Agam's Gecko
Monday, July 24, 2006
Indonesian jihadis
Chairman of the "ASEAN Muslim Youth Secretariat" Suaib Didu introduces a few of the new volunteers. Image / MetroTV

n the wake of last week's tsunami on Java's south coast, volunteers have been streaming into the area to help with relief efforts and the search for the missing. The death toll is near 700, with almost 300 people still unaccounted for.

But another sort of volunteer was getting more national attention, even as the scope of the disaster was still revealing itself in the first days. This other type of volunteer doesn't like to show his face, for he has no interest in helping disaster victims who are in dire need, and are close to him. No, for this volunteer, somebody else can care for the hundreds of thousands displaced by the Yogyakarta earthquake that killed over 6,000, or help search for survivors of the latest tsunami at Pangandaran, or do anything constructive at all for the victims of Indonesia's many recent disasters. No, for this volunteer, the most pressing issue is not the needs of his own neighbours, it's the destruction of Israel. No wonder they want to hide their faces.

I was fairly taken aback by the appearance of these hooded jihadis at a news conference last week, looking like a cast of extras for one of the video productions of the ex-Zarkman. Oh sure, one can see some participants in demos put on by the FPI and other radical groups, with their faces all wrapped up. But this is the first time I've ever seen such hoods presented to the public in a news conference, in this case the announcement of the formation of Pasukan Bom Jihad Palestina, the Palestine Jihad Bomb Brigade. I'm proud to say that such a news conference simply could not happen in Thailand. Anyone participating in, or enabling such a show would just carry too much shame. Creeps like this are killing innocents practically every single day in this country.

These shy volunteers were presented by Mr. Suaib Didu of the "ASEAN Muslim Youth Secretariat" and leader of the Gerakan Pemuda Islam, or "Islamic Youth Movement." Mr. Didu's mock compassion came through with clarity, as he explained that he had asked the masked men to avoid actions in Indonesia while carrying out their quest to destroy Israel, due to the fact that Indonesia had suffered from so many disasters recently. "They have promised not to operate in Indonesia," he said. Indonesia Matters has more on this and other issues related to the Lebanon crisis, wherein some translated passages from the ANTARA News account of the conference are offered.

Of the over 200 members of this new Jihad Bomb Brigade, the majority originate from Indonesia (72), Philippines (57), Thailand (43) and Malaysia (36). Approximately one in ten have field experience in Afghanistan or Palestine, and these will form the leadership for the less experienced ones, according to Mr. Didu. He also claims that three of the jihadis are non-Muslims, "...fighting for humanity, not to mention Jerusalem which is also a holy city," he said. The squad would carry out attacks against "vital objects" of Israel, and of nations deemed to be allies of Israel, but would not actually go to Israel. They would distribute themselves into a number of countries to carry out their actions, as Mr. Didu puts it, "attacking whomever is involved with Israel or Israelis."

President Yudhoyono has offered to contribute Indonesian troops to any international force which may be sent to Lebanon, while Vice President Yusuf Kalla made an offer of Indonesia being a possible mediator between the disputing parties. Since Indonesia continues to officially deny Israel's existence, has no relations of any kind with the country, and shuns almost any form of contact whatsoever, this would be quite a trick indeed.

Add to this the evident split in the Arab world over the Lebanon crisis, with countries like Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia criticising Hizballah (and more than a touch suspicious of Iran's hidden hand in it all), plus the recent fatwa from a prominent Saudi Wahhabist cleric prohibiting Muslims from assisting or even praying for Hizballah, and it seems apparent that the new Jihad Bomb Squad could find themselves on the wrong side of things.

Any international force into south Lebanon will be there for the purpose of wresting control of the area from Hizballah (Party of Allah) fighters, and to restore Lebanese sovereignty over the area. If any of the black hooded dummies in the photo above were to ever find themselves on that field (they only promised not to terrorise their own country or go to Israel), they could well find themselves fighting other Indonesians (the national army) and violating a fatwa from a cleric of their own sect (virtually all Indonesian Muslims are Sunnis).

On the weekend, the "Emir" of the radical Majelis Mujahidin Indonesia and recently released convict, Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, said from his base in Sukoharjo, Central Java that Israel must be fought by the people of Islam. He implored for the people of Islam to pray for Israel's destruction. For this reason, he urged the government to "open the door" for the sending of mujahidin fighters to Palestine, to make a war of jihad against Israel. Ba'asyir is certain that there are many Islamic mass organisations which would send jihad brigades to Palestine. (I think he's wrong. The groups who would do so are not mass organisations.)

Israel has never gotten a fair shake from the Indonesian media. In all the time I've been going there, I've never seen or read anything related to the Israel - Palestine question that wasn't absolutely one-sided, if not blatantly demonising toward Israel. There are two sides to every story, but Indonesians never get the Israeli side of anything from their media.

A few weeks ago, following some Hamas attacks from their Gaza home base, a Hamas office was struck by Israeli fire and destroyed. Video showed one unit in a row of shophouses completely gutted, while the units on either side were virtually intact. It was a precise hit, and every other account I'd seen had mentioned the target was confirmed as a Hamas facility. Yet the Indonesian narration (I recall it was Bali TV this time) just said that Israel had destroyed "civilian targets."

I've written here before about how the very word for "Jewish" -- Yahudi -- has come to actually be defined in many Indonesian minds as "atheist." It's such a disappointment when it comes up, because in general, Indonesians are the most naturally un-racist people I've ever come across. Except when it comes to Jews -- it's deep in the culture and will take a long time to get rid of it.

Whenever that false usage of Yahudi comes up, I always make effort to correct it with my own limited knowledge of the Jewish faith. People are often completely shocked to hear that Jews believe in Tuhan (the one supreme being) just like Christians and Muslims do. Sometimes I'm believed, and sometimes not. Sometimes the speaker actually knows it's false, but uses it anyway.

The demonisation of Jews and Israel goes back a very long time, just as it does in the Arab countries. It's been my hope that, as an emerging democracy (and the most populous Muslim country), Indonesia might be the one to lead the Arabs out of the darkness, to the understanding that Israel exists, will continue to exist, and has every right not to be pushed into the sea or "wiped off the map" as Iran's Ahmadinutjob proposes.

Eventually, maybe, Indonesia might be an example for Arabs -- but I'm sure not making much headway in my small and occasional efforts. Neither are her leaders showing a good example in allowing anti-Semitism to be expressed without challenge. In such an environment, I can't think of a dumber thing for a Vice President to say, than to offer his country as a legitimate mediator when one of the prospectively mediated parties is not even recognised by his government.

Except perhaps, in an environment of recurring natural disasters, when immediately following a tsunami that took around 1000 dead or missing, the same Vice President says that no tsunami warnings were needed because the earthquake itself "was a kind of natural early warning system." Perhaps while we're waiting for the tsunami warning system to be completed, a stupidity early warning system could be tested. For this system, a loud siren would sound each time Mr. Kalla opens his mouth.

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