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Jakarta bombings: bad things and evil people

By Duncan Graham - posted Monday, 20 July 2009

“Where, after all, is the Muslim outrage at these events, as their ancient, deeply civilised culture of love, art and philosophical reflection is hijacked by paranoiacs, racists, liars, male supremacists, tyrants, fanatics and violence junkies? Why are they not screaming?”

That outburst came from British-Indian novelist Salman Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses. It followed the 2001 World Trade Centre destruction and the 2002 Bali bombing which destroyed the lives of 202 people, including 88 Australians.

His words were appropriate then, but not in 2009 with the Jakarta hotel bombs which killed nine. That’s because the genuine fury and concern that followed the latest blasts came from within Indonesia and across the religious landscape.


The conservative Muslim organisation Muhammadiyah did not qualify its anger. The Indonesian media even reported that cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, the alleged spiritual leader of the fundamentalist group Jemaah Islamiyah, disapproved of the bombings.

Past reaction tended to follow the “wayward lad” excuse: “Well of course this is wrong and shouldn’t happen, but we can understand their anger and after all they are Brother Muslims …”

In 2002 the president was Megawati Soekarnoputri. She took a floppy position fearing firmness might alienate Muslim support. She also rejected US requests to interdict Bashir.

Her vice president Hamzah Haz refused to accept that radical Islam was linked to terrorism until the evidence became overwhelming. At the time Indonesia wanted no part in George Bush’s “war on terror”; many believed the JI was a phantom invoked by the CIA, which was why the organisation was never proscribed.

But this time President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) pulled no punches, vowing to pursue and prosecute.

Sure, it’s good hairy-chested stuff, but the Indonesian security forces haven’t found the JI hardliner and master bomb-maker Noordin Mohammed Top who was probably behind the Bali and Jakarta bombings. This despite his photo being widely posted in public buildings around the country for the past five years.


He and other fundamentalists yearning for an Islamic republic may not be getting support from the public outside the extremist pesantren (Islamic boarding schools), but plenty have been prepared to turn a blind eye to their activities.

Indonesia is a country with few secrets. There’s an extensive community watch system introduced during the Japanese occupation, and which reaches right into the smallest street. Coupled with people’s natural nosiness it means that no one escapes the neighbours’ scrutiny.

Unfortunately there’s little trust in the police, so unusual comings and goings may arouse comment, but are unlikely to get formally reported. Although reform continues since the police force was split from the military after Soeharto lost power, the public still believes the men in khaki are corrupt and untrustworthy, more interested in pocketing traffic fines than investigating crime.

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About the Author

Duncan Graham is a Perth journalist who now lives in Indonesia in winter and New Zealand in summer. He is the author of The People Next Door (University of Western Australia Press) and Doing Business Next Door (Wordstars). He blogs atIndonesia Now.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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