Written and interview by Aulia R. Sungkar
Originally published in The Point Daily on December 7, 2006
Terrorism is a very complex phenomenon which involves not only social conflict but also different levels of organization and group identity. It is an international concern because terrorism has become a threat to many people. For some, it is war. If so, who are the enemy and what do they actually want?
Sidney Jones, Southeast Asia project director at the International Crisis Group, shared her views about terrorism with The Point recently.
Despite the fact that Indonesia has a history of harboring terrorists, Jones said the country has made a genuine effort to fight terrorism.
The following are excerpts of her interview:
Q: President George W Bush’s meeting with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has borne a commitment to fight terrorism. What is your point of view regarding our President’s commitment to fighting terrorism?
A: I think it’s probably been overemphasized in the U.S.-Indonesia relationship. There are a lot more important factors than simply terrorism, but I think the United States has finally recognized that Indonesia actually has been a good partner in the sense that the country has done a great job on terrorism.
Q: What do you think Indonesia has done so far in the area of fighting terrorism?
A: The government has made a major effort to understand how these networks operate, to arrest some of the people who have been directly or indirectly involved with the violence, to bring them to trial, an open public trial, in a way that provided a lot of information to the Indonesian public about what these people actually did. And then it has made sure that they served the sentences and released them when the sentences were completed. So they held very carefully to the whole concept of the rule of law in fighting terrorism. And that’s a good thing.
Q: Talking about people who have been arrested like the Bali bomb perpetrators – What drove these people to such acts?
A: The reason depends on which individuals you’re talking about. There are some people who are inspired by direct contact with radical preachers, and some who were radicalized in Afghanistan when they were training on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. This is pre-Taliban. As a matter of fact, the first time Indonesians went to Afghanistan to be trained by other terrorists was in 1985. They were people who became involved in jihad movements after the eruption of conflict in Ambon and Poso. Some people wanted revenge for what they saw in Poso, for example. For some Islamic organizations like Jamaah Islamiyah, the goal is to establish an Islamic state covering the region, starting with Indonesia.
Q: Why do they have to start with Indonesia? Is it because it is the most populous Muslim country?
A: I think these particular people believe that the ground is most fertile here. It has to do with the fact that there were many efforts already underway in the 1980s to build up a small community that applied Islamic law. The problem is because a group of Indonesians, including some of the people who were in Afghanistan, had the capacity and the skills that would enable them to fight jihad in their own country. They were Egyptians training in Afghanistan with the desire to go home to Egypt to start the jihad, or Indonesians who were inspired by what they learned in Afghanistan to go back to Indonesia and try to build an Islamic state.
Q: Do you think what happened in Poso was terrorism or social conflict?
A: It’s both. It started out as a social conflict. It is a very local conflict that has nothing to do with religion. It was mostly a conflict over local political power with some economic factors also involved. And eventually it got to the point where for a number of different reasons the problem become terrorism, leading to sectarian conflicts where one side were Muslims and the other were Christians. And they identified themselves by religion even though the original causes had nothing to do with religion. But eventually after one particular incident, the massacre at an Islamic boarding school (pesantren) in May 2000, then it began to inspire some mujahiddin elsewhere in Indonesia to go into Poso to help some of the local Poso Muslims. And some of the people who went to Poso at that stage were already affiliated with Jamaah Islamiyah.
Sidney Jones is well-known for her research and publications about terrorism, regional conflicts, separatism and ethnic conflicts. She was the program officer at Ford Foundation from 1977-1984, Indonesia-Philippines researcher at Amnesty International from 1985-1988, the Asia director of Human Rights Watch from 1989-2002, and has been the Southeast Asia project director at the International Crisis Group ever since.