In Indonesia’s latest bombing incident, at the Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, accusatory fingers are once again pointed at Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), the terror network allegedly linked to al-Qaeda.
The trail pointed to JI even before the smoke from the rubble had settled. This is because in past weeks Indonesian police have arrested suspected JI members. They have also seized a huge quantity of explosives in Samarang. Moreover, the blast came just two days before a court was due to hand down the first verdict in the trials of Islamic militants accused of carrying out the October 12, 2002, bombing of two nightclubs on the resort island of Bali.
Although JI’s involvement cannot be ruled out at this stage, there is also something very troubling with how Indonesia is prosecuting the “war on terror”. To begin with, insufficient attention is given to the due process of the law, a problem that Indonesia suffers in no small degree in any case.
While retroactive legal verdicts are not allowed anywhere in the developed world, it might happen in Indonesia if death sentences are handed down to the defendants in the Bali case – justified by an anti-terrorism law passed after the bombings themselves.
So far, no Western government seems to have filed any protest over this matter, leading the government of President Megawati Sukarnoputri to believe that all things pursued in the name of the “war on terror” are legitimate. The brutal military campaign in Aceh is the logical outcome of this belief.
However, such a punitive approach not only weakens Indonesia’s legal and political system further, but it assures the accused JI members a place in the annals of Indonesian history as future martyrs. Nor has sufficient effort been made toward understanding the trajectory that leads JI to favor violence. Rather, members of JI are deemed to be beyond redemption.
Such an approach stems from the belief that JI is beyond compromise, a line similarly adopted by the administration of US President George W Bush. Yet taking a hard line purely for the sake of maintaining a stance can be counter-productive, as the “war on terror” is equally based on transforming the hearts and minds of those bent on destroying the state and society.
Moreover, there has been no systematic attempt to understand whether JI-like groups can spawn splinter elements that are even more militant. Some speculate that the Marriott attack was carried out by a suicide bomber or bombers. If the evidence does eventually lead to JI, this would imply that the group has been radicalized further, as suicide bombings have not among its trademarks previously.