Friday, February 26, 2010

Is Aceh really a safe haven for Islamic terrorists?

Following the arrest of four members of an unnamed Islamic terroist group in Aceh earlier this week, Indonesia's English language press has been quick to suggest that the province, which has imposed shariah law, is something of a safe haven for militants.

An article in Thursday's Jakarta Globe quotes terrorism experts and police who argue that the strength of fundamentalist Islam in Aceh makes it an ideal staging post for wannabe terrorists.

But Aaron Connelly, an American researcher in Jakarta who I met the other day, casts doubt in an interesting blog post on the simplicity of this argument and suggests that there may be darker forces at work behind this week's arrests and the death of an innocent bystander in a cross-fire.

His post raises the wider question of how the adoption of shariah law in Aceh (after the peace talks that ended the long-running separatist conflict) has been reported in the Western media. The focus has been on emphasizing extremism in Aceh by pointing to some of the shocking judgements/rulings/behaviour by the religious police and courts.

But the question of how far there is public support in Aceh for these measures is much less frequently asked, although Aaron points to a piece by freelance journalist Peter Gelling that addresses this issue. If I get time, I'd like to go to Aceh later this year to find out more.

Disclosure: among other things, I'm currently working as an editor at the Jakarta Globe.




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