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International Crisis Group’s Sidney Jones photos by AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE


the roots of

Extremism [

In t e rvie w


FORUM Talks to Sidney Jones, senior advisor for the International Crisis Group’s Asia Program. The group examines conflict and sources of violence worldwide. Based in Jakarta, Jones has largely focused on Indonesia, analyzing separatist conflicts in Aceh and Papua, communal conflicts in Poso and the Moluccas, and ethnic conflicts such as those in Kalimantan. Her team has also looked at Islamic radicalism, producing a series of reports on Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and its operations in Indonesia and the Philippines.


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How have the dynamics of extremist groups changed in Indonesia? Jones: What we’ve watched over the years is the decline of JI and the successful law enforcement efforts of the government. We’ve also seen the emergence of much smaller, less organized cells that have less expertise in some ways but also are much harder to track in terms of how they get formed and what their ideology is. The people who become leaders of these groups have moved beyond the Afghan-trained group, which provided a lot of leadership to JI, to people who had taken a combat role in the two big communal conflicts here in Ambon [capital of the province of the Moluccas Islands] and Poso [Central Sulawesi] that emerged after President Suharto stepped down [in May 1998]. FORUM: Besides the involvement of people who fought in those communal conflicts, what other trends are emerging among terror groups? Jones: Another thing we’re seeing just in recent years is the merging of extremist agendas between the nonterrorist groups who were prepared to take mass action against what they saw as unauthorized churches or minority sects or groups considered deviant like the minority sect Ahmadiyah. And some people who had been members of JI (or any of these groups with a jihadi agenda) are increasingly joining coalitions to combat what they see as Christianization or the spread of Christian influence in a Muslim-majority country. In some areas, there are pockets where Christian evangelicals have grown in influence, and in some cases, those areas become particular areas of contestation between fundamental Christians and fundamentalist Muslims.

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Radical Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir sits in a police vehicle after his June 16, 2011, conviction in Jakarta on terrorism charges. The Indonesian court sentenced him to 15 years behind bars for funding a terrorist group that was plotting attacks against political leaders and Westerners.

FORUM: What are the main sources of increasing intolerance in Indonesia? Jones: There was a direct impact of these two communal conflicts in Poso and Ambon in changing the attitude toward minorities on the part of conservatives and more radical Muslims to see Christians in particular as a threat. One of the consequences of those conflicts was many Muslims died at Christian hands. So many Muslims perceived the Christian community as innately disposed to convert Muslims or to attack Muslims. The radical stream of Islam grew more hostile to Christians as a result of these conflicts. Of course, Christians died at Muslim hands as well, but the impact on Christian perceptions was palpable. Secondly, we’ve had a spread of hard-line ideology through Islamic media both in printed versions and over the Internet, through radio and so on. So the dissemination of radical thought through the media more generally has been a factor in why intolerance is increasing. FORUM: Would you please explain the various sources of extremism in Indonesia? Jones: You have to distinguish very clearly between the intolerance that comes from ultra-puritan stream of Islam like Wahhabbism and the more violent stream of Salafi jihadism, which I suppose looks to Osama bin Laden as an inspiration. But the two of those are at each other’s throats here. The biggest enemies of people like Abu Bakar Bashir are the people from the Saudi-funded, pure Wahhabi stream, and we’ve had actual, physical clashes between the two. FORUM: Are there instances when the minority Islam groups team up? Jones: What we’re seeing in some cases is that fighting apostasy or fighting Christianization is one issue that 56

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Indonesian judges give their verdict to Bashir on June 16, 2011, inside a Jakarta courtroom.

Indonesian anti-terror police prepare to storm a hotel during a drill in Jakarta in October 2011.

at least temporarily can bring about a tactical alliance of a lot of these different groups, and that’s what the danger is. Many of these groups have learned how to use democratic space to become very effective civil society organizations. They know how to lobby; they know how to identify friends in the government. I used to work for a human rights organization in the [United States] from a perspective of understanding how to influence government. I’ve got to hand it to these guys: They know how to do it far more than the groups interested in rights and tolerance and pluralism and so on. FORUM: Is the Saudi-funded form of Islam a source of concern? Jones: Yes, but people have to realize that it’s also the biggest enemy of the violent stream of Salafism in Indonesia. People who think Saudi funding directly contributes to violence need to think again because that’s not what the problem is. The most virulent writings against the terrorist stream of Islam are actually coming from the ultra-puritans who see these groups as having deviated from a focus on religion. In this country, at least, people who are worried about Saudi financing are barking up the wrong tree because those groups here tend to be

in order to counter a radical message, you have to have deliverers of the message that are credible and legitimate within the community that is listening to that.”

implacable enemies of the people who want to make bombs. When we look at the radical groups here, we also look at where their sources of funding are coming from. But almost all funding here is locally generated. It’s not as though there is anything major coming in from overseas. FORUM: What countermeasures do you recommend? Jones: There are a number of programs that at least can be tried. One, for example, is if you accept that in order to counter a radical message, you have to have deliverers of the message that are credible and legitimate within the community that is listening to that. It would be useless to have somebody from a moderate Muslim background go into a radical community and expect to be accepted. You have to get people from within that

community who will be persuasive. One example is the big social organization Muhammadiyah [Indonesia’s second-largest Muslim organization], which has a very conservative if not radical right wing. If you look at where some of the hard-liners come from, many of them have been educated in Muhammadiyah schools. It doesn’t mean that Muhammadiyah writ large is a radical organization. It means that within its own ranks it has a problem, and it means within Muhammadiyah, there is a possibility of a solution. If you get people who [have] very strong religious credentials from the same background as the people who are, for example, attending a radical mosque, specifically delivering Friday sermons or organizing youth activities at that mosque. But it’s got to be targeted — that’s the key. o APD Forum


Understanding the Roots of Extremism  

Asia Pacific Defense Forum Magazine feature interview with International Crisis Group's Sidney Jones

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