This week's Indonesian court verdict against Abu Bakar Bashir on 'evil conspiracy' charges meted out a pickpocket's punishment to a terrorist ringleader responsible for an atrocity second only to 9/11. Bashir's 2 � year sentence for the October 2002 Bali nightclub bombing is a parody of justice and an insult to the lost lives of the U.S., Australian, Indonesian and other citizens who died in the attack. This sentence is especially bitter because the U.S. and Australia have expended so much blood and treasure to rid the world of terrorism elsewhere in Asia. But in Indonesia, there is no justice for these victims, only a charade of it. The terrorists have gotten away with it.
Grinning to a mob of Indonesian supporters brandishing anti—Bush signs in glee at his barely—there punishment, Bashir also completely escaped justice in the Jakarta Marriott bombing, which killed another 12 people, mostly Indonesians.
The mainstream media, which tends to not cover Indonesia in a whole lot of depth, gave a lot of column—inch space to the Indonesian officials responsible for this travesty. While it's valid to report their attitudes, they offered little challenge to the way these officials framed the controversy into a question of "judicial independence," which they added, "must be respected." In this regard, they played to American sensibilities, and the mainstream media went along with it. But what this verdict really showed is that terrorism is not taken seriously by Indonesia's courts, not nearly as seriously as political pressure from Islamofascist extremists, who undoubtedly exerted influence. Is that the view of the Indonesian people, who voted in a new president who ran on an anti—terrorist platform? I doubt it.
Abu Bakar Bashir is a Yemeni—born mullah is in the same terrorist league as Iraq's Abu Musab al—Zarkawi, and one of the most remorseless terrorists on earth. He's one of the world's top five, combining a madrassah—mullah's venomous preaching with actual operational involvement in terror attacks. Bashir is the leader of Jemah Islamiyah, the terrorist organization whose influence, in different forms, stretches through Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and Philippines, each of which has endured related terror bombings or attempted attacks. Bashir is a calculating mullah aligned with and very similar to Osama bin Laden in his use terror for strategic purposes. His aim is to unite all of these targeted countries into one huge Islamofascist state in Southeast Asia, astride the passage connecting the Indian Ocean and the Pacific. He is an unusually dangerous person.
No surprise, then, that Bashir also was the mastermind behind the attempted attack on the U.S. Navy installation in Sembawang on Singapore at the end of 2001 (the one where terrorists filmed nearby Singaporean and American subway riders just prior to the attack, in order to have 'before' and 'after' pictures for a recruitment video). The attempt shocked Singapore. But the media remember less about this incident because it was foiled by good Singaporean police work and a Singaporean justice system that is real. Indonesia doesn't have that.
For all the grotesqueness of the grinning Bashir and the complacent Indonesian officials, there is something absent in the mainstream media's minimal coverage of the verdict. Not only does the story not get covered much — the New York Times didn't even put a story of this magnitude on its front page — but the media misrepresents the sentiment about terrorism in Indonesia. To hear them tell it, this is a local terrorist who's popular with the locals at protest rallies and he's getting as—usual "independent" Indonesian justice
What's missing is: Indonesians do not like terrorism. Terrorism kills their fragile economy still recovering from the Asian economic meltdown of 1997—1998. It chases out foreign investment, and with it, good jobs, no small thing in a country with a youthful population and no welfare state. It makes Indonesia's name mud in the greater world, which is particularly painful in an Asian culture where maintaining 'face' is important.
And many of the terror attacks' victims are Indonesians. The Balinese waiters, drivers, bartenders, diving instructors and bellhops died alongside the tourists in Bashir's 2002 attack. In the totally unpunished Jakarta Marriott bombing, nearly all of the victims were poor Indonesian taxi drivers waiting in line to give rides to hotel guests. Those drivers were family breadwinners in a country with no welfare state. (So much for Islamofascist compassion in the preachings of Abu Bakar Bashir.)
Most critically, you can see Indonesian sentiment where it counts: at the ballot box. Indonesia's voters recently elected as president a former general named Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono who ran on an anti—terror platform. There were about 20 candidates to choose from and none pounded on the terrorism issue harder than he did. He won.
Susilo has got his work cut out for him and will have to choose between his voting platform and the government apparatus that is so bitterly failing Indonesia's voters yet again. This is going to be a political flashpoint. He often shows signs of leadership, but he is dealing with a huge weak bureaucratic apparatus, as well as the so—called 'independence' of Indonesia's justice.
Can he do it? Maybe it would be a good idea for the mainstream press to keep an eye on potential political developments which are the root of this travesty of justice. There is so much more going on in Indonesia than the little the media reports. And it's going to get more important.
Right now, terrorists have gotten a message that, while Iraq is a hard place to operate in, Indonesia is not. The cost of murdering is cheap. What does that mean for the future prospects of terrorism in Indonesia? Because it looks like more terrorism is inevitable. But there also is no mistaking the sentiment of Indonesia's 202 million citizens who don't have the time or interest to go to Islamofascist protest rallies, but do show up at election time every time and in very great numbers.