Police face epic failure in countering terrorism
Pierre Marthinus, Jakarta | Sat, 07/03/2010 1:10 PM | Opinion
In the land of the tolerant, the intolerant abuse the air of tolerance.
Our democracy is currently being wantonly abused by hard-line groups, while our
counterterrorism policy is facing a potentially epic failure. In a young
democracy, where police officers stand idle while minorities are being harassed
by fundamentalist groups, terrorism seems to breed like jackrabbits.
Our latest development sends conflicting signals - with successes as well as
failures in countering terrorism. So what do we make of this?
The special Detachment 88 antiterror squad has probably been the most positive
step made so far, compensating somewhat for the Indonesian police's long list
of dysfunctions and institutional incompetence. However, reports of abuses
exist and recently 200 people protested in front of the National Police
headquarters arguing that the issue of terrorism was fabricated, demanding the
dissolution of the Detachment 88 squad.
Furthermore, efforts to de-radicalize convicted terrorist have failed. Released
"ex-terrorists" are reverting to their initial cause, plotting and even
successfully carrying out attacks.
International observers were flabbergasted to see the level of institutional
and public permissiveness toward violent offenses carried out under the guise
of religious piety. Why do we treat terrorism with such ignorance and
First, shortcomings in police reform are hampering counterterrorism efforts.
Tens of thousands of Tempo magazines covering the story of "larger-than-life"
bank accounts owned by high-ranking police officers, were bought out completely
- never to reach the streets - the same day they were published (The Jakarta
Post, June 28).
Cover-ups and smoke screens such as sex scandals seem to beat the agenda of
institutional reform, whistle-blowers and counterterrorism any time of the day
for the institution we greatly rely on.
Transnational support and aid needs to be coupled with greater critical
oversight from our international counterparts, especially the US. It is obvious
that aid diverted from the military to our police is backfiring.
Second, the police have been reluctant to acknowledge that terrorism is a
transnational issue. It is not merely a national issue of crimes within our
domestic jurisdiction. As foreign nationals constitute the bulk of casualties
from our failure to prevent attacks, can we blatantly say to them this is a
national issue and that they will have no say in it?
Indonesian reluctance to allow further foreign intervention is understandable
and I am certainly no fan of foreign intervention. However, let's just keep in
mind that the US made the mistake of treating terrorism as a domestic crime
only to be awakened by the mega Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
On the other hand, it is also not just an international issue that can be
solved through international wars of democratic intervention. The US is now
learning this fact from its fatigue in Afghanistan. Terrorism lies somewhat
between the national and the international; therefore we need to adjust our
Lastly, police have not successfully "secularized" and separated the issue of
terrorism from religion. Several prominent government and community leaders
have made statements to the effect that there is no such thing as terrorism in
Indonesia and that everything has been fabricated.
These people usually rely heavily on religion to muster up political support,
and "feel" they will lose this popularity if religion is viewed as part of the
The Indonesian public is no different. Some awkwardly "feel" that renouncing
terrorism might somehow betray their own faith or will deny Palestinians
much-needed moral support.
Facing previous sharia bylaws, ordinary Indonesians did not speak up because
they again "felt" that opposing them would make them bad Muslims (Time, March
2007). In winning the hearts of Indonesians, it needs to be recognized that
sometimes the heart chooses to "feel" rather than "think".
While things look bleak we can only hope the visionary officers within the
police force are sincerely pushing for reform despite the challenges and
setbacks they face. Things may look overwhelmingly messy at the moment, but the
public envision a reformed, clean and effective police institution with a
shining international reputation in countering terrorism.
The writer is a lecturer in transnational civil society at the department of
international relations, School of Social and Political Sciences, the
University of Indonesia.
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