Indonesia’s Praised Counter-terrorism Strategy: the Experience of Detachment-88 (Densus-88)

09 Jun

I spent most of my time tinkering at the library yesterday, digesting various readings from newspapers, magazines to psychology and even law journals. An article in the newest issue of Time grabbed my attention straightaway, regarding the international praise for Indonesia’s Detachment 88 –or Densus 88- which is deemed victorious in combating the act of terrorism in Indonesia. Detachment 88 is special unit of National Police to fight terrorism, and ever since the tragedy of Bali Bombings in 2002, harvested triumphant success stories in fighting terrorism. Initially I thought that these won’t value add to my current or future research so I should stop reading. Albeit that, I still managed to continue out of curiosity.

It put me in awe to discover that the initiatives to solve the riddle of terrorism come from not only National Police or Ministry of Defense, but also Academia, and even some government agencies and non-governmental organizations altogether. They used the word “deradicalize” to label this counter-terrorism effort. But why “deradicalize”? Apparently, majority of actors of these loathsome misconducts come from religion-fundamentalists, who are quite “radical” when “defending” their own religion -or so, according to their claim. These terrorists (or people who commit the act of terrorism) don’t even acknowledge the legitimate government; they regard United States and its allies –whoever they are- as eternal enemies and therefore worth to kill; and they take the view of “jihad” –that is, a fight to defend yourself and your religion- to the very extreme and even permit the unnecessary killing. Thus, it is then important to address the issue of radicalization, and to deradicalize it to prevent it from spreading –it sounds confusing, but I just want to put emphasis on the concept of deconstruction-reconstruction, as simple as working on a puzzle.

Detachment 88 (D-88), however, goes as far as to use the soft approach instead of using coercive power -that is allegedly brutal torture to get into their confessions. Unlike United States, Indonesia doesn’t have the likes of Guantanamo that treats prisoners inhumanely. D-88 presumably thinks that such treatment of prisoners will only lead to the chains of hatred, and will bring the act of terrorism even endlessly. Working altogether with NGOs, academia and researchers, they employ the idea of “network” to execute this strategy of soft power. The term of network is hardly understood due to its eclectic usage in various spheres, but in this case, the concept of network is for the D-88 members to interact closely with the prisoners of terrorism in the prison, even go to Friday sermon services together, in order to put themselves in the shoes of the suspects and understand their way of thinking as well as the world they envisioned. Apparently, these so-called terrorists come from the low-educated background, and mostly are poor, even though some small numbers are seen to be highly educated, and even considered wealthy. These terrorist-suspects are, indisputably, devoted religious adherents, who being preached by spiritual leaders pertains to the importance of Jihad and its afterlife reward, which is heaven. The spiritual leaders then show numerous verses from the Holy-Quran, which are already being cut accordingly to serve their main purpose of brainwashing. Due to the absence of critical mind, partly because of the low educated background, these people follow the instructions of their spiritual leaders no matter what, that the only way to reach heaven is to practice “jihad” by killing people who they blindly deemed related to United States and its allies. And here goes the serial of bombings –and some of them are suicide bombings-, which prove that these people don’t even hesitate to harm themselves in order to reach Heaven.

However, the difference between the treatment of terrorist-suspect in Indonesia and outside Indonesia, is that, majority of Indonesians are practicing religion (in this case, Islam) moderately, unlike the hardliners in the Middle-East. The members of National Police, and even D-88 are mostly muslims, who might understand the situation and the point of view of the terrorist-suspects a little better than the non-muslims. In this case, it becomes particularly easier for them to intermingle with the prisoners by attending religious services together and interact very closely even during day-to-day activities in order to derive more information from them. Some prisoners gradually realize their wrongdoings and promised to cooperate with the police to capture the other terrorist members who are yet to put behind bars. D-88 (or National Police) grants these people with job opportunity and even monetary benefit for them to start anew. Some ex-prisoners already live happily with new identity out there, with the new job the police entrusted to them. Some others are able to fund their weddings, tuition fees for their children and even healthcare benefits for their families. This, I think, is the win-win solution in an attempt to deradicalize Indonesia and therefore stabilize the country from inward disruption. Unfortunately however, some refuse to cooperate and continuously commit the terror after they are being released from jail, and some others are still being instilled with the radical way to promote jihad even after they are released from prison and continue to live normally in the society. And these, frankly speaking, are beyond the control of the deradicalization effort by D-88 and the Police.

There are some contemplation that occupy my mind afterwards, and the first being the importance of education. We, people of Indonesia, often disregard the importance of education, and even put religion first atop of everything; that people, preferably embrace religion the first and foremost before moving to other things such as education or entrepreneurship. The peculiar thing is, Indonesia is not even a state religion like Malaysia or the Middle-East. And here goes the terms such as “poor” and “dumb” to envisage the third world country like Indonesia. Personally I think education should come first and foremost before religion, because only smart people can comprehend the concept of religion, and a critical mind, in particular, will be less likely to go astray and be mislead relative to the approving mind. Secondly, devout adherents are most likely to sympathize –both implicitly or explicitly- to this act of terrorism, due to the association with religious belief that is seen as the absolute righteousness. I don’t easily generalize, but most of the time, devout adherents think too positively (and naively) about these terrorists whom they thought of as the victim of defamation –a big lie- to tarnish the religion. Religion becomes a commodity that sells very cheaply. Religion becomes a tool to judge people morally; the more religious attributes people wear, the more devout they are; the more articulate people recite the verses, the more righteous they are. From here, I think we, people of the country, are the main trigger of terrorism and other religion-based radical movements. We allow the prejudgment of people morally based on religious attributes, and these, gradually, give birth to the self-righteous people. When these self-righteous people commit the wrongdoings related to religion, they are seen as blameless and innocent due to religious attributes they tend to possess. Furthermore, they are seemingly immune to the common law, because there are still people who see their acts as morally right. Terrorism, or other religion-based radical movements, will be less likely to entirely vanish from the country as long as we still judge people morally based on religious attributes. Lastly, I second and fully support the Detachment-88 use of “network” to deradicalize Indonesia. In order to help people, we have to understand them and help them to help themselves. D-88 goes as far as interacting with the terrorist-suspect personally to understand them, and to offer help, even though they put their life at the frontier. By giving them their trust, these suspects will be expected to return it by returning their faith in the police hence the mutual understanding. This strategy is seen as effective, and expected to break the vicious circle of revenge as most of the time resulted from the bad treatment of terrorist-suspects.

I understand that what I write about D-88 might sound too sugary, even too good to be true, particularly when such practices come from Indonesian Police who are notorious when it comes to interrogation business. However, I loosely based my thoughts here from the article of Time magazine, which I see as credible and trustworthy.

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Posted by on June 9, 2010 in Soliloquy, thoughts


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