The 16 July terrorist attacks on the Ritz-Carlton and Marriott hotels in Jakarta illustrate that in some ways, Indonesia is a victim of its own successes in recent years, Simon Roughneen comments for ISN Security Watch.

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Since 1998 Indonesia has successfully made the transition from autocracy to democracy and has overcome secessionism and economic chaos. The world’s largest Muslim-majority country has confounded Cassandras who thought it set to go the way of former Yugoslavia – too vast, unwieldy and diverse to hold to together, much less function as a stable and sustainable democracy.

Indonesia had apparently taken care of its indigenous terrorist threat, too. After a number of deadly attacks carried out by Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), up to 2005, Jakarta’s Detachment 88 counterterrorist police has acted decisively against JI. Indonesian authorities have jailed hundreds of terrorists and executed three involved in the 2002 Bali bombings following a very high-profile criminal trial.

These successes apparently cowed JI, which splintered, often acrimoniously, into various offshoots. Some remained committed to violence, while others restricted their activities to teaching, propaganda and networking.

Indonesian voters are generally not motivated by overt piety and tend to shun extremes. That is not to say political Islam is not a factor in Indonesia. Candidates for nationalist or secular parties take care to maintain a pro-Islamic persona.

The recently re-elected Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono maintains a populist, personally pious image, and Islamist parties have backed him, doubtless expecting some reward in the coming administration. During his tenure, Yudhoyono was typically indecisive, at best, when confronted by 50 regencies that defied the Indonesian Constitution by implementing sharia. He failed to act decisively when Ahmadiyahs (deemed by some to be a heretical or non-Muslim sect) were attacked by hardliners.

However, these in themselves might not feed the ideological milieu that fosters terrorism. In its efforts to establish a vibrant democracy and freedom of speech, Indonesia has given free rein to JI and sympathizers to maintain their network of pesantren (Islamic boarding schools) and publishing houses, which continue to churn out propaganda against anything deemed ‘un-Islamic,’ such as democratic Indonesian polity.

The 16 July suicide bombings show clearly that this cannot continue if Indonesia is to remain terror-free. Terrorists as resourceful and determined as Malaysian fugitive Noordin Top – who is almost certainly the leader of the murder gang and planner-in-chief – will continue to plan attacks and can do so despite the best efforts of counterterrorist bodies.

And young minds will continue to be taken in by manipulative ideologues, whose words lead to deadly consequences. Police have traced at least of one the Jakarta terrorists to a school in Java founded by Abu Bakr Bashir, also founder of JI. This school produced some of the killers involved in other terrorist attacks across the archipelago in recent years, but has never been closed down.

Thus, even a diminished terror network can replenish its ranks, while regrouping and hiding-out among sympathizers.

The Indonesian president reacted to the bombings with a maudlin and inappropriate conspiracy theory, suggesting that the attacks were politically motivated attempts to derail his inauguration. He would be better to focus on the real problem. He could use the public revulsion felt at the murder of Indonesians as well as foreigners, couple this with his decisive election win, and generate a mandate to turn the screw on the ideological foundations for JI and other al-Qaida-linked groups in Indonesia.

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