by The Daily Beast
Dita Alangkara / AP Photo
This, Too, Shall Pass
by Reihan Salam
The bombings are a black eye for the country’s government, but Reihan Salam says Indonesia won’t turn into another Pakistan, thanks to a robust democracy that makes it the envy of the region.
Indonesia has had an extraordinarily good run. The Islamist terrorist attack that struck two international hotels in the heart of Jakarta won’t change that. This was the first successful attack in the country since 2005. That attack followed the spectacular 2002 Bali bombing that killed or maimed hundreds of tourists, thus bringing what had been America’s war on terrorism to Southeast Asia. The consensus is that Friday’s attack was perpetrated by some of the bedraggled remnants of Jemaah Islamiyah, the local answer to al Qaeda.
The fact that Indonesia, a sprawling, diverse, densely packed archipelago with a population of almost 240 million, hasn’t fallen apart since independence is a minor miracle.
Any terrorist attack is awful news, particularly for a struggling young democracy. But Indonesia’s democracy is precisely the reason why there is no danger that the country will turn into another Pakistan. Indeed, Indonesia is, despite the latest attack, a rare bright spot in a dreary, recession-ravaged world. Islamic political movements are free to take part in the country’s free elections. It just happens that they don’t do terribly well. Granted, Indonesia’s Islamist parties are fairly moderate. More extreme elements are even less popular, which, on reflection, makes sense. As al Qaeda epigones, Jemaah Islamiyah is devoted to a “purist” interpretation of the Islamic tradition, which deems Indonesia’s tolerant local varieties of Islam to be obscene deviations from the one true way and must be destroyed. This is a bit like telling Americans that all those who watch and enjoy the Super Bowl should be lashed until they bleed.
The fact that Indonesia, a sprawling, diverse, densely packed archipelago with a population of almost 240 million, hasn’t fallen apart since independence is a minor miracle. For most of Indonesia’s post-independence history, this unlikely unity was undergirded by the strength of a brutal and corrupt military elite, who waged their own campaign of terrorist intimidation against the Timorese and other minority populations. Just as the overthrow of Tito led to the slow and bloody unraveling of Yugoslavia, many feared that the passing of Suharto, the man who modernized Indonesia while looting prodigious sums, would result in unending ethnic and religious war.
Yet Indonesia has avoided that fate, thanks in part to Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a general and erstwhile Suharto loyalist just reelected to the presidency. One of Yudhoyono’s central accomplishments has been cracking down on terrorist violence. For example, the long-running insurgency in Aceh, home to the country’s most zealous Islamists, has drawn to a close. Rather than crush the movement through the indiscriminate use of force, Yudhoyono sapped its support by granting autonomy and revenue-sharing so that locals could benefit from rich natural-gas deposits, and also by dint of a highly successful response to the devastating 2004 tsunami.
Yudhoyono is hardly a saint. But given his personal appeal, it’s easy to imagine him as a Javanese Hugo Chavez or Vladimir Putin, hellbent on maximizing his power. Instead, Yudhoyono has worked to strengthen Indonesia’s democracy, which by some standards is now the most robust in the region. The hotel bombing is a serious black eye for Yudhoyono, but it doesn’t change the fact that, to put it bluntly, the world needs more Yudhoyonos.
Reihan Salam is a fellow at the New America Foundation and the co-author of Grand New Party.
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