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Studies in Terror

October 24, 2011

Sidney Jones

Noor Huda Ismail covered the first Bali bombing for his employer, The Washington Post. When the police distributed photos of the suspects, Huda looked at one photo in shock. It was Mubarok, who had been his roommate when he attended Ngruki Islamic School in Central Java. A year later another classmate was the suicide bomber in the first Jakarta Marriot attack. Both had been seen by those around them as kind and polite men, dedicated to their families.

 Huda wanted to know what turns such young men into terrorists. He became a security consultant, providing expertise on terrorist movements in Indonesia and specialising in deradicalisation programs for ex-Jihadists. He donates the royalties from his book Temanku Teroris (My Friend the Terrorist) to victims of terrorist attacks.

 Sidney Jones of the International Crisis Group is another expert on terrorism, and she and Huda discussed their research at a Studies in Terror session at the recent Ubud Writers Festival. They have worked together and are good friends, but do not always agree.

 They do agree that terror movements have evolved in the last decade. The popular image of a large organisation with one figure at the top is out of date. Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) has been weakened by effective law enforcement, and taking its place are a number of smaller groups, less professional but harder to detect and confront. They may develop from high school or Mosque study groups, or around a particular leader. Some are connected to the old JI, some are not. Groups opposing vice, minority sects or the construction of Christian churches are also building alliances with more extreme movements.

 People see terrorists as all the same, but they are very different, said Huda, and therefore we must use different strategies. Sidney talked about the many aspects that need to be addressed when combating terrorism, and doubted that the Indonesian government had the political courage to take on all those aspects.

 In his deradicalisation work, Huda uses the Koran, and especially the Islamic obligation to orphans: terrorist acts create orphans and are therefore against Islam. Sidneysays that it is more effective to convince extremists that violence is counterproductive rather than trying to persuade them it is illegitimate. To me, neither approach seems likely to work, as people are rarely changed through reasoning or moral suasion. But Huda also works with ex-combatants to help them have a normal life after prison, with productive work and community integration, and this approach has been successful.

 It was a privilege to listen to two people with such deep knowledge of their subject. I recommend Sidney Jones’ reports and commentary (link here), and a Slow TV video of another festival session with Noor Huda Ismail at this link.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. October 24, 2011 8:46 pm

    Thanks for these interesting reports from Ubud, they are much appreciated even if I don’t always have time to comment.

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