Involvement in violent campaigns against vice and religious deviance has become one pathway to terrorism in Indonesia, warns the International Crisis Group.
Indonesia: From Vigilantism to Terrorism in Cirebon, the latest briefing from the International Crisis Group, examines the radicalisation of a group from Cirebon, West Java that was behind the 2011 suicide bombings of a mosque and a church. It argues that ideological and tactical lines within the radical community are blurring, making it harder to distinguish “terrorists” from hardline activists and religious vigilantes.
“The Cirebon men moved from using sticks and stones in the name of upholding morality and curbing ‘deviance’ to using bombs and guns, and this may become the common pattern”, says Sidney Jones, Crisis Group Senior Adviser.
Poorly educated and underemployed, the Cirebon men represent a generational shift from the jihadists trained abroad or those who fought a decade ago in two major communal conflicts in Ambon and Poso. They were radicalised through attending public lectures by radical clerics; most had taken part as well in attacks on stores selling liquor and anti-Ahmadiyah activities. They had been members of Jemaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT), an extremist organisation founded by well-known cleric Abu Bakar Ba’asyir in 2008, but then left to form their even more militant group.
The two suicide bombers, Mohamed Syarif, who blew himself up at a Cirebon mosque on 15 April 2011, and Ahmed Yosefa Hayat, who died in an attack on a church in Solo, Central Java on 25 September, taught themselves bomb-making from the Internet and worked on their own. The others preferred targeted assassinations to suicide attacks and learned bomb-making from friends in a Solo-based group of vigilantes-turned-bombers.
The briefing notes that the merging of vigilantes and jihadists has been facilitated by the proliferation of Islamist civil society organisations and the popularity of public taklim (religious lectures), as forums for spreading radical views. The government needs a strategy, consistent with democratic values, to counter clerics who use no violence themselves but preach that it is permissible to shed the blood of infidels (kafir) or tyrants (thaghut), frequently meaning Indonesian officials and, especially, the police. The problem is that there is no agreement within the country’s political elite on the nature of the threat.
If the radicalisation of groups like the Cirebon men is to be halted, the government needs to build a national consensus on what constitutes extremism; directly confront hate speech; and promote zero tolerance of religiously-inspired crimes, however minor, including in the course of anti-vice campaigns.
“Expressions of shock and horror every time there is an incident of religiously-motivated violence as in Cirebon or Solo are not a substitute for prevention”, says Jim Della-Giacoma, Crisis Group’s South East Asia Project Director.