Terrorism and Radicalism, a Threat to Indonesia Image and to Tourism

Indonesia, terrorism, SEA Games, Surabaya

Radical youngsters at Fatahillah Square in Jakarta old town

Signs of radicalism and terrorism are multiplying in Indonesia since a couple of years but it seems to accelerate recently. The bombing of three churches in Surabaya on May 13 shows that something is going wrong in Indonesia and that the government should act quick to defend Indonesia social fabric, to defend the country image and of course tourism…

It seems that the ousting of former Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnam (nicknamed Ahok) last year – A Chinese-Indonesian who was accused of blasphemy by radical groups- unleashed unrestricted speeches and acts of brutality from radical groups in Indonesia.

A year ago, anti-Ahok demonstrations in the streets of Jakarta were matched by thousands of youngsters -men and women- dressed in black and showing black flags with Arabic writing similar to the ones waved by groups of the Islamic State.

Since then, every week-end, groups of girls in black niqab – a sign of extremely conservative Islam promoted by Salafists- and boys dressed in Arabic outfits roam Jakarta old town around Fatahillah Square as well as the National Monument Park (Monas) in Central Jakarta asking for a strict respect of Islam laws.

Some even call openly for a caliphate. Last year, a survey indicated that actually almost 20% of high school and university students supported the establishment of a caliphate rather than a secular state.

While Indonesia has been practicing for centuries a tolerant, open-minded Islam, recent years have seen Salafism taking its toll on society daily life.  Hardline Islamist fundamentalists have also established strong bases in some cities such as Bogor or Solo in Java.

From schools in Central Java promoting the port of niqab to a special police unit targeting LGBT communities in Bandung (West Java) or to city governments enforcing the wearing of Jibab (veil) for all woman,  signs of strict conservatism multiply in the Archipelago, once known for its blend of religion practices.

Rising violence

More worrying has been a string of violent actions by radical groups in the name of Islam. Prior to Surabaya attack, they were since last year three violent incidents in the country as reported by the AFP news agency:

  • May 2017: Suicide attacks kill three policemen and injure a dozen others at a busy bus station in Jakarta in an attack claimed by ISIS.
  • February 2018: A radical Islamist who wanted to fight with the ISIS group in Syria injures four people with a sword in an attack during Sunday mass in Sleman town in Java.
  • May 2018: Five police officers and a prisoner are killed in clashes at a high-security jail that saw Islamist inmates take an officer hostage. ISIS claimed responsibility for the incident.

In Surabaya, in December 2016 young sales assistants dressed with a christmas hat for a sales promotion at malls were attacked by Islamic hardliners. And now the bombing of three churches in the same city which left 13 dead and over 40 wounded victims.

The two largest Muslim associations Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah, the nation’s largest Islamic organizations, have both condemned the bombing attacks.

“NU condemns all acts of terrorism, whatever the motive and background. Islam condemns any form of violence. There is not a single religion in the world that justifies violence as a way of life,” NU chairman Said Aqil Siradj said in a statement on Sunday.

However, it seems that these nice wording have not been accompanied by strong position from the Indonesian government against intolerance. With regional elections being held this June and presidential elections coming in 2019, the ‘prudence’ if not the silence of the Government can be understood. No official wants effectively alienate his Muslim electorate.

In an interview with Reuters back to late January 2018, Ridwan Kamil, mayor of the city of Bandung and front runner to become governor of West Java province, says he has been hounded for months by hoax stories online that questioned the strength of his Islamic faith.

“If you are not a Muslim, they will label you an infidel. If you are Muslim, they will label you not Islamic enough,” Kamil said of his opponents in Reuters interview.

While the government should reaffirm the importance of tolerance for each other, whatever his faith, it should also educate young generation to understand the principles of tolerance and help them to get a critical view over radicalism propaganda on social networks.

Effect on tourism?

The current rise of radicalism is extremely negative for the country’s image and that can also affect tourism, an important segment of the country’s economic development. Indonesia receives 15 million tourists a year and plans to receive by 2020 some 20 million international visitors.

But tourism means also a certain degree of tolerance and openness to other cultures. Jakarta Tourism and Culture Agency last week asked Jakarta entertainments venues to remain closed during Ramadan. This includes nightclubs, spas and massage parlors, gaming centers and bars. However businesses located inside hotels and malls will still be able to operate within limited hours.

The Agency already announced to take sanctions against businesses which would not follow the rule. Jakarta municipality should however remembers that they are not just Muslims living or visiting Indonesia’s capital. And this is not a sign of tolerance to punish them in their possible entertainment’s activities…

The bombings pose also a question of the coming SEA (Southeast Asian Games) hosted this August in Palembang and Jakarta. How security will then be properly assured? Are all measures being taken make the SEA be a peaceful joyful event? And beyond the security issue, how will Indonesia show itself to the rest of the world during the Games?