People in the largely Muslim-country of Indonesia need to recognise the scale of the threat that terrorism poses to all people of good will, long-term resident and Jesuit priest and lecturer Fr Franz Magnis-Suseno said in the wake of recent terrorist attacks.
“This attack should serve as an alarm bell for all Indonesians, and above all for Muslims. They need to recognise the danger of terrorism,” the priest, a lecturer in philosophy at the University of Jakarta, told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), speaking about the recent series of explosions in the Indonesian capital.
“It is too soon to identify the authors of these attacks, but undoubtedly it is likely that this could have been the work of ISIS.”
According to Fr Magnis-Suseno, these events are not linked to the current religious situation in the country. “This type of problem tends rather to happen in some of the provinces, as in Aceh, for example.” Hence it seems that the target of the attacks was not the Christian community – which represents some 9.9 per cent of the population, as against the 87.2 per cent that is Muslim – nor indeed any other religious minorities, but rather it was a message directed at the West, like the recent attacks that took place in Turkey and Egypt. Nonetheless, in a country where there has been no such terrorist attack for six years now, the problem of extremism should not be underestimated.
As explained in the most recent ACN report on religious freedom in the world, Indonesia’s tradition of religious pluralism and harmony is increasingly coming under threat, with a significant rise in religious intolerance, driven by radical Islamism.
Attacks against churches are rising, as demonstrated by the recent violence in Aceh province, and more and more churches are being forced to close.
Other religious communities, such as the Ahmadiyya and Shia sects within Islam, as well as Buddhists, Hindus, Baha’is, Confucianists, adherents of indigenous traditional religions and progressive Sunni Muslims who speak out against intolerance, are also facing increasing harassment and violence.
A combination of factors is driving this increasing religious intolerance. Acts of violence are perpetrated by vigilante Islamist organisations such as the Front Pembela Islam (FPI) or ‘Islamic Defenders Front’, which carry out attacks on churches, Ahmadi mosques, Shia communities and others – with impunity.
The prevailing discourse is influenced by Islamist propaganda spread on university campuses and in mosques and pesantren (Islamic boarding schools).
The spread of Islamist ideas is largely imported from the Middle East, particularly through funding for scholarships to study in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and financial support for publishing and distribution of Islamist literature.
“The authorities are confident of being able to depend on a strong anti-terrorist strategy, which has been in operation since 1988”, Fr Magnis-Suseno adds, though he recalled the presence of numerous terrorist groups in the country.
“In reality these groups are very much divided among themselves and cannot be lumped together or form a common front. The majority of these groups condemn ‘Islamic State’, but two groups in particular indirectly support the idea of the caliphate.”
They are the Jemaah Islamiah, founded by Abubakr al-Bashir, and the East Indonesia Mujahidin, led by Indonesia’s most wanted terrorist Santoso and active in the province of Sulawesi Central.
Fr Magnis-Suseno does not think the growth in the number of supporters of Islamic State poses an immediate danger to Indonesia, but that everything will depend upon the political and economic development of the country.
“If the government succeeds, as it seems to be doing, in offering real prospects of a better future and reining in the rampant corruption, then young Indonesians will not go looking for alternatives such as ISIS.”