On a bright Sunday morning, Indonesian people were shocked by a string of bombings in Surabaya, the second largest city in the country. But there was something different this time compared to past bombings, which made the tragedy difficult to fathom. The perpetrators were three families, with parents who brought along their young children in a string of suicide bombings. The involvement of innocent children in such a barbaric act has multiplied people’s natural anger and disgust towards terrorism. Many feel we are entering into a 'bizarre' epoch – and they are not far from the truth.
On 13 May, three bombs exploded, one after another, in three churches just after services were concluded and people were streaming out. The perpetrators were a family of six. The first suicide bombing was carried out at 6.30 AM at Santa Maria Catholic Church by two teenage sons, aged 18 and 16. The second bombing occurred at a nearby Pentecostal Church at 7.15 AM, conducted by the wife – who brought along her two daughters, aged 12 and nine. The third bomb was detonated at 7.53 AM at Indonesian Christian Church by the husband, who was the head of an ISIS-linked Jamaah Ansharud Daulah (JAD) cell in Surabaya. 18 people died, with more than 40 injured.
The dark, billowing smoke from the burning churches had yet to subside and the blood of the victims yet to dry when, in the evening of the same day, another bomb exploded not far from the churches. This time a family of six – who were part of the same JAD cell in Surabaya – were building a bomb that was clearly aimed for a similar suicide bombing operation, and the device accidentally exploded. The husband and wife, and their 17-year-old son died on the spot, while their other three children, aged 10, 11 and 15, were injured. The situation in Surabaya became even more tense.
The next morning, when people were still in shock, they were hit with still more grave news. A family of five, riding two motorcycles, tried to ram through the gate of a Surabaya police headquarters. They detonated their bombs, injuring four police officers and six civilians. Miraculously, the youngest daughter, aged eight, survived the blast.
This string of suicide bombings was inspired by ISIS and planned under the direction of JAD: one of the largest Jihadi group that supports ISIS. ISIS itself has claimed these attacks as their own through their media channels.
Even before these bombings in Surabaya, JAD cells initiated a series of attacks. On Tuesday, 8 May, JAD prisoners and other terrorist detainees started a deadly prison riot and a two-day standoff near the Indonesian capital. Five police hostages were executed, ISIS-style, and these barbaric acts were broadcasted through ISIS channels. Following this prison riot, a number of JAD cells moved into action to join the standoff but were successfully intercepted by the authorities.
Everyone condemned this act of terrorism as barbaric: madness that can only arise from those who have been brainwashed by extremism. But where did this madness really come from? And why is it manifesting today?
The origin of ISIS and JAD
Before ISIS and JAD, the face of Islamic fundamentalism was Al-Qaeda. Formed by the Taliban, they declared the beginning of their worldwide campaign of terror by delivering a major blow to the heart of US imperialism on 11 September 2001. The US retaliated by launching an invasion of Afghanistan, vowing that they would free the Afghanistan people from the clutches of Islamic fundamentalism and deliver democracy and prosperity. But the US and the other imperialist forces conveniently forgot that it was they who nurtured and financed the forces of Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East as a reactionary bulwark against the socialist movement.
In the 1980s the US financed the jihadis to crush the Saur Revolution that exploded in 1978. This was a popular revolution that sought to eradicate the despotism, feudalism, landlordism and imperialism that had strangled the Afghan people for centuries. This revolution brought forward a number of progressive measures: cancellation of peasant debts to landlords; land confiscation from the nobility and its distribution to poor peasants; a guarantee of equality for women; the eradication of feudal-patriarchal relations between husband and wife; the criminalization of underage marriage and arranged marriage; and a number of other modernization measures that aimed to drag Afghanistan out of the dark ages. The Saur Revolution was inspired by socialist ideas, and these measures inevitably led to the eradication of feudal and capitalist relations.
Imperialist forces did not want to see Afghanistan turn communist, fearing its influence could spread to neighbouring countries like Pakistan or India. To crush this revolution, the US relied on the only reliable anti-communist forces in Afghanistan: the Islamic fundamentalists known as the Mujahideen – the predecessors to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. According to the most conservative estimates, the US government provided $600m to the Mujahideen. In addition to support from the US, the Mujahideen also received hundreds-of-millions of dollars from Saudi Arabia to wage a holy war against the Saur Revolution and the Soviet forces that backed it.
After the Saur Revolution regime was toppled in 1992, Afghanistan was ruled by the Islamic fundamentalists, the notorious Taliban. Under the Taliban’s rule, Sharia law was implemented in the most extreme and reactionary manner. Women effectively became second-class citizens with all their rights curtailed: they were not allowed to go to school, work or leave their homes without a male relative to accompany them. Feudal and tribal relations, combined with the most reactionary interpretation of Islam, dragged the whole society back in time.
Poverty ruled and the Afghan economy was kept backward because of the Taliban’s choking rules that affected the whole of society. The economy was in such ruins that it had to be supported through opium production, which supplied up to 90 percent of world demand.
Despite all the talk by Western countries about democracy and women’s rights, they would rather allow the country to be run by the most reactionary Islamic fundamentalists than see the Afghan people free themselves from capitalism. The problem is, these mad dogs would later bite the hands of their master. Al-Qaeda became a global terrorist network with their own agenda.
After suffering the 11 September attack, the US and NATO decided to put down their ungrateful attack dogs. The invasion of Afghanistan was launched in 2001 to uproot the Taliban. However, they were surprised to find that the dark forces that US imperialism had awakened couldn’t be quashed that easily. 17 years after the US invasion, Afghanistan is still very unstable. Sectarian violence and bombs continue to shake the country. The US puppet government of Afghanistan de facto only rules Kabul, while a whole swathe of Afghanistan remains under Taliban rule, directly or indirectly.
The US also used 9/11 as a pretext to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein. This invasion created even worse instability in the Middle East. It was easy to militarily topple the regime, but it was quite another challenge to establish a new and stable regime in a fractured Iraq. The chaos created by this intervention in Iraq served as fertile soil for the further development of Islamic fundamentalism. It is here that Al-Qaeda supporters underwent a metamorphosis to become a more fanatic, extreme and violent variant of Islamic fundamentalism, that we know today as ISIS.
After the Arab Revolution delivered a blow to the Assad regime in Syria, US imperialism thought it could use the opportunity to unseat Assad and install a friendlier government. They threw their whole weight behind supporting anti-Assad groups, the majority of whom are hard-line Islamists with direct or indirect link with the Al-Qaeda and ISIS. Together with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, who also have their own cynical interests in Syria, the US funded these 'moderate Islamist' groups to the tune of hundreds-of-millions of dollars.
In reality there is no such thing as moderate Islamists in Syria, and in effect the imperialist forces were arming the Islamic fundamentalists. The same thing happened in Libya, and the chaos created by imperialist intervention in these two key countries in the region was a perfect environment for the growth of ISIS and their ilk. The fractured Iraq, Syria and Libya become a base for ISIS to spread its tentacles of terror all over the world. It is from here we can trace the origin of terrorist groups in Indonesia, in particular: Jemaah Islamiyah (Al-Qaeda) who are responsible for the bombing in Bali in 2002, the Marriott Hotel in Mega Kuningan in 2003, the Australian embassy 2004 and Bali in 2005; and the JAD (ISIS) who carried out the recent bombing in Surabaya. The emergence of Islamic fundamentalism is an inevitable consequence of imperialism.
“Eradicating terrorism down to its roots”
After the bombing in Surabaya, a motley crew of politicians, pundits and experts quickly registered their condemnation and vowed passionately that they will fight to eradicate terrorism down to its roots. People were immediately shown the usual spectacle, where politicians start pointing fingers at one another, especially given the election next year. Fadli Zon, House of Representative deputy speaker from the opposition party Gerindra, blamed the Jokowi government for not being tough enough in the face of terrorism. Meanwhile, Jokowi’s camp blamed Gerindra for the delay in the passing of a new anti-terrorism law, that the Jokowi government sees as a crucial weapon in the fight against terrorism.
However, when President Jokowi vowed to push through tougher anti-terrorism laws that will give security forces more claws, Gerindra suddenly transformed itself into a defender of human rights. Fadli Zon asked that civil rights be respected in the war against terror, so that security forces “don’t arbitrarily arrest people.” He warned the government against arbitrary definition of terrorism in the new law that could threaten human rights and democracy:
“Don’t turn this [the new anti-terrorism law] into something that can later be used to violate human rights. Used for political interest, or other interests outside of pursuing terrorists.”
This comes from the same party whose leader, former army general Prabowo, is one of the biggest human rights violators, responsible for kidnapping and torturing activists during the New Order era. Where was Fadli with his talk of human rights when the rights of workers, peasants and urban poor were trampled; when unions were busted; when wages were not paid; and when peasants lost their land to developers under the watchful eyes and bayonets of the army? Such stinking hypocrisy is not the sole property of Gerindra. Every single political party today is filled with elements from the dictatorial New Order regime. Talk of democracy and human rights are revealed as just lip service when it comes to the toiling masses. This latest hypocrisy was part of a calculated political move to score points for the upcoming 2019 presidential election.
Let us return to Jokowi’s attempt to equip the security forces with the necessary tools to wage a war against terrorism, from the new anti-terrorism law, to an emergency presidential decree, to the formation of a new counter-terrorism unit. Security experts argue amongst themselves about the best methods to stem the tide of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism, with each convinced that his is the best way. But no one is able to explain the roots of Islamic fundamentalism today.
As we have explained above, Islamic fundamentalism stems from imperialist intervention in the Middle East. In Indonesia, the roots are sturdier and buried deeper because of the politics of religious divide-and-rule that are often used in the interests of the ruling class, via their paid ‘religious leaders’. During the Jakarta governor election in 2017, sections of the ruling class mobilized the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) and other reactionary white-robe thug organizations to launch a Defend Islam movement in order to unseat the incumbent Ahok, who is a Christian.
A campaign message that it is haram (a heresy) for Muslims to elect a non-Islamic governor – to the point that some mosques refused to perform funeral prayers for Ahok voters – was constantly aired not only in Jakarta, where the election was taking place, but also throughout the nation. The working class was divided into two groups: Islam and non-Islam. This politics of religious division are sure to be used again in the upcoming presidential election next year. Amien Rais, a leader of Muhammadiyah, one of the two biggest Muslim organizations in Indonesia, who also led the Defend Islam movement against Ahok last year, already made a statement to that effect. He said the next election will be a battle between “the Parties of Allah” (referring to parties that support Prabowo, who is slated to run in the next presidential election) against “the Parties of the Devil” (referring to parties supporting the incumbent Jokowi).
It is therefore a joke when Gerindra party’s advocacy spokesperson Habiburokhman said that one way to eradicate radicalism is through the spirit of 212 action (212 was a Defend Islam demonstration that took place on 2 December two years ago). “We fight radicalism with the spirit of 212, the spirit of peace and the spirit of respecting difference,” said Habiburokhman, lying through his teeth. There was nothing peaceful about the 212 demonstration and the political campaign surrounding it, which whipped up religious sectarianism and fanaticism.
The Indonesian ruling class always keeps reactionary elements on hand and are prepared to use Islam to divide the toiling masses. People’s backward prejudices are always kept alive, and not just religious prejudices but also racial and ethnic. 20 years ago, an anti-Chinese sentiment was stoked by the ruling class to distract the working class so that they directed their anger toward the Chinese and not the failings of the New Order regime. Is it any wonder there is a layer of people who truly believe that the forces of Islam are engaging in a battle with non-Islamic forces that are threatening its existence? That therefore the task of Muslims is to defend their religion with whatever means necessary from the attacks of the infidels? Jamaah Islamiyah and the JAD are just the logical consequences of this.
It is the Indonesian ruling class that is responsible for the strengthening of Islamic fundamentalism and the terrorism that follows. There will never be enough laws, police, military forces and intelligence to eradicate terrorism down to its roots. This is because the ruling class has an interest in keeping fundamentalism alive, though they would like to have it more under control. Western countries possess the most advanced security forces, funded to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollar every year, with surveillance networks that could listen to the conversation of every individual, and secret prisons like Guantanamo that hold hundreds of terrorist suspects. But none of these can stop the terrorists from successfully mounting their attacks.
The impasse of capitalism and the socialist future
The economic, political and social cries that plague capitalism today create the conditions that give rise to extreme beliefs. When society seems to find itself in a harrowing dead-end, with worsening poverty, unemployment, inequality, moral degradation amongst its leaders, and unending military conflicts, then extreme spiritual ideas present themselves as logical explanations to a layer of people who are disturbed with what they see around them. This deep angst affects not only the poor, but the middle class even more so, as their once-stable lives are threatened by the capitalist crisis.
When today’s society can no longer offer any future, then the answer provided by fundamentalism is the return to the past: in this case, to the old, ‘pure’ values of Islam – or at least, Islam according to the twisted minds of the jihadis and reactionary ideologues. Here the ideology and movement of Islamic fundamentalism reflects the bankruptcy of capitalism, as does Hindu fundamentalism in India, Buddhist fundamentalism in Myanmar and Sri Lanka and Christian fundamentalism in the US.
Religious fundamentalism is a distorted rejection of the status quo, by people who look to the past because they cannot imagine a better future. But workers – after witnessing the barbarism and cruelty of Al-Qaeda and ISIS – quickly recognize that the glorious past that these jihadi leaders promise is in fact filled with the deepest darkness, and they are repelled by it. The fact that the fundamentalists have to resort to acts of terrorism is a sign of their weakness. Their movement lacks a solid mass base.
The only idea that can offer a future for humanity is socialism. Poverty, forced idleness, inequality and war are possible only when a minority of people hold in their hands the main political and economic levers. If we eradicate social and economic conditions that degrade the dignity of the working people, then we will also eradicate the material conditions that give rise to fundamentalism. By nationalizing the economy, and putting it under the collective ownership and the democratically planned management of the toiling masses, we would be able to create jobs with living wages for all. We could guarantee land for the peasants, free healthcare, free education, and many more social measures that would lift everyone out of the abyss of poverty. Wealth abounds today, but it is monopolized by a handful of capitalists. Wrest this wealth and manage it for the needs of the masses, and the future will be bright for the people.