KONGAlthough arrests have been made and confessions announced, a month
after the Bali bombing it is not clear that the key perpetrators have been
identified. Even if those named so far are actually the main culprits, it may be
a hard job to convince skeptics who worry that a resolution of the case will be
driven more by political than forensic factors.
Uncertainty is adding to tensions within
Indonesia, around Southeast Asia and between some regional states and the West.
A convincing case against those responsible is badly needed if the gap between
Western assumptions about Islam in Southeast Asia and an Indonesian predilection
for plot theories is to be bridged.
The strong probability remains that Bali
was an Al Qaeda operation assisted by Indonesians. However, this is as yet far
from being the open and shut case presented by much of the Western media. To
them it was simply an Al Qaeda act helped by its Southeast Asian ally, Jemaah
Islamiyah, which is claimed to be headed by the Indonesian cleric, Abu Bakar
Bashir and has Riduan Isamuddin, a.k.a. Hambali, as its terrorist mastermind
with allies in Malaysia, southern Thailand and southern Philippines.
This easy-to-follow theory has been
pushed by Western diplomats and by some government-linked strategy institutes in
Asia. It fits with pre-Bali Western demands that Indonesia arrest Bashir and
others. Bali was thus the result of Indonesia's failure to act tough and detain
people without trial.
However, most claims of such conspiracies
rely on alleged confessions of detainees in the United States and Singapore that
have not been tested in courts. There is unofficial skepticism about some of the
claims and concern that the anti-terror effort is sometimes more a question of
scoring domestic political points, or looking good in Washington's eyes, than in
finding those actually involved in violence. Some foreign experts doubt that
Jemaah Islamiyah even exists as an organization.
As for Bali, many Indonesians are as
likely to see domestic as much as Al Qaeda origins in the tragedy. Jakarta is
prone to conspiracy theories. Nonetheless there is enough evidence of
involvement of members of Kopassus, Indonesia's special forces, in the Aug. 31
killing of American teachers in Papua and the car bomb at the Jakarta stock
exchange in 2000 to suspect they are capable of it.
There are Islamists who support the
Laskar Jihad militia which has led violence against Christians in Maluku and
Sulawesi. Others may back violence to undermine the Indonesian government. Still
others are smarting from the loss of East Timor and would like to take revenge
on Australia or frighten away foreigners so they can deal with secessionism in
their own brutal fashion. So there are possible motives - but no evidence.
Yet there are enough Indonesians
suspicious enough of the military, skeptical of the police and justice system,
or in denial of the capabilities of their own Islamic extremists, who will
continue to believe it until very strong contrary evidence is presented. Any
military involvement, however tangential, would be embarrassing for those who
want closer relations with the military to maintain Indonesian stability.
Another danger is the bracketing with terrorism of peaceful advocates of
fundamentalist views. The Islamist sense of victimization is strong enough
already, and is fueled by opportunistic politics. In Malaysia for instance,
democratically elected representatives of the Parti Islam have been branded with
vague allegations of connections to Jemaah Islamiyah or its supposed Malaysian
offshoot, Kumpulan Mujahidin Malaysia, and detained without trial.
Focus on Islam may be fostering a
Southeast Asian Muslim identity. At the same time, it is easy to exaggerate the
international scope of local minority problems. Violence in southern Thailand is
often assumed to be linked to international terrorism when it has long been
endemic. Recent bombings in southern Thailand, for instance, were more likely
due to local political feuds than the work of separatist Malay-speaking Muslims.
In the interests of regional stability as well as justice, the culprits, not
scapegoats or pawns, must be found and convincingly prosecuted. International