In the aftermath of the Bali explosion on 12 October 2002, ex-foreign
minister Gareth Evans argued that Australia should prosecute the war
against terrorism intelligently, by being "sensitive" to
Indonesian concerns. This raises the paradox that Australian tertiary and
bureaucratic institutions had for 20 years nurtured a generation of
Indonesia watchers who often exhibited profound sensitivity to Indonesian
interests, yet failed to perceive the evolving threat developing on
Australia's doorstep. Why was this the case?
The question is even more curious because it has been relatively
straightforward for Western analysts and Australian policy-makers in
particular to gain an appreciation of the world view capturing hearts and
minds among young, educated and increasingly militant Indonesian males.
Nevertheless, Australian security analysts and media commentators tended
to ignore or downplay the rising tide of Islamism. Indeed, when US sources
revealed new evidence of an al Qa'ida threat to Western interests in
Indonesia, and the region more generally, Australian and Indonesian
commentators, the regional press and journals like the Far
Eastern Economic Review believed the US was "rushing
Yet, in downtown Jakarta bookstores it is possible to pick up for
approximately $Aus1.80 a slim volume entitled Saya Teroris? Sebuah
Pleidoi by Fauzan al-Anshari, an account of the life, times and
beliefs of self-styled sheikh Abu Bakar Ba'asyir. Ba'asyir has been
identified as the spiritual guru of the Jemaah Islamayah network alleged
to be behind the Bali bombing. From Ba'asyir's perspective the United
States and Zionism plotted to destroy Islam to secure global domination.
Ba'asyir maintains that US agencies engineered the World Trade Centre
attacks to justify a global assault on its enemies, notably the
Palestinians and the Taliban. More recently, the sheikh has argued that
"infidels" perpetrated the outrage at Kuta Beach to discredit
the variety of purified Islam that he and his ilk purvey.
The sheikh is, of course, a conspiracy theorist. Accordingly, the world
is engaged in a war between forces serving the will of Allah and the US
Great Satan and its allies.
On his return to Solo, Central Java, in 1999 from regional exile in
Malaysia (where he established religious schools and the lineaments of the
Jemaah Islamayah network) Ba'asyir immediately invited his fellow Muslim
clerics to prepare "for jihad against America". To this end he
constituted the Majlis Mujahideen Indonesia to coordinate those
Indonesians committed to the purified creed that has gained popularity
among young Muslim males globally.
This doctrine, initially articulated in the 1950s Middle East by those
radically opposed to post-colonial secular nationalist regimes, holds that
only a pure Islam could address the "hideous schizophrenia" of
the modern condition. The Egyptian Muslim Brother Sayyid Qutb maintained
that this "ideological ideal" system alone could "rescue
humanity" from "the barbarism of technocratic culture", the
vice of nationalism imposed by a Nasser or a Suharto and "the
stifling trap of communism".
This Islamist ideocracy has proved remarkably resilient, extending its
global appeal over the past two decades. Paradoxically, the Islamist ideal
of faith and virtue founded on a pre-industrial scripturalism has
benefitted from the technological revolution and the transformation of
communications. Identification with this scripturalist high culture
becomes the hallmark of Islamic urban sophistication. In south-east Asia,
the Middle East and Pakistan, urban male graduates find in the formalism
of austere salafist teaching the simplicity and certitude that serves as a
fitting accompaniment to their education in science and technology. Jihads
groups, like those in Indonesia, have their own websites and mobile
phones, provided they don't emit a degenerate musical dial tone.
This increasingly attractive Islamism imported into Indonesia since the
late 1980s promotes a traditionalist and illiberal arrangement in which
society is governed by networks, quasi-tribes, family alliances and
services rendered, rather than on formal relations in a defined
bureaucratic manner. Mafia activities and terror franchises sustain this
arrangement, which is how al Qa'ida operates.
It is in this context that, since the fall of Suharto in 1998, a
bewildering array of groups have sprung up which aim to uphold the
integrity of Indonesia and establish sharia discipline with a Koran in one
hand and a Kalshnikov in the other.
In Jakarta, Front Pembela Islamaya trashes tourist areas frequented by
decadent Westerners. Meanwhile, Hizb-ut Tahrir, a movement begun in Jordan
in 1953 but proscribed across the Middle East, seeks to unite the Muslim
world as a superpower or Daulah Khalifah governed according to the Koran.
Consequently, when Colin Powell visited Indonesia in August in an attempt
to strengthen the government's anti-terrorist resolve, one of its leading
lights, Rahmat Hassan, pronounced that "America is the biggest
terrorist in the world, they have stomped on Muslims too many times".
Since the early 1990s Islamic opinion across the region has become
increasingly radicalised and an Islamist internationale has permeated
south-east Asia, establishing pan-regional networks using the devices of
modernity for its anti-secularisation purposes. After the 1991 Gulf War,
increasing numbers of younger Muslim students went on extended sabbaticals
in Afghan or Pakistani training camps to learn the art of the Mujahideen,
bringing back its training in faith, community service and bomb making,
often with the tacit approval of disaffected elements in parliament and in
Nor is this increasing radicalism a minority vocation. In December 2001
a poll conducted by a sociologist at the moderate State University of
Islamic Studies (IAIN) and published in Tempo
(December 2001) found that 61.4 per cent of the population supported the
implementation of sharia law in Indonesia.