The bombing of the Australian embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, has served yet another blow to a country that is already struggling as best as it can to recover from the economic and financial crises of 1997-98, and the aftermath of the Bali bombings a
Thus far all fingers seem to point to the mysterious Jama’ah Islamiyah network, which is said to span the whole of Southeast Asia and whose members come from Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. While it is still too early to come to such conclusions, some observations can be made at this point should this allegation be proven to be true in the days and weeks to come:
If the bombing was the work of the JI group, then questions need to be raised about the mindset of the JI members themselves; what they intend to accomplish and what they hope shall be the final outcome of their bloody labours. Thus far, from what little we know, it would appear that the JI group believes that Indonesia – along with Malaysia, Singapore and the other countries of ASEAN – should come together as a greater Islamic state which upholds not only Islamic law but also promotes and defends Muslim interests. They seem, it is alleged, willing to do anything to achieve this aim, even if it means causing havoc and worsening economic, political and diplomatic relations with other nation-states.
Should this indeed be the case, a host of other questions are let out of the bag: For a start, what of the will and desires of the rest of the population of Indonesia, who – even though they may strongly oppose the Australian government’s cavalier approach to politics and Australia’s docile acceptance of the role of America’s ‘sheriff’ in Asia – may have their own way to express their opposition to Australian foreign policy? And what of the longings of the millions of other Southeast Asians who certainly do not dream of living in a pan-ASEAN Caliphate ruled by the JI’s own chosen leaders?
It is said that the mastermind behind the Australian embassy bombing and the similar attack on the Marriott Hotel was Azahari Husin and his compatriot Noordin Mohammad Top. Should this really be the case, then the question that has to be posed to Azahari Husin – a Malaysian academic now turned bomb-maker in Indonesia – is what he hopes to achieve through his activities there. Surely Azahari, an educated academic with some knowledge of worldly affairs and global politics, can see that these actions do little as far as improving Indonesia’s standing and image; and if anything has only made the political and economic situation worse for the people of Indonesia themselves? With ‘friends’ like these, Indonesia does not need enemies.
To compound an already rotten situation, the attacks on the Marriott Hotel and now the Australian embassy in Jakarta have merely strengthened the hand of the US and Australia vis-a-vis Jakarta and the Indonesian state. Following the bomb attacks on Bali, it was the Australian government that milked the most sympathy for the deaths of Australian tourists on that island resort.
While it cannot be denied that those Australians who died were innocent civilians, it should be noted that the primary victims of the Bali bombings were the Indonesians themselves, whose local economy (not least in the field of tourism) suffered enormously as a result. What is more, the Bali bombings brought Jakarta even closer and deeper into the clutches of the American and Australian governments, who used the incident to apply even more pressure on the Indonesians to tighten up security regulations in the country. The net result has been more repressive and anti-democratic laws to police the Indonesian public, ostensibly in the name of anti-terrorism and public safety. If the members of JI thought that their attack was a blow against the ‘evil powers of the West’, they should think again. It was an own-goal by any standards!
The latest attack against the Australian embassy in Jakarta has given the Australian government yet another stick to beat the Indonesians on the head with. In the weeks to come, as Indonesia moves towards its Presidential elections and the temperature is set to rise yet again, the Australians will undoubtedly apply more pressure on Indonesia to work against the alleged extremist groups within its borders.
All of this has served not only to deminish and belittle Indonesia’s image abroad, but has also allowed the Australians to ride the moral high horse and play the role of ‘sheriff’ in Asia once again. Worst of all, it has allowed the Australian government to preach from a lofty height while conveniently forgetting the role that it once played as America’s ally in the region during the Cold War and its role as tacit supporter of the Suharto regime in the recent past.
The Australian government now plays the role of yet another unwanted ‘friend’ of Indonesia, advising the Indonesians on how to deal with their so-called ‘terrorist problem’. But we should not forget the role played by Edward Gough Whitlam, former Australian Prime Minister, and Richard Woolcot, former Australian embassador to Indonesia, during the invasion of East Timor in 1974. It was they, along with former US President Gerald Ford and former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who stood by and did nothing when President Suharto – along with his military leaders like General Wiranto and General Benny Moerdani – planned and led the invasion of East Timor that lead to the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives. Where was the USA and Australia then, when Suharto and his generals unleashed their state-sanctioned regime of terror on the people of East Timor? Or does such actrocities only count as ‘terror’ when Europeans are the victims?
All in all, the attack on the Australian embassy was a sordid, dispicable incident which will be twisted and misrepresented to suit the interests of the powers that be. If Azahari Husin and the leaders of the JI were indeed involved in the attack, then they are short-sighted pawns who have been used for the interests of others. The killing of any innocent civilian is a sin and haram (forbidden) in Islam. But when such killings end up being used by others, exploited and twisted out of context to further weaken one’s own country, then all that can be said is that the JI’s actions have served only to weaken Islam and Muslim interests even further. Not only was it shameful, it was also counter-productive and downright stupid. ‘Friends’ like these Indonesian simply does not need.
Dr Farish A Noor is a Malaysian Political Scientist and Human Rights Activist.