The War at Home

20 September 2004

It's up to Indonesians themselves to fight terrorism

By Wimar Witoelar

A few hours after the terrible bomb blast in Jakarta, I got an e-mail from a journalist friend in Singapore. "After Bali and the Marriott," she wrote, "I would have thought that the terrorists would choose some other place outside Indonesia for their diabolical act in order to milk maximum publicity."

In addition to shock and grief, the feeling here is fatigue. From Pakistan to Palestine to Chechnya, the thread of terrorism binds the globe. Indonesia is not part of the schism that incites terrorism, yet we have just suffered our third major attack in two years, with all those dying this time being Indonesian.

When the Bali bombings occurred, Indonesia was painted as a hotbed of terrorism, and there was much anger directed at us, especially by Australians, the single-largest group killed then. Now we're rightfully getting sympathy. Australian Prime Minister John Howard allowed that last week's bomb in front of his country's embassy was as much an attack on Indonesia as on Australia, and his Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, said: "We will not forget the Indonesian who died protecting our embassy." The truth is that Indonesia is not a terrorist nation, merely a messy one. Among its 240 million people, radicalism is rare. Although Jemaah Islamiah (JI) has made a home here, its members are like parasites. It is bizarre when a talk-show host in Perth asks if there is public sympathy for JI in Indonesia. My dog has fleas, but I am sure she does not like them.

Though many foreigners have died and been hurt by terrorism waged on Indonesian soil, it's chiefly a issue for us Indonesians to tackle. Our government prosecuted the Bali investigation well, but it dismissed warnings issued by the Australian and U.S. authorities prior to last week's bombing. We cannot rely only on our leaders to do the job. Our government carries too much baggage. It has no moral authority to deal with Islamic groups, lacks public support because of corruption and its security forces are seen as a problem rather than the solution.

Instead, we Indonesians have to look to one another. During the presidential primaries, citizens proved to be more effective monitors than any official agency. They can play a big part in the war on terrorism, too by speaking out against radicalism, by fingering militants in their midst. A few days ago, former President Abdurrahman Wahid launched a foundation dedicated to promoting a "pluralistic and peaceful Islam." This effort is backed by the two biggest Muslim organizations in the country, the Nahdlatul Ulama and the Muhammadiyah, which together claim some 50 million followers and which abhor the abuse of Islam by deviants.

The answer,therefore, lies in enlightenment, not polarization. Elections are coming up in both Indonesia and Australia. The conventional wisdom is that emergencies favor the conservative party. But in Indonesia, there are no genuine parties. We just have the people. Just give them, give us, encouragement. We do not condone terrorists. We are the victims, and we need to be the ones to fight back.

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