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 
responses accordingly. 

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.

[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]

Kirim email ke