads the obfuscation of Islam and of terrorist attacks, the broader cause of jihad is also alive and well.

FP: Thank you Mr. Cochran. Mr. Sholeh?

Sholeh: Is there any positive fallout from the recent Indonesian elections of 2004 and 2005? Indonesia has actually turned into the most democratic Muslim nation in the world. The elections of 2004 and 2005 proved it, with participation of more than 80 percent of potential voters. This is something positive. However, after the collapse of New Order and the weakening of Indonesian Armed Forces, some Muslim militias expressed their identity within what they call a ‘secular state’. The Afghan war created regional militant and Islamist group of Jama’ah Islamiah, which founded ‘a war project’ in the two most conflicting regions of Maluku and Poso from 2000-2005, for breeding, recruitment, training and preparation before their bigger plan.

Stability became worse after the economic crisis and during Susilo Bambang Yudoyono government’s unproductive policy of raising fuel price. Civil society including Islamic organizations supported the radical groups like Majelis Mujahidin Indonesia and KPPSI of South Sulawesi gained stronger position. The key answer is the security forces’ role and regional cooperation to oppose the growth of the radical and terrorist groups.

Because of the ambivalence of government, Jama’ah Islamiah has greater capability to run bigger attacks with their new approaches on every level of operation. Security forces have found that some radical groups like Laskar Mujahidin, KOMPAK Solo and Laskar Jundullah have played a role in bringing Jama’ah Islamiah influence in local regions of Maluku and Poso to fight against infidels (Christians) for more than three years. Government with anti-terror laws can ban these groups.

However, what Mr. Cochran calls the rise of political Islam under the leadership of PKS push nationalist politicians such as Susilo Bambang Yudoyono and more over Yusuf Kalla of Golkar to preserve their relation with Muslim constituents, who do not understand how those radical organization played a role on terrorism in cooperation with Jama’ah Islamiah. In Maluku and Poso, Muslim politicians who attempted to be neutral and oppose Islamist groups lost their positions in Parliament in the district elections of 2005.

I have been doing fieldwork in these two regions and have met local Muslims influenced by these radical groups. Some of the local elite have been involved with Jama’ah Islamiah, especially the ones from Laskar Mujahidin and KOMPAK networks. It is easy for Jama’ah Islamiah to attack tourism areas like Bali, and west embassies in Jakarta and other diplomatic buildings in Surabaya. They have had enough new and fresh Syahid (martyrs). Police say there are about 30 new syahid ready to blow themselves up with a new approach, many more than they had previously. A former Darul Islam activist says there are more than 500 new volunteers for syahid are ready. If Bali Bomb II has a better attack and strategy than Bali Bomb I, in which Indonesian police could not identify the terrorists more clearly and quickly, how about the next attack?

Gunaratna: To combat terrorism in Indonesia, we need to think strategically and ask Indonesians to think strategically. The political media and public attention is still fixated on Bali II. As usual, a brilliant after the event investigation will lead to a few arrests and a trial, but it will not change the strategic picture in Indonesia and the Southern Philippines. Making a difference in the East Asian environment now that is changing in favor of Islamic militancy does not rest with law enforcement but with action-oriented visionary leadership.

As long as jihadism is not proactively contained, the radical Islamic schools [madaris] in Indonesia are not reformed, and the training camps in the Philippines not shut down, the threat of terrorism will persist. In the post Bali II environment, the vulnerability of East Asia to terrorism will increase due to four reasons:

First, a highly effective and a contagious tactic, suicide terrorism, having entered the region, will stay with us for a long time. Unless ideologically and operationally contained, the suicide threat will spread from Indonesia to its immediate neighbors and beyond.

Second, 47 threat groups in different stages of development now operate in the region. By aggressively exploiting the democratic space created after 1998 and the constant images of the suffering Muslims in Iraq, the Indonesian Jihadi movement is gathering in strength, size and influence.

Third, the relationship between a decentralized Al Qaeda and both Indonesian and Philippine jihad groups are continuing. From outside the region, finance (primarily from Saudi Arabian financiers of jihad), trainers and technology are continuing to flow into the region. Although many Arab jihadists have been arrested in the region, the linkage between JI and Al Qaeda is robust.

Fourth, Iraq is having a profound impact on the radicalized and the politicized Muslims. By exploiting the anger and the suffering of the Muslims, including that of moderate Muslims, existing terrorist and the extremist groups are growing and new groups are emerging. A potential strategic defeat for America in Iraq in the coming years is likely to embolden the Asian terrorist and extremist groups even further.

Unless the ideologues, operatives, financiers, and supporters of jihad are interlocked and challenged ideologically, tactically, financially, and politically, the threat of terrorism and extremism will escalate in East Asia. What is the real threat to East Asia from terrorism? Will terrorism grow in Southeast Asia and eventually spread to Northeast Asia affecting Hong Kong, Seoul, Taipei, and Tokyo? Future Threat reduction is dependent on three initiatives:

First, operationally to dismantle the networks by targeting individual terrorists and their assets. Counter terrorism legislation is gravely needed to empower the police to use direction action to preventively dismantle the terrorist propaganda, recruitment, fund raising, procurement and other support activity

Second, ideologically for the Indonesian political leaders to build a norm and an ethic in society against politico-religiously inspired and instigated violence.

Third, to change the reality on the ground by negotiating to resolve protracted ethnic and religious conflicts. In the region, conflict zones such as Mindanao, Maluku and Poso produced suffering, displacement, refugee flows, formation of extremist ideologies, and production of extremists and terrorists.

Phares: I agree with my colleagues on their description of Jihadism in Indonesia and its projection in the near future. I also value the analysis of the importance of local politics on the growth of Islamism and penetration by the international and national groups of local Islamist networks.

Let me take the route from inside al Qaida’s mind into what would be their strategy in Indonesia, or actually for Indonesia and the region. While I agree that events in Iraq and elsewhere, “increase” the level of mobilization among potential recruits and “encourage” pre- existing entities, we all know that Jihadism is not an emanation of sudden developments.

We all know that the process to become a Jihadist, is long and tenuous. It needs a Salafi-Wahabi environment to be produced. The question in Indonesia is this: Who is producing the “ideological culture” out of which Jama’ah Islamiah came from? What are the structural webs that produced Laskar Mujahidin (or Laskar e Jihad), or Laskar Jundullah or even the Sulawesi-based Mujahedeen KOMPAK?

These questions are crucial to answer for it would determine the strategy to counter, contain and reverse Jihadism in the largest Muslim country in the world. For if the entire strategy is either security-based (arrests, disruption and justice action) or politically based (absorption, engagement and cooption) it would fail on the long run. Islamists, and particularly Jihadists are very sophisticated and have demonstrated their ability to outmanoeuvre and outsmart the actions by politicians or generals.

If pressed by the central Government, they can revert to inflaming Maluku and Poso with ethno-religious strife. They can play on the local politics of Mindanao, etc. The pyramid of Jihadism starting with al Qaida internationally, JI nationally and the other regional groups has a panoply of tools to escape Governmental action, which is late, heavy and based on a complex level of political consensus.

The main problem however is the capability of the Jihadist conglomerate to trigger past experiences and focus on current internal wounds. Ben Laden was fast enough two years ago to denounce the United Nations “infidel” aggression in East Timor. This accusation, not understood by the international community, is a message to Indonesia’s general nationalist and Muslim public, carried by the Islamists: No more East Timors.

Hence, the Jihadi “Laskars” around the archipelago are projecting themselves as the “protectors” of the territorial unity of “Muslim Indonesia.” Hence their action against non-Muslims, including in Poso, the Celebes, etc is projected as “in the interest of the nation.” They are trying to emulate Hassan Turabi’s strategy in Sudan: the defense of Islam’s lands.

From that angle, when al Qaida orders strikes against Western-symbols in the country, for instance Bali I and II, it knows it is playing the Jihadist versus Kafir (infidel) equation. The subcontractors of terror, JI for example are projecting themselves as the sword of the Islamist movement in Indonesia with a legitimate blessing from the international command. The response of the Indonesian state is therefore limited in its scope: an all out war by any Government against the Jihadists (who are claiming the defense of Indonesia’s Islamic idencity) is very difficult. At best it is limited. Add to it the uncertainty as to the Salafi influence inside the armed forces. As in Pakistan, no one really knows its extent. It was reported that Laskar Jihad has had significant alliances within the armed forces in its holy wars against the “infidels” at the end of the 1990s. The next question is what could be done?

The answer to that question begins with this: who in Indonesia wants to confront Jihadism’s real roots: the Islamist Salafi ideology? Is there a sufficient political coalition across the land which would back an all out campaign? A large group of legislators, members of the cabinet, intellectuals, journalists, officers and political parties that can articulate an anti-Jihadist agenda? Is there a plan regarding the alternatives to the madrassas? Is there enough media ready to engage? So far, these questions need to be answered by the Indonesian experts so that a geopolitical design is put together.

Cochran: I appreciate the wise observations here that there must be a greater appreciation of the ties between the local elites and the international jihadists, and a greater effort to supplant those ties with “a norm and an ethic in society against politico-religiously inspired and instigated violence” (quoting Dr. Gunaratna). The long-term challenge in Indonesia, as it is wherever the jihadists appear, is to attract local populations to a non-violent and tolerant Islamic cultural which promises personal fulfillment. The jihadists’ social activism must be matched and exceeded by moderate Islamic clerics, businessmen, and government.
One of the most disappointing aspects of the current worldwide conflict is that the decades of experience of Muslims in the U.S., which has been marked by assimilation and peaceful relations with non-Muslims, is never reported overseas. The very culture that my colleagues suggest as necessary in Islamic countries already exists here – there are no pillaged mosques, no Muslims assaulted in the streets for their faith, and no flood of legal cases for discrimination against Muslims in hiring or in business.

Sholeh: I agree with Dr. Rohan that there is a close association among international, national and local issues and movements related to terrorism. I would like to broaden the issues and provide my argument from Indonesian experience and the Indonesian perspective.
Indonesian Muslims believe the U.S. and its allies have a double-standard concerning Palestine-Israel policies and the failure of the Iraq war and other policies, which Muslims argue is against their interests. This is an easy reason for radical and terrorist groups to recruit new members under such international issues. Imam Samudra (2004), one of the Bali I bombers, states that US allies’ failed policies against Middle Eastern Muslims
inspired his group to fight against infidels in Indonesia and Southeast Asia.
His book, entitled ‘Aku Melawan Teroris! [I am against Terrorism] has become a popular text for recruitment. I also agree that Indonesian government and neighbors have to restrain the growth of radical Islamic movements. However, some of them were founded under support of Indonesian elite, such as the Laskar Jihad and Islamic Defenders Front foundations, which claim to strengthen Indonesian government and security to fight against separatism.
They found volunteers to bring Jihad to Maluku and Poso from 1999 to 2002. Their members are even still active on the ground without any significant security from Indonesian Police and TNI. Some current researches of ICG and others argue that they are less dangerous compared to Laskar Mujahidin and Jama’ah Islamiah. The latest two groups certainly continue their underground Jihad, although some Jihadists have been arrested after Bali Bombing II. Dr. Azhari (killed in Malang, East Java November 2005) has taught young members of JI to produce bombs. It is strengthened by the on going movements and recruitments of Nurdin M. Top. The young JI elite members have extensive terror training in Mindanao, Southern Philippines, Poso and Maluku.

Previously they became members of Muslim organizations: MMI, KPPSI, Brigades of PII and NII. They grow from central and local regions of Indonesia, without any government policy to close such a breeding organization. These organizations also instituted a number of Islamic schools and Pesantrens. They will be stronger if governments do not take a significant policy to reform such organizations and schools.
Certainly, the majority of Muslim organizations and schools are moderate and against terrorism. However, they need a strong policy from Indonesian and international governments to fight against radical groups.

FP: I am not sure what “failure” you are referring to in terms of the Iraq war. We liberated a country from a fascist dictator and are now building democracy in a region marked by authoritarianism and brutality. We have also taken the fight to the terrorists in a war that they have declared on us. But this is another debate.

Dr. Gunaratna go ahead.

Gunaratna: Until I moved to Southeast Asia from Europe in 2002, I was under the impression that the most important quality needed to fight terrorism is intelligence. Today, I am convinced that even with good intelligence we will fail unless we have political leadership. In the fight against terrorism, the most important quality is leadership – in another words, political will and political capital.

With visionary leadership, you can anticipate threats and defeat them before they affect you. With a goal oriented leadership you can defeat any terrorist or extremist movement. This is what is gravely lacking in Southeast Asia.

FP: So what kind of leadership exactly do we need in Southeast Asia, Dr. Phares?

Phares: When it come to the analysis of Indonesian micro politics, I’d defer of course to the political scientists, journalists and analysts with advanced expertise in the political history of the country. But from the perspective of comparative politics and more precisely the angle of international Jihadism, here are some points:

a) One has to examine how the Jihadists (call them Islamists if you wish) got to the point of vast networks and high influence. How come they have been able to produce leadership that can sustain several suppressive waves and maintain a trend of penetration of the Indonesian layers of power and culture?

If we understand this road, we can begin to understand the possible other alternatives. Why is it that the Islamists have produced their own “leaders” while the national leaders and politicians of Indonesia, although good Muslims, aren’t viewed by the experts as visionaries and goal oriented? I may not have all the answers, but at least I would indicate the analytical path we should be exploring.

b) If we agree that at the end of the day, in Indonesia and around the Muslim world, the networks of madrassas are the chief producer of militants, what can be done to address that issue? Can politicians touch the madrassas without severe consequences? Can reform come from governing bodies, from politicians or courts? Answering this question is crucial. It would show us the real equation not just in Indonesia, but also in the region as a whole.

c) And if I can take the issue to a wider scope, learning from the Indonesian crisis, I’d ask: can Wahabism be reversed? Can Salafism be reversed? And how?

I can fully understand my colleagues when they raise the objections made by many in Indonesia, but also in Bengladesh, Malaysia and elsewhere that “the US is seen as a supporter of Israel, therefore we cannot trust Washington.” This is an argument produced by the Islamists from the Middle East who wish to see it spreading around the Muslim world. It is the classical argument that allowed the Islamists to dodge their responsibilities in answering harder questions about the future they intend to bring.

Several times, I went on al Jazeera and challenged my interlocutors. I asked them openly: what is the alternative, the system you wish establish on the Umma’s lands? There were no significant answers. For the simple reason that they hide behind the anti-American paradigm, but can’t reveal theirs. What is needed is a current of thought that would engage the Jihadis openly, and drive them to debate their own ideas and views.

Indonesia could become an important testing ground for this challenge.

Sholeh: I will respond some issues and questions raised by Phares and Gunaratna on how the visionary leadership may overcome radicalism and terrorism, how the Jihadist could be involved in national parties or civil organizations, what the impact of for peace building, the process of democracy and how it will be pivotal that schools and other prospective institutions discontinue their violence-oriented organizations.
The participation of the Jihadist or Islamist community in public and political sectors is crucial to reducing radicalism and terrorism. Peter Wallensteen (2004: 146) calls this as a power sharing arrangement, which puts the existing leaders securely in the political process. They may oppose working with government but they may engage in future building for their community. Democracy is the best choice, and it is appealing to them to have their voices represented in the national parties. Former local Mujahidin and Jihad commanders in Maluku and Poso of Indonesia have become involved in Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), Development United Party (PPP) or have been appointed as community/ public leaders (after conflicts of 1999-2002) in 2004 direct elections.

This also happens in Afghan, where former combat commanders are accommodated by new government under democratic philosophy. This may answer Phares’ first question on how we can transform Islamist leaders under democratic government. Under civil or political organizations, government can steer their intelligence agents into such groups to manage and control the vision and orientation of the leadership. They have strengthened themselves into international network of Islamic parties and organizations: PAS of Malaysia, Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt and Salafist organizations in Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Their cooperation is alright unless they support violent activities, terrorism or other crimes. Dr. Gunaratna’s reflection of visionary leadership will enhance the broader participation of multicultural society in Southeast Asia context.
The next step is continuing to promote peace within religious communities. To assure them that terrorism and violence (read: attacks, suicide bombs and killings) are crimes. My interviews with former Mujahidin commanders in Maluku and Poso refer to how they finally realized that their actions were against Islamic principles. The Indonesian government has just promoted the true meaning of Jihad among Muslims. Similarly, Muslim scholars of Al Azhar University have made strong authoritative declarations against bin Laden’s initiatives: ‘Islam provides clear rules and ethical norms that forbid the killing of non-combatants, as well as women, children, and the elderly’ (Esposito, 2002: 158). Most Muslim Ulama declare that suicide bombs are against the principles of Islam.
To bring peace, policy should focus on multi-faith and multicultural dialogues and encourage Islamic civil society organizations and schools to open their perspectives on general interest issues like reducing poverty and developing education (as education is power). It has been more than a hundred years since Pesantren integrated the local cultures of Indonesia. This experience is identical in Southern Thailand and Malaysia.
Only a limited number, approximately less than 1 percent of all schools, teach radical and militant interpretations of Islam. Among them are Pesantren Al Mukmin Ngruki, Solo, Central Java and Al Irsyad of Central Java. They grew significantly after the return of Afghan veterans. The Afghan war and participation of Jihadist groups in the war allowed their veterans to develop new Pesantren (Islamic schools/ madrasas) within their home countries. It is challenging not only for government but also the dominant and mainstream Islamic civil society organizations to reduce the negative impact of the radical Jihadist groups.

Salafism teaching is still strange among most Muslims even in conflicting regions like Maluku and Poso, moreover in peaceful regions of Java and Sumatra. In Maluku, local Muslims opposed the teaching and tradition of Salafism among Laskar Jihad members. Mainstream CSOs are important instruments for us to stop the growth of radicalism and certainly terrorism. Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah – argued as having at least 70 and 40 millions members each – are among those committed to promote peace and denounce any kind of radicalism and violence.

Gunaratna: The trends in Indonesia are not very different to global trends. Although in Indonesia there is an acute absence of a visionary leadership particularly counter terrorist leadership, this is a global problem. Unless we plan for the long term we will suffer and perhaps fail in some parts of the world. It is inevitable that in Palestine and Egypt, the Jihadists and the Islamists will come to power.

We need to build greater support worldwide to fight terrorism and extremism. At a global level, fighting terrorism and extremism is 50% of the battle. The remaining 50% must focus on educating ones own staff particularly leaders. We must develop specialist in-house courses for staff particularly leaders so that governments will do the right thing and not overreact like the US invasion of Iraq.

Finally, we need to work in partnership as we are facing a global threat that is growing. We need to draw the Europeans and other nations whose commitment is weak to fight terrorism and extremism to be partners. We also need the rich nations of the global north to work closely with poor nations of the global south and share the burden of counter terrorism.

FP: It boggles my mind how we just saw more successful elections in Iraq and instead of pointing out what a great thing Bush did by bringing democracy to that country and that part of the world, which is a great blow to our Jihadist enemies, the only comment some individuals can make about Iraq is how the U.S. liberation of the nation is an “overreaction.”

In any case, Dr. Phares, last word goes to you.

Phares: All depends on how you see the big picture. To those among us who believe that time was on the side of the international society, including after the collapse of the Taliban, Iraq’s invasion is an “overreaction.” But to those whose analysis concluded, and I am one of them, that Global Jihadism was at the edge of rolling over in the Muslim world and wreck havoc in the West, the regime change in Iraq -or any alternative US reaction- was late, very late.

If you look at the infrastructure of the Jihadists, Salafists and Khomeinists since the early 1990s, you’d realize that their combined networks, regimes, penetrations, were thrusting forward. In my book, Future Jihad, I make the case that both 9/11 and the 2 US reactions, have readjusted the balance, but not yet turned the tide.

As far as containing and absorbing the Jihadists of Indonesia, I’d defer to the experts on micro Indonesian politics, but based on my own interviews of Muslim and Christian activists of the islands-nation, and on my Jihad-analysis, one must make a distinction between containment and reform.

There are many recipes for the so-called integration and cooptation of the Salafists and Jihadists in the political process. This was the theory of the 1990s in America (Esposito, Entelis, MESA, etc). However, evidence shows that while initiatives were developed to absorb the Jihadis, or even Islamists into the democratic process, it ended up having the Islamists (Salafists in Indonesia and Arabia and Khomeinists as in Lebanon) penetrating the system and slowly absorbing its energies.

In this conflict, the objective is the reformation of the Muslim world not the accommodation of the Jihadists. My take, both for Indonesia and the other cases (Iraq, Egypt, etc) is that international efforts should be focused certainly to fighting terrorism relentlessly, but in parallel, providing open support to the reformists. Only then can we win the long term war for the soul of the Islamic world.

FP: Dr. Rohan Gunaratna, Badrus Sholeh, Andy Cochran and Walid Phares, thank you for joining Frontpage Symposium.

Jamie Glazov is Frontpage Magazine’s managing editor. He holds a Ph.D. in History with a specialty in Soviet Studies. Email him at [email protected].