INDONESIA: Right exploits anger at 'war on terror' campaign

Issue 

BY MAX LANE

JAKARTA — The "war on terror" propaganda campaign being conducted by the Australian and US governments is providing ammunition for xenophobic right-wing political forces in Indonesia.

Australian government support for the introduction of the Indonesian government's anti-terror decree, the perception that Canberra has been demanding the arrest of the chairperson of the Indonesian Mujaheddin Council Abu Bakar Bashir without providing evidence of his involvement in the Bali bombings and the raids on the homes of Indonesian Muslims in Australia have all provided a wide spectrum of right-wing political groups with a basis to whip up anger at Australia, the US and the West.

The key figures who have responded to the propaganda offensive by Australia include vice-president Hamzah Haz, various Golkar members of parliament and Amien Rais, who is chairperson of the Indonesian parliament (the Peoples Consultative Assembly) and chairperson of the National Mandate Party. Statements by Bashir have also received much media coverage.

Bashir achieved an even higher profile after police smashed through his hospital window in Solo in order to forcibly arrest him. This took place even though Bashir had said he was willing to be detained for questioning but had asked to briefly visit his school first. He was not allowed to do this.

Bashir continues to accuse the US of being behind the Bali bombings. Many of Indonesia's mass-based sensationalist dailies also give prominence to an analysis that argues that Washington had the most to gain from the bombings, allowing it to boost its intervention in Asia in the name of combating "terrorism". Majority public opinion seems to agree that the US was behind the Bali bombings.

Bashir's defence campaign has attracted involvement from high-profile legal personality Adnan Buyung Nasution, founder of the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute. Nasution was close to former President Habibie. Other legal centres, although not those that have been part of the progressive democratic movement, have taken up other aspects of the case.

The wife of the Kuwaiti man, Omar al Faruq, who was arrested in Indonesia and is now being detained in Pakistan by US authorities, is bringing a case against Indonesian authorities for kidnapping. The kidnapping case has highlighted the lack of legal process in Faruq's arrest and transfer by the US intelligence authorities.

Bashir is under suspicion primarily because of accusations made by Faruq while under interrogation. The information connecting Bashir to the Jemaah Islamiyah group comes largely from Faruq, who has supposedly confessed to being al Qaeda's "point man" in South-East Asia. Because of Faruq's claims, Bashir is now also being questioned in relation to bombings of churches in 2000.

While Bashir and others on the fundamentalist wing of political Islam concentrate on criticising the US and alleging that the Bali bombings were a US plot, the mainstream, politically conservative Islamic groups have focused on criticising US and Australian statements that infer that the Indonesian government has not done enough to suppress Islamic radicalism and that therefore all Islamic groups bear responsibility for the Bali bombings. They charge that Indonesia is being dictated to by the West. This theme is also being constantly taken up by the mass circulation press.

The "religious profiling" by Western governments and media of "terrorist groups" in South-East Asia has provided a basis for a shift in focus for anti-imperialist sentiment in Indonesia.

Prior to the Bali bombings, the most important factor fuelling this sentiment was the growing awareness of the role of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in exacerbating Indonesia's economic and social crises. While this sentiment had not led to large-scale mass mobilisations, these issues were being more and more discussed in the media. Trade union demonstrations had begun to take up the role of the IMF. This was also reflected in the anti-IMF statements by the country's most important opportunist political barometer, Amien Rais, who began to call for an end to all agreements with the IMF.

Those now most actively encouraging xenophobic anti-Western sentiment are silent on these other issues. This is not surprising as the whole of the Indonesian political elite still views increased foreign investment and loans as the only solution to the country's economic woes.

Since the Bali bombings, it has been the xenophobic right wing, rather than the "civil society" left that has benefited from the anti-Western mood. Politicians from Golkar, the party of deposed dictator Suharto, and the United Development Party of vice-president Hamzah Haz have strengthened their positions vis-a-vis President Megawati Sukarnoputri. Both the xenophobic right and the sensationalist mass media are portraying the Megawati government as both incompetent and servile to foreign interests.

On October 31, a wide range of Islamic political organisations organised a large mobilisation outside the presidential palace in Jakarta to protest the arrest of Bashir. It brought together fundamentalist, conservative non-fundamentalist Islamic forces and some elements connected to Golkar.

Originally, some of these forces had approached democratic and progressive groups, including the radical Peoples Democratic Party (PRD), to participate in a demonstration that would concentrate primarily on opposition to the government's anti- terrorism decree. However, as the popular mood shifted after Bashir's arrest, these groups no longer felt the need for non-Islamic cover.

While the xenophobic right and conservative Islamic groups campaign against Megawati, another axis of struggle has developed. Democratic, human rights and progressive groups have concentrated their criticism on the anti-democratic nature of the anti-terror decree and the increased role for the intelligence services and military that flows from it. There has been a plethora of TV and radio talk shows, in which intelligence and civil liberties activists have debated the issue.

Mobilisations against the anti-terror decree have been small and infrequent. This reflects the general ebb of the organised democratic and progressive movements. While sporadic social protests are widespread and are on the increase, the organised mobilisation of this discontent in support of national political demands has still to develop.

This ebb of the democratic mass movement has opened possibilities for the xenophobic and fundamentalist right to increase its influence among the people.

From Green Left Weekly, November 6, 2002.

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