Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Fighting Terrorism Takes Unity, not Dividedness!


By Thang D. Nguyen

JAKARTA—It is ridiculous to see the dividedness between the Indonesian and Australian governments on how to deal with the terrorist network Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) at a time when unity is needed most.

Just days before the third commemoration of the Bali bombing of 2002, which killed 202 people, mostly Australians, terrorists attacked Bali again with three bombings on 1 October, killing 23 people, mostly Indonesians, and injuring more than 130.

While no individual or group has claimed responsibility for the second Bali attack, intelligence authorities and analysts believe that it had all the hallmarks of JI. Linked to the al Qaida, JI is responsible for the first bombing of Bali in 2002 and those of the JW Marriott Jakarta Hotel in 2003 and the Australian Embassy in Jakarta last year.

The issue between Canberra and Jakarta, however, is not whether JI carried out these attacks. But, rather, it is what to do with the group and its leadership, namely the currently jailed cleric Abu Bakar Ba'asyir.

Prime Minister John Howard and his government recently requested the Indonesian government to ban JI and not to further reduce Ba'asyir’s jail term.

Mr. Howard also sent his foreign minister, Mr. Alexander Downer, to Bali for the third commemoration of the first Bali bombing, during which he is expected to push Jakarta to ban JI.

It was wise and appropriate of Mr. Howard, however, to stress that “we are having a debate, a discussion, about the laws of another country." In other words, banning JI or not is a matter of Indonesia’s sovereignty.

Despite how terrorist attacks in Indonesia—besides the Asian tsunami—have brought the two neighboring countries closer than ever before, certain anti-Australia attitudes still remain among many ordinary Indonesians.

Likewise, certain xenophobic and racist attitudes towards Indonesia still remain among many ordinary Australians, as their reactions to the 20-year drug-smuggling charge given to Ms. Schapelle Corby by the Bali High Court back in July clearly showed.

Because of this difficult nature of Indonesian-Australian relations, it can only be hoped that, while in Indonesia, Mr. Downer has done his job with respect for Indonesia’s sovereignty, a soft approach and diplomacy—lots of it.

Understandably, too hard a hard push from Canberra on the banning of JI can only backfire, fueling further anti-Australia sentiment among the Indonesians and, thereby, making the long and complex relations between the two countries more difficult than they already are.

Meanwhile, in Jakarta, the Indonesian government appeared to dismiss the existence of JI as an organization and opposes the request from Canberra to ban it.

"For us, the existence of that organization (JI) is not organized, so how can we disband it," Vice President Kalla said. "If we have not recognized [sic] it and do not know its members, how can we ban it," he added.

While no one expects the vice president to be an expert on terrorist groups, it is ungrounded—if not absurd—to deny JI’s existence as an internationally linked and well-organized network of radical Islamic terrorists.

For one thing, the most determining factor of terrorist groups and their attacks is—you guessed it—organization.

Just because JI has recruited members who are willing, able, and ready to die for jihad (or holy war), it is not enough an element to make it a dangerous group and its attacks deadly.

Like the al Qaida, JI has many masterminds with impeccable organizational skills to train new recruits, plan attacks well in advance, and execute them with clockwork precision. In other words, the JI would have been unable to carry out its attacks in Indonesia thus far, had it not been a well-organized organization.

Furthermore, JI’s appearance as a loose, faceless or invisible group, in fact, makes it less noticeable and, therefore, more dangerous.

Put differently, publicity is counterproductive for JI and its works; deception is its modus operandi. Thus, to dismiss it as a terrorist network is to help it.

Unfortunately, after all the attacks that JI has done, many Indonesians are still in denial of its existence as a group that destroys its economy, kills its own sons and daughters, and worst of all, darkens the name of Islam.

Enough blood has been shed and much has been lost; Indonesia doesn’t need more bombing attacks to realize that it has been living with a homegrown enemy.

Like an alcoholic trying to quit drinking, the first step for Indonesia, as a nation, to deal with JI is to admit that it does exist.

Only then will ordinary Indonesians start to feel its presence; only then can they be helpful in the hunt of its leaders and members; and only then will Indonesian Muslim leaders condemn JI harder and teach their followers that Islam is not about killing.

But most importantly, only when the Indonesia fully recognizes the threats from JI and acknowledge its existence will it consider Australia’s request to have the network banned.
The British poet John Donne wrote: “No man island, entire of itself…and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." Likewise, JI is as much as, if not more, an enemy to Indonesia as it is to Australia; in fact, most of the victims in the Bali and other bombings were Indonesians.

Therefore, Jakarta should not see Canberra’s request that JI be banned as an intrusion into its domestic affairs or a threat to its sovereignty. Rather, it is a well-meant intention to fight their mutual enemy.

The only way to win against JI it is for Indonesia and Australia to fight it together with unity, not dividedness, nor xenophobia.

Mr. Thang D. Nguyen is a Jakarta-based columnist, whose writing can be read at http://thecolumnist.blogspot.com.


Anonymous steve at the pub said...

Remarkably balanced piece from a writer not known to have ever exhibited any previous signs of objectivity.

The whole piece does seem to be somewhat awkwardly avoiding mentioning that it is not just Australia which has banned, & would like to ban, JI.

12:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thang D. Nguyen you are a racist piece of shit i hope you have a slow painful death

3:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

a very good and relatively balance piece, especially on ozzie-indo relation and the white-men-burden attitude of the former.

i link ur blog in mine, hope u dont mind.


12:06 PM  
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^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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7:38 PM  

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