Managing Terrorism: An Indonesian Perspective

Matori Abdul Djalil, the Minister of Defense of Indonesia, argues for a multilateral approach to fight terrorism in an address before the Asian Security Conference. He also notes the worry that this war will be seen as battle between the Western and Islamic world. Djalil places the war against terrorism as one priority in many for Indonesia. In the post-Suharto period, fostering democracy and fueling economic recovery take precedence. Cooperation and respect for borders is the best route to win this war in Indonesia’s view. - YaleGlobal

Managing Terrorism: An Indonesian Perspective

Matori Abdul Djalil
Tuesday, June 4, 2002

We all share the conviction that terrorists and terrosim are a threat to humanity and civilization. We also share the belief and commitment that such evil acts by evil people should never be condoned, let alone tolerated. It is our obligation and the obligation of civilized nations to root out terrorists and terrorism wherever they exist.

The Indonesian people and government strongly believe that terrorism constitutes a serious threat to humankind. We, even before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S., also experienced a number of terrorist acts in our country. In that sense, Indonesia is also a victim, and is extremely aware of the threat posed by terrorism, not only to the safety of our people, but also to the very nature of Indonesia as a peaceful nation.

In our efforts to deal with the problem of terrorism, however, we have to take into account the new global and domestic political context. At the global level, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S., the subsequent American attacks on Afghanistan and its war on global terrorism, have had a profound impact on the relationship between Islam and the West. Islam is now being focused upon more than ever before.

There is concern across the Muslim world that the American-led war on terrorism will become a prelude to a worldwide assault on Islam and the Muslim world itself. There is also deep concern within the Islamic community that the West will use this opportunity to subjugate the Muslim world, and force it to become an appendix of Western civilization.

Such feeling, unfortunately, is also present among some circles in Indonesia. It creates a very sensitive atmosphere in the domestic context within which the war against terrorism has to be primarily carried out. The sensitive nature of the problem should also be understood in the context of democratization that Indonesia began to embrace since the fall of Soeharto's New Order regime. Our democracy is still young, and the transition process itself has not always been easy.

We are well aware that whatever we do today should be done cautiously so that it will not jeopardize the future of democracy itself. We realize that it is extremely important that we balance the need for security on the one hand and the imperative of democracy on the other. In that context, combating terrorism only constitutes one priority, at a time when maintaining territorial integrity, recovering the economy, and resolving communal-ethnic and religious-conflicts have to be given a higher priority in the national agenda. Our ability to solve these problems, which have dragged on for years, will have a direct impact not only on public safety, but also on the survival of Indonesia as a nation-state.

However, it should be noted that the higher priority that we accord to the problems of territorial integrity, economic recovery, and communal conflict does not mean that we have not done anything to combat terrorism. For example, we are preparing an anti-terrorism bill which hopefully will be completed and submitted to the legislature by the end of June this year. We have also taken, and will continue to take, necessary measures to strengthen and improve the capacity to enforce the law and police reform. The undergoing military reform will also contribute to the strengthening of our capacity to deal with the threat of terrorism.

It is fundamentally important to bear in mind that a law-based approach and multilateral cooperation among nations to counter terrorism are clearly a more preferred method. Especially in the Indonesian situation, addressing the problem of terrorism should be carried out in the setting of law enforcement.

Indonesia's approach in dealing with the problem should be understood within that context. We believe that the process should evolve at its own pace, and the approach to combating terrorism cannot be imposed unilaterally by external power. What is important in this regard is we should all work together, with mutual help and mutual respect.

Indeed, the changing nature of terrorism makes it insufficient to leave the problem only to the police. The military can, and should, play a positive role.

This has become clearer because states are now faced with the problem of terrorist activities equipped with weapons of mass destruction such as chemical and biological weapons. The asymmetric threat posed by the terrorist, and its transnational nature, has also changed the way many countries plan their national defense strategy. The ability of states to safeguard their borders, which in the Indonesian case requires a capable naval force, becomes an essential element in combating terrorism.

What can we do together, at a global, regional and national level, to address the issue and its attendant problems?

At the global level, the Sept. 11 attacks have unfortunately created worrying developments in the relationship between Islam and the West. The absence of mutual understanding between the Islamic civilization and Western civilization has caused much worry.

We are deeply aware that dialog is only one step toward charting a new relationship between Islam and the West characterized by mutual understanding and mutual respect. There is also the need to widen the space for mutual cooperation in order to create a new world in which Islam and the West can be locked in a cooperative and constructive engagement that should be aimed at improving the social and economic life of many impoverished citizens.

Terrorism is a global problem that requires a global solution. The attack on the WTC should not be regarded solely as attacks on the U.S. These were the calculated terrorist attacks against humanity. It is an attack against reason, freedom and humanity, and should be seen as an attack against the world community.

At the regional level, we in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have also stepped up our cooperation in the area of combating terrorism. Indonesia has been actively involved in such regional undertakings. In February 2002, for example, Indonesia signed an agreement with Australia on combating terrorism. Indonesia has also developed concrete ways to combat terrorism with Malaysia and the Philippines; an initiative that moves beyond traditional intelligence-sharing.

Regional cooperation should also include developing technical skills in the financial sector, particularly financial control mechanisms. Most international terrorism is supported by financial resources that come from illegal businesses such as money laundering and drug-trafficking. In developing countries, the control mechanism and law governing money transfer and law enforcement remain very weak. Regional and international cooperation, therefore, should also include law enforcement such as cooperation in efforts to freeze terrorists' financial sources, to track down their weapons, arms supplies and networks.

It is also important to acknowledge the national limits that each country might experience, both in terms of expertise and resources. It is in this area that many of us expect support from the international community.

The article is based on a speech delivered before the Asian Security conference in Singapore on June 1. The event was organized by the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS).

Matori Abdul Djalil is the Minister of Defense of Indonesia

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