The Jakarta Post
The suicide bombing at the Medan Police headquarters in North Sumatra on Wednesday is the latest reminder of the nation’s vulnerability to violent extremism. Acts of terrorism pose a serious threat not only to national security but also to our hard-won democracy.
The blast, perpetrated by local resident Rabbial Muslim Nasution, 24, came just one month after a couple launched a knife attack on then chief security minister Wiranto during his working visit to the Banten regency of Pandeglang.
Within 24 hours the police arrested Rabbial’s wife, identified only as DA, whom investigators suspect was in communication with a terrorist convict serving his sentence in a Medan penitentiary regarding a plan to attack Bali. The police are also hunting down the mentor of Rabbial, who is believed to have indoctrinated Rabbial to blow himself up in an attack on an “enemy of Islam”.
The police may find similarities between the Banten and Medan incidents, including a link between the perpetrators of the two attacks and Jamaah Anshorut Daulah (JAD), a homegrown terrorist group that is affiliated with the Islamic State movement. Last June the court sentenced JAD leader Aman Abdurrahman to death after finding him guilty of inciting others to commit at least five terrorist attacks in the country, but it may take the authorities some time to execute him, particularly because the law allows him to appeal the sentence.
But whatever the motives behind the Medan blast and other past acts of terrorism, the challenge for Indonesia in combating violent extremism is getting tougher and more complicated. The country has taken both “hard” and “soft” approaches in the fight against extremism, with both success and failure.
As the world’s largest predominantly Muslim nation, Indonesia has been promoting moderate Islam as the antithesis of radicalism that justifies the use of violence in the name of Islam. Indonesia has long been living proof that Islam is compatible with democracy. More than that, in Indonesia Islam has sustained democracy while elsewhere, including in advanced democracies, supremacism is endangering democracy.
Democracy always provides room for debate, which sustains current efforts to eradicate extremism and protect democracy. A case in point is the controversy over the religious affairs minister’s recent plan to ban male and female civil servants from wearing cropped pants and the niqab, respectively. The debate ended with the minister’s apology.
A series of attacks that culminated in the five East Java bombings in May last year, including at three Surabaya churches, accelerated long-overdue revisions of the 2003 Terrorism Law. The legislation gives more power to law enforcers to detect, deter and prevent terrorist attacks, and opens up the possibility for the military to participate in counterterrorism efforts.
Many will question the law’s effectiveness given the Medan bombings but others could argue that without such a draconian law more bombings would have happened.
Law enforcement alone, however, is insufficient to address extremism. As long as intolerant attitudes are condoned and radical ideology is left to spread unchecked, more people will resort to violence in their misguided bid to reach heaven.