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Jakarta Post

City’s strength lies in community

  • Editorial Board

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Thu, May 16, 2019   /   08:57 am
City’s strength lies in community Solidarity: Muslims break the fast at the Santa Maria Catholic Church in Surabaya, East Java, on Monday. The interfaith gathering was held to remember the victims of the suicide bombings carried out by an Islamic State-inspired family a year ago. On May 13, 2018, a family of six — including two girls aged 9 and 12 — blew themselves up at the Santa Maria Catholic Church and two other churches in Surabaya during Sunday morning services, killing 25 including six church congregants. (The Jakarta Post/Wahyoe Boediwardhana )

Monday was the first anniversary of the Surabaya bombings. The perpetrators had engaged their wives and children in the shocking terror attacks that killed 25 and injured many others on May 13, 2018.

Yet Monday’s commemoration was not only about the grief of the survivors and victims’ families — it served as a reminder that Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city, is one diverse community that cannot be changed by terrorists. The Saint Mary Immaculate (SMTB) Catholic Church held a breaking-of-the-fast event with neighboring Muslims at the church. It stands near the other churches targeted in last year’s attacks, the Surabaya Pantecostal Church (GPPS) and the Diponegoro Indonesian Protestant Church (GKI).

Addressing the audience at SMTB Catholic Church, priest Agustinus Wibowo said, “We’d like to thank everyone who came today, for your presence reminds us that we have lots of friends who love us. We’ve learned together to accept God’s will, and with the presence of the interfaith community here, we all realize that we can’t be divided for having different beliefs.”

In fact, 100 days after the carnage, the church and other interfaith groups declared May 13 True Fraternity Day.

Apparently, the city’s harmony drove the terrorists to patiently blend in with their middle-class neighbors, while indoctrinating the children — leading to disbelief among neighbors, teachers and the children’s schoolmates in the aftermath of the attacks. Mayor Tri Rismaharini led volunteers and psychologists in reportedly continuous attempts to heal the trauma of the survivors, including the parents of brothers Vincencius Evan, 11, and Nathanael, 8.

The collective feeling seems to be that only the community itself can heal such deep trauma. Neighbors have said they would accept the surviving children of the bombers; the social affairs agency and the Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Ministry have reportedly taken care of seven children, aged 7 to 14, for a year. The children are now more communicative, an official has said, also thanks to an Islamic expert who has had to explain to youngsters where they were misled to accept violence and murder as the right way of jihad. However, authorities have expressed wariness about the level of family acceptance of the children.

Surabaya and all other communities affected by terrorism cannot wait for the government and experts who are still seeking effective ways to curb extremism. The New Zealand shootings at two Christchurch mosques on March 15, which killed 50 worshippers, reminded us of terrorists’ similarities: They target the innocent in their sick conviction of a heroic mission.

Neither can communities wait for the “right” deradicalization programs for surviving terrorists and their children. Years ago, conflict expert Sidney Jones reminded authorities of their apparent neglect of terrorists’ children and their potential to continue their parents’ mission.

The authorities and experts taking care of the Surabaya orphans may have done all they could. The stated acceptance of part of their extended families and neighbors is the first step in healing the young souls, while the community strengthens Surabaya’s character as a vibrant city of various faiths.