Panacea for Terrorism

The Jakarta Post, December 09, 2005

In his book, Dying to Win, Robert A. Pape, a political scientist at the University of Chicago and a columnist with the New York Times, presents interesting and useful facts to explain the phenomenon of suicide terrorism.
Collecting data from around the world from 1980 through 2003, he found these surprising facts:
First, suicide terrorism is not just the product of Islamic fundamentalism.
Second, the world's number one practitioners of suicide terrorism are the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka -- a secular, Marxist-Leninist group.
Third, most suicide terrorist attacks occur as part of political-secular objectives.
Many Islamic leaders and intellectuals in Indonesia share the assumption of a direct link between terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism. They believe a misinterpretation of jihad has brought about terrorism. After watching a video of three terrorists' last testament before committing suicide bombings in Bali in October, a senior ulema said the terrorists had misinterpreted Islam. Jihad, according to him, is not suicide.
In fact there is no such misinterpretation of jihad. If we agree to use "interpretation" as a cognitive activity, then let us distinguish between two different levels of observing religious belief: Interpretation and actualization.
To be a religious action, a religious text must be interpreted or constructed, and then implemented in actuality. To be an action of zakat (alms), religious texts are initially interpreted into a concept of zakat, and then Muslims bring the concept into practice.
Distinguishing these two different levels, we would find that both moderates and hard-liner have a similar conceptualization of jihad, but differ in its implementation. They indeed share the meaning of jihad, but they have different rationalizations for doing or not doing jihad.
We need to distinguish between these levels because many Muslim intellectuals, especially those who consider themselves moderate and liberal, assume that hard-liners do not understand what jihad is. The moderates divide jihad into two forms: violent and nonviolent jihad. They insist that the hard-liners should observe the higher level, nonviolent jihad rather than the lower, violent one.
But do they think that suicide bombers in Palestine and Chechnya do not understand this concept? If we read Imam Samudra's book, in Indonesia's case, we find that he understands very well the two forms of jihad. However, he chose the violent form because he found the justification for it (his personal experience in Afghanistan may be one of his justifications).
Now, assume that the moderate and liberal Muslims who advise the hard-liners to observe the nonviolent form of jihad are living in oppressed Chechnya, would they give the same advice?
Thus, I would argue that the "experience" of the oppressed contributes more to suicide terrorism than the supposed misinterpretation of jihad.
There is an example on how experience and context contribute more to radicalization than interpretation. In the next example, the very fatwa (interpretation) remains valid until today, but the observation of the fatwa has dramatically changed.
No one deny that Nahdlatul Ulama, the country's largest Muslim organization, is a moderate and tolerant group. It stands in the fore in defending the plurality of the Indonesian state. The NU is exemplary in showing the rest of the world that Indonesian Islam is different from Middle Eastern Islam.
However, when we refer to the fatwa (edicts) the NU issued during colonization and the preindependence era, we would find NU not that moderate.
Like today's hard-liners who are not willing to wear western-style cloths, the NU had a fatwa about this. It ruled that wearing western-style clothes was haram because it made Muslims similar to the infidels. According to the Hadith upon which the fatwa was based, Muslims should not look like infidels. While the NU never annulled the edict, many of its members no longer observe it.
During the independence struggle, the NU issued a heroic (or radical?) fatwa obliging every Muslim to join the battle (violent form of jihad) against the British army in Surabaya.
While many Islamic leaders say that suicide is not jihad, what about a civilian equipped only with the legendary bambu runcing (sharpened bamboo) going into battle against the fully equipped British army? Is that not suicide? Look at the number of people who died in the battle. Roeslan Abdulgani once estimated the battle cost the lives of 10,000 Indonesians.
No doubt that they were heroes and not foolish suicide fighters.
The NU never annulled this edict, but instead reads it out every year as one of its greatest contributions to Indonesia. Its concept of jihad remains the same, but the context has changed. There is no colonial power anymore in Indonesia, and the NU finds no justification to observe its fatwa. Thus, has the NU become moderate because it has moved from a radical interpretation to a moderate one?
Moderatism is not a panacea for terrorism because the supposed fundamentalist misinterpretation is merely manipulated to achieve a political objective (such as Pan Islamism or independence). As Robert Pape puts it in his book, before Israel's invasion of Lebanon there was no suicide terrorist campaign against Israel; before the Sri Lankan military moved into the Tamil's homeland, the Tamil Tigers did not use suicide attacks.
The writer is secretary of Mabarrot NU Yogyakarta and is a student at the School of International Studies, University of Washington.

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