Democracy, Societal Pressures, and Indonesia’s War on Terror

Ali Muhammad


Terrorism has emerged as one of security threats to Indonesia since 2000. How did the government fight terrorism? In particular, how and to what extent did domestic politics shape the course of the government’s counter-terrorism policy? This article investigates the societal pressures and their implications for the government’s counter-terrorism policy. It demonstrates that the restoration of democracy in Indonesia since the collapse of Suharto’s regime in 1998 created an opportunity for the resurgence of Islam as a political force. On the issue of terrorism, the groups perceive distrustfully that “the war against terrorism” is a sort of “fight to undermine Islam.” Besides that, the rise of democracy also provided space for other societal forcesmost relevantly, human rights defender groups—who actively monitor human rights abuses committed by the previous regime. They also expressed their serious apprehension that some elements of the government’s counterterrorism measures could seriously undermine human rights, civil liberty, and democratic principles in an emerging democratic polity. As a consequence, the apprehension among Islamic groups over the nature of terrorism and counter-terrorism turned out to be a constraint for the government’s actions. Additionally, because of being monitored and criticized by human rights groups, the governments also refrained from adopting and implementing policy measures that could undermine human rights and civil liberty.

Keywords: Indonesia, War on terror, Counterterrorism, Democracy, Societal Pressures, Islamic “revivalist” groups.

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