On March 28th, the first day of the Easter Holy Week, two suicide bombers attacked a Roman Catholic church on Sulawesi Island, Indonesia. While the only fatalities were the bombers themselves, the Associated Press reports that 20 people were injured. Religious motivations were suspected. Now, police raids have uncovered explosives commonly used by Islamist militant groups. President Joko Widodo’s mobilization of the National Police force has facilitated the investigation, with raids being conducted through Makassar and its neighboring cities.
Gomar Gultom, Head of the Indonesian Council of Churches, expressed the inhumanity of attacking worshippers celebrating Palm Sunday. Religious Affairs Minister Yaqut Cholil Qoumas also became involved, insisting on increased security measures at churches and other places of worship. President Widodo condemned the attack as an “act of terror.” “I call on everyone to fight against terror and radicalism,” he said, “which go against religious values.”
Pope Francis offered a prayer for the victims.
Striking a balance between exacting immediate justice for a brutal, violent attack and preventing the perpetuation, or provocation, of further animosity is challenging. While protecting the innocent is a necessity, the phrase “police raids” evokes controversial sentiments. How can a nation fulfill its moral duty to protect its citizens against a violent, radical minority, while not unduly policing the majority? Religious Affairs Minister Qoumas’s insistence on heightened security at places of worship may be the most immediate and effective method to accomplish this careful balance. While perhaps not having immediate, visible effects, the preemptive preventive measures of promoting objective and equitable education, as well as attainable social mobility, would decrease radicalization on a significant scale. The specific methods for improving such enormous social institutions, especially considering the cultural or traditional upheaval it may cost, necessitates a larger discussion than feasible in this report. The crux, however, is that if violent, radical groups are to be subdued without unjustly policing the entire population, these social institutions must be improved.
Militant groups have been active in Indonesia since at least 2002, with the Jemaah Islamiyah bombings of Bali targeting foreign tourists. However, attacks over the past few years have become focused on government, police, and “infidels,” reports the Associated Press. Makassar, where the attack took place, reflects Indonesia’s religious diversity. The capital has a Muslim majority and significant minorities, including Christians.
As National Police Chief Listyo Sigit Prabowo reported, the elite counterterrorism squad, Densus 88, conducted numerous raids the next day in response to the attack. Arrests were made in the city of Bima and in eastern Jakarta. According to the Indonesian police, the bombers were a married couple identified as Lukman and Dewi, affiliated with the Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (J.A.D.), the Associated Press reports. The group had sworn allegiance to ISIS and is an Islamic-State-inspired group. In 2018, they were suspects in church attacks in Surabaya. The attacks are currently connected to the J.A.D. group, whose bombings and acts of terror date back to at least 2016.
Among the many religiously-motivated attacks Indonesia has suffered in the recent past, the Palm Sunday suicide bombing attack provides further, horrifying testimony to the dangers of increasingly violent radicalization. We can expect to see harsher crackdowns by police forces in Indonesia, and potentially around the world, in the near future. Attempting only to violently or physically intimidate radical groups in response to the attack would be highly dangerous. While increased police raids or regulations may be inevitable in the short-term, we must also enact legislation or promote establishments that improve the crumbling social institutions which cultivate such radicalization.
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