On the 14th of January, The Islamic State (ISIS) was able to add another city to its expanding resume that already included attacks on Beirut, Paris, Istanbul and Metrojet Flight 9268. With the bomb and gun attack in central Jakarta, the reality of the expanding reach and power of the Islamic State came to be questioned once again. This article looks into the reasons behind ISIS’s desire in expanding its empire in South East Asia, as well as look in to the possibility of this becoming a reality.
Indonesia is the world’s third largest democracy of 250 million, and has the largest Muslim population. Some extremists may argue that Islam and Democracy do not go together by sighting examples like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Qatar. However, Indonesia shows us that Islam and Democracy can indeed coexist. The primary reason for this is that Indonesia is much more than just being a Muslim nation; it is a multi-ethnic, multilingual and multi-religious nation with a rich history predating the arrival of Islam to South-East Asia. It is this pluralism along with the Pancasila Ideology that has enabled it to not become a radical Islamic Nation abiding by the Sharia Law.
However, Indonesia has had its fair share of trouble over the years with various radical organisation created under the guise of Islam. Organisations like the Free Aceh Movement have gained recognition and have joined the political process of Indonesia, yet this is rather the exception to the norm. Other groups have been met with much resistance from the government as it worked against the radicalization of its population. Among them the most prominent is the al-Qaeda affiliated Jemaah Islamiyah, which claimed responsibility for the 2002 Bali Bombings and numerous other attacks.
Despite the establishment of counter terrorism units, such as Detachments 88 and more recently the Special Forces Command under the National Army, policing this archipelagic nation, much of which remains isolated, has been a problem. This has resulted in the creation of safe havens for terrorist cells. The most recent being the presence of ISIS recruiters and fighters on Indonesian soil, declaring the interest of building an Islamic Caliphate in South East Asia.
But why is ISIS interested in a building a caliphate in this distant land that has not shown any military aggression towards ISIS?
First and foremost, it is of the idea that the fact that there being so many Muslims in the region, including Malaysia, Brunei and Southern Philippines, would make it easier for ISIS to convert people to their ideology. One probable reason behind this optimism stems true ISIS’s success in securing funding and recruiting an estimated 700 recruiting hundreds fighters from Indonesia.
Secondly, ISIS is clearly aware of the existence of other radical organisations within Indonesia and the region at large, and it likely hopes to use this to its advantage. ISIS’s social media strategy, with propaganda being produced in multiple languages including Bahasa Indonesia, has only aided their cause by bringing Indonesian extremists who idealise the establishment of a caliphate under their wing. And ultimately, what ISIS does best trough its media campaigns and direct attacks is instilling fear and panic into the hearts and minds of the people both within its territory and beyond.
However ISIS has come short of its target. Not only did the Indonesian government swiftly respond to this attack, but the Indonesian people have united together under the#KamiTidakTakut (We are not afraid) hash tag. This has once again shown the power of social media when responding to crisis situations. The Indonesian people have shown their unwillingness to fall into fear.
This unity and pledge to not be threatened by extremism is the complete opposite of what ISIS had envisioned. After all, Jakarta was back to normal a few hours after this horrendous attack. Indonesia has shown the world that its pluralistic society has no place for radical ideologies and because of this ISIS’s goal of changing the global order is unlikely to ever truly succeed and that is why Indonesia will never fall into the hands of ISIS.
Finally, there is something that Sri Lanka can learn from the Indonesian response. That is in a pluralistic society there is no place for radicalism – regardless of whether it is Islamic radicalism, Buddhist radicalism or something else. Radical groups in Sri Lanka must understand that there is no place for them. In turn the greater Sri Lankan society must stand together and work against the radicalization of religious groups if Sri Lanka is to ever become the tolerant multicultural country that it is envisioned to be.