Funny how it keeps happening: Islam is “misunderstood” once again, even in modern, moderate Indonesia. The rate at which these misunderstandings of the Qur’an and ahadith happen suggests a scenario like that of Monty Python’s deliberately flawed Hungarian phrasebook. But unlike that sketch, no one seems to be in a hurry to track down the culprit — all the more strange when one considers how aggressively other “heresies” (e.g., Bahai’ism, Ahmadiyya) are generally isolated in Islamic communities.
“Indonesia hotel bomber: a graduate of jihad ‘ivy league’,” by Tom McCawley for the Christian Science Monitor, July 21:
Jakarta, Indonesia — Update: Latest developments reflect focus of investigation now turning to Islamic boarding school
On Monday, Indonesia’s developing investigation into the terrorist attack on the Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels in Jakarta that killed nine people last week led them to the tiny Javanese town of Ngruki, where a small Islamic boarding school has been teaching jihad going on 20 years.
Tempo, an online Indonesian news source, said a “number” of police intelligence officers visited the Al Mukmin boarding school and The Jakarta Post reported that Indonesian investigators believe that Nur Sahid, a 1995 graduate of the school, was one of the suicide bombers who attacked businessmen enjoying their breakfasts at the hotel last week.
As the investigation has moved forward, evidence has mounted against Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), an Islamist group responsible for more than 300 murders dating back to 2000. The JI has long used the boarding school at Ngruki — which is run by its spiritual leader Abu Bakar Bashir — as a recruiting hub, making it part of a militant “ivy league,” according to Sidney Jones, the leading investigator of the group,
Window on a school
Noor Huda Ismail is a 1991 graduate of the school who roomed with a number of boys who went on to join JI. He says that it’s important to understand what’s taught there if one wants to grasp, and ultimately undermine, the ideology behind these kinds of murders.
He’s got that much right. But as is so often the case, the insistence that violent jihad has nothing to do with Islam gets in the way:
He’s now a researcher and head of the Institute for International Peacebuilding, an Indonesian foundation that seeks to reintegrate Islamist fighters into mainstream society. He stays in touch with a number of JI’s jailed activists.
“They sincerely believe what they did was right to defend other Muslims,” Mr. Huda says, explaining the thinking of some of the young men indoctrinated at Al Mukmin. “That’s what worries me.”
The 1995 class was a particularly fertile one for terrorists. Asmar Latin Sani, a suicide bomber and one-time roommate of Huda’s who helped murder 12 people at the Marriott in 2003, graduated that year. So did Muhammed Rais, who assisted in that first Marriott attack and whose sister married Noordin Top, the JI leader who Indonesian police say now leads a splinter group that arranged the latest attack and is their most wanted man.
Foreign plots and obedience
Huda says the atmosphere at the school is one of unquestioning obedience and constant warnings of foreign and Christian plots to harm Islam.
Some of the students became true believers and signed up for jihad (holy war). Others were simply naive or didn’t question their superiors when asked to do favors that later incriminated them in wider terror plots. (He recalls one acquaintance who simply gave his bank account to a man who later used it to organize a 2002 bomb plot on Bali that killed 202 people.) “They were trained to be robotic and not to question,” Huda says.
Still, Huda says that most of the students at Ngruki never participated in any militant activity, and that the vast majority’s views grow more moderate, as his did, when they make contact with the wider world. But as long as militancy and hate are preached, some portion of students will act on that, says Huda.
Choosing a different path
“I used to think like them,” says Mr. Huda of his teen years studying hard-line jihadism. “So I know that if I can change, why can’t they?”
Huda went on to study communications at a leading university, work as a reporter for The Washington Post, and win a scholarship to Scotland’s St. Andrews University.
Huda and Dr. Carl Ungerer, an Australian security analyst, had warned in a report issued less than 24 hours before the July 17 bombing, that JI might be planning new attacks.
The report said that after the arrest of over 400 JI members, including the death of key leaders in a seven-year US-supported counterterrorist campaign, JI’s violent wing was weakened. But they warned the release of recent members from prison and a generational turnover, could reenergize JI….