Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 355, 31 March 2021

Indonesia: A new suicide attack targets the religious minority
Aparupa Bhattacherjee

In the news
On 28 March, two suicide bombers (a newlywed couple) attacked a Catholic Church at Makassar- the capital city of South Sulawesi province. They detonated the bomb outside the church gate; more than 20 people were injured in the attack. According to the Police Chief, the attackers were members of Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD). The target was the Palm Sunday Church returnees during the Easter week. The fatalities could have been much higher had the bomb inside the Church. 

Joko Widido, the Indonesian President, strongly condemning the act as terror, said: "Terrorism is a crime against humanity…I call on everyone to fight against terror and radicalism, which go against religious values."
Issues at large
First, the increasing attacks against the minorities in Indonesia. According to 2018 data, Indonesia has a majority population of Muslims (87 per cent), Christians (10 per cent), and other minorities, including the Ahmediyas, Buddhists and Hindus, constitute the rest. Since 2016, there has been a rise in attacks against minorities, especially Christians; the latest attacks is the third in the series of suicide attacks on churches across Indonesia. Apart from the suicide, there were other attacks as well; in December 2020, a group of men attacked a Salvation Army outpost in central Sulawesi, beheading four men. They also burned down the houses of several Christian farmers. Also, there were sporadic attacks on churches and Christian families. The Ahmadiyyas and the ethnic Chinese also have been targeted.

Second, the religious polarisation between the majority and the minorities. In Indonesia, growing radicalization and the attacks by the non-state actors against the minorities is polarising the communities. Although the State has condemned the attacks as an act of terrorism, the minority communities feel targeted. The Constitution recognizes and safeguards six religions; however, the local authorities can impose their laws. Aceh, in Indonesia, has imposed Sharia laws and abide by them. Similarly, the 1965 Blasphemy law and vigilante groups like the Indonesian Council of Ulama (MUI) target the minorities. MUI issues fatwa, which is not legally binding, but society dares not disobey. 

Third, growing radicalization within Indonesia. There are several terrorist groups operating, and include the following: Fretilin (East Timorese independence militia), the Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, and the Organisasi Papua Merdeka, Jemaah Islamiyah Islamist. They have different affiliations, and some adhere to an al-Qaeda ideology. The JAD, which perpetrated suicide attacks in 2018 and 2021, is a newly formed terrorist group and owes allegiance to ISIS. In Indonesia, both the returnees from Afghanistan and  Syria have contributed to increasing terrorism. New groups and ideologies have also resulted in radicalization. The 2018 Church attack was conducted by an entire family (parents and four children) who returned from Syria. 
In perspective
First, the violence against the minorities will deepen the existing faultline. Apart from legal safeguards, the government should enhance cooperation between the communities.

Second, Indonesia has Detachment 88-counter-terrorism squad to fight against terrorism. But that is not enough; the country’s Counter Violent Extremism (CVE) initiative is weaker compared to neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore. Along with a strong CVE, it is essential to address the larger causes that substantiate the growth of radicalism in Indonesia, including poverty, unemployment and lack of education. 

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