August 2013

Essays

‘The Roots of Terrorism in Indonesia’ by Solahudin

By Gillian Terzis
‘The Roots of Terrorism in Indonesia’ by Solahudin
Trans. Dave McRae; NewSouth Books; $49.99

Conventional warfare assumes a self-evident mission and an obvious opponent, but the fight against terrorism is different: it is not an enemy in the conventional sense, but a methodology. Traditional metrics of military success do not apply.

As such, governments and terrorists alike are challenged by the questions of appropriate means and ends. The evolving nature and strategies of jihadist movements is the subject of The Roots of Terrorism in Indonesia, written by Indonesian researcher and journalist Solahudin and translated by the Lowy Institute’s Dave McRae. Drawing on numerous interviews with members of Indonesian terrorist groups, Solahudin provides a dispassionate analysis of divergent terrorist ideologies, from Indonesia’s war of independence in the late 1940s to the Bali bombings orchestrated by Jemaah Islamiyah in 2002. 

Culminating in 202 deaths and more than 240 people injured, the Bali bombings were the largest terror attack in South-east Asia’s history – and the first that explicitly targeted foreigners on a mass scale. The attacks are the starting point for Solahudin’s fastidious and challenging historical analysis of the motivations of Indonesian jihadist movements. He begins by differentiating between the mainstream definition of jihad (“considered by mainstream Muslims as a war on a battlefield … and the killing of women, children and the elderly is forbidden”) and more radical interpretations (a war on all “unbelievers”). The latter view is in line with Salafist jihadism, a militant strand of activism that took hold in Afghanistan during its war with the Soviet Union in the late ’80s. It was there that hundreds of mujahideen from Darul Islam, Indonesia’s main Islamist network, received training and “ideological renewal” under the tutelage of Al Qaeda. Their local aspirations were subsequently recast as global objectives. This development, fostered by the Western invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq in the early 2000s, Solahudin argues, was significant in spreading Salafist jihadism to Indonesia. 

But jihadist doctrine is hardly monolithic. The book explains, in exhaustive detail, how infighting over Al Qaeda’s influence caused the splintering of Darul Islam. As Solahudin notes, though the Bali bombings received considerable funding from Osama bin Laden’s men, the majority of Jemaah Islamiyah members did not believe bin Laden’s objectives to be “pertinent” to Indonesian interests. 

According to Solahudin, those interests – namely, the establishment of Islamic law in Indonesia – are fundamental to the resilience of jihadist groups. Indeed, whether confronted with authoritarian or democratic governments, jihadist ideology, in all its various forms, has never wavered. The book doesn’t provide neat solutions for extremist violence, but it certainly asks the right questions. 

There is nowhere quite like The Monthly. We are told that we live in a time of diminished attention spans; a time where the 24-hour-news-cycle has produced a collective desire for hot takes and brief summaries of the news and ideas that effect us. But we don’t believe it. The need for considered, reflective, long-form journalism has never been greater, and for almost 20 years, that’s what The Monthly has offered, from some of our finest writers.

That kind of quality writing costs money, and requires the support of our readers. Your subscription to The Monthly allows us to be the home for the best, most considered, most substantial perspectives on the state of the world. It’s Australia’s only current affairs magazine, an indispensable home for cultural commentary, criticism and reviews, and home to personal and reflective essays that celebrate and elevate our humanity.

The Monthly doesn’t just comment on our culture, our society and our politics: it shapes it. And your subscription makes you part of that.

Select your digital subscription

Month selector

From the front page

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

Letter from Dunkley

As a byelection drew the nation’s focus to the scrappy suburb of the author’s childhood, a visit revealed the damage wrought by the housing crisis

Kim Williams seen through window with arms half-raised

The interesting Mr Williams

At a time when the ABC faces more pressure than ever before, is its new chair the right person for the job?

Andrew Tate in dark sunglasses flanked by two men, attending his trial in Bucharest, Romania, July 2023

The Tate race

Online misogyny touted by the likes of Andrew Tate (awaiting trial for human trafficking and rape) is radicalising Australian schoolboys

Exterior of the Department of Treasury, Canberra

Tax to grind

Tax reform should not be centred on what we want, but on who we want to be

In This Issue

Tim Minchin in rehearsals at the Sydney Theatre company. © Lisa Tomasetti

Tim Minchin plays it straight

The musical funnyman returns home

Fracking and food security

The Greens chase the farming vote

Wilfred Burchett in Vietnam, c.1965. © The Wilfred Burchett Estate

Wilfred Burchett and the KGB

The legendary war correspondent was in the pay of the KGB

Censorship, sex and scandal in Singapore

For the city-state’s academics, freedom of speech is a sensitive subject


Online latest

Osamah Sami with members of his local mosque

In ‘House of Gods’, Sydney’s Muslim community gets to be complicated

Plus, Barnaby Joyce shines in ‘Nemesis’, Emma Seligman and Rachel Sennott deliver ‘Bottoms’, and Chloë Sevigny and Molly Ringwald step up for ‘Feud: Capote vs. The Swans’.

International Film Festival Rotterdam highlights

Films from Iran, Ukraine and Bundaberg were deserving winners at this year’s festival

Two women on a train smile and shake hands

‘Expats’ drills down on Hong Kong’s class divide

Plus, Netflix swallows Trent Dalton, Deborah Mailman remains in ‘Total Control’ and ‘Vanderpump Rules’ returns for another season

Image of a man playing music using electronics and the kora (West African harp)

Three overlooked albums of spiritual jazz from 2023

Recent releases by kora player John Haycock, trumpeter Matthew Halsall and 14-piece jazz ensemble Ancient Infinity Orchestra feel like a refuge from reality