Commentary: IF I WAS INDONESIA'S CHRISTMAS BOMBER
by Andreas Harsono
American Reporter Correspondent
JAKARTA, January 4, 2001 -- Last week, a few hours after examining a Jak= arta church where a bomb in a parking lot killed three people on Christmas = Eve, I returned to my home psychologically shaken, vividly recalling the fa= ce of a grieving mother whose son was among the victims.
"He is a good boy, he is a good boy," she cried. I kept remembering her = face and those of neighbors, both Muslims and Christians, as they flocked t= o offer their love and support to the young victim's mother.
I was tired from working for more than 15 hours, but even more, I was tr= aumatized by the blood, the fire, the horror and the damage created by the = bombing. Next to my computer were scraps of paper with my notes, field rep= orts, news summaries, paper cups and a matrix of the bombings that hit 10 I= ndonesian cities.
Suddenly, I found myself thinking about the mastermind of the Christmas = Eve bombings that spread terror across the length and breadth of the world'= s fourth most populous nation. What was the mastermind doing while I, like= other journalists, was wearily finishing up my story on the bombing? What= would I be thinking if I was involved in the planning, the financing and t= he implementation of the bombs?
I found it a little scary, but I imagined myself as the terrorist master= mind whose bombs had taken more than a dozen lives.
If I was the terrorist, I think I would be watching CNN International, w= hich made the Christmas bombing its top headline story. I would probably a= lso be browsing the Internet and reading news reports, probably amused at t= he inaccuracies in Indonesian media Web sites such as koridor.com, kompas.c= om and detik.com. Or watching Indonesian television such as RCTI, SCTV, Ind= ostar, just to see the footage of my destruction and hear about any late-br= eaking developments.
It would be important for me to monitor the media, because it is sometim= es much faster than the reports of my terror operatives in cities as far aw= ay as Medan, Batam and Pekanbaru, close to Singapore, and smaller cities li= ke Mataram, near the tourist island of Bali. The area my bombs encompassed= is as great as that from New York on America's East Coast to Seattle on th= e West Coast.
It would also be important to know what the public was watching and what= the public reads. Atmakusumah Astraatmadja, the chairman of Indonesia's P= ress Council, called it "the largest terror bomb" in the history of modern = Indonesia. Nurcholish Madjid of the Paramadina Foundation, probably Indone= sia's most important independent Muslim scholar, sobbed in front of televis= ion cameras, deploring the bombing.
In Jakarta, I would treat myself to a good meal and a few drinks. After = all, the bombing was a great success. It made headlines around the world. M= ost of the bombs -- 38 of them, to be precise -- exploded in the churches I= targeted, claiming a total of 133 victims, including 14 who died. Christma= s Eve was a nightmare in Indonesia.
To be frank, I'm not that happy with the number of deaths. The initial o= rder was to minimize the dead. Indeed, it is a terror bomb and in any bombi= ng, we have to expect the death of innocent victims. But some of my men tol= d me that 14 deaths are relatively few. The number of victims in the bombin= g of the Jakarta Stock Exchange building a few months ago was 15 and that w= as just in a single building. On Christmas Eve, we had more than 30 churche= s in 10 cities packed with people.
But I think I need to make it clear that President Abdurrahman Wahid was= right: The purpose of this bombing was to destabilize his already troubled= government. Some observers, and Western media, are wrong when they say tha= t part of my motive is to create a religious war in this, the world's large= st Muslim country, where an estimated 90 percent of its 210 million people = are followers of Islam and only about eight percent are Christians.
= They are wrong. If I wanted to spark a religious war I would bomb mosques. = The Christians are too few and too frightened to strike back. But bombing = mosques? Only God knows how Muslims would react.
I know President Wahid personally, and I usually call him by his nicknam= e, Gus Dur. He is not only Indonesia's first democratically-elected preside= nt but also a nice guy. But I am pretty nervous about his administration. G= us Dur is too liberal. He wants to move too fast. I am afraid that his gove= rnment is not capable of handling the problems in the rebellious Indonesian= provinces of Irian Jaya and Aceh or the conflict-ridden Maluku islands. Th= ose rich provinces might secede from Indonesia if the rebellions there are = not handled properly.
I also don't like the way Gus Dur allows people to condemn former P= resident Suharto, and even threaten to bring Suharto to justice. It is not= fair. Suharto did a lot for Indonesia. It was Suharto who fought poverty i= n this country, making it one of the emerging Asian Tigers. But don't get = me wrong. I agreed that Suharto did not discipline his kids. I opposed Suha= rto's children because their network of businesses do harm to Indonesia. Bu= t is it fair to blame the old man alone?
I am not against the democratization process. Indonesia needs to be= a democracy. But what kind of democracy? And how fast? I think the democra= tization process should be moderated to avoid more conflicts. A faster proc= ess -- what Gus Dur wants -- will lead to more innocent people becoming vic= tims of the conflict among Indonesia's elite.
Meddling in military affairs is another reason. I have many friends= , former ministers and army generals, who dislike Gus Dur for interfering w= ith the appointment and promotion of our officers. Gus Dur should pay the p= rice. Our military is very proud of its long tradition of independence, of = not being interfered by power-hungry politicians.
Now I am implementing the post-bombing operation. Some cells were = partly open, but we have already prepared to isolate the others. If the po= lice arrest some of my members, it will lead them nowhere. Most of my opera= tives are men for hire. They do their work for money and don't know each ot= her.
We are also ready to tamper with the evidence when it is all gather= ed together at one particular police headquarters in Jakarta.
Our cellular phone numbers have already been changed. Some of my to= p operatives have already gone into hiding, or went abroad to take a break,= only returning to Indonesia when it is safe. My network is strong, financi= ally and politically; my friends have a lot of grassroots support.
Journalists like Astraatmadja called on the media to help investiga= te the serial bombing. A group of informal figures and NGO activists like N= urcholish Madjid or poet-cum-journalist Goenawan Mohamadalso set up an inde= pendent team to investigate it. But I am not afraid at all.
The media in Indonesia are notorious for being corrupt and incapab= le of performing a serious investigation. These groups are very likely to g= o into the political arena and make a lot of statements, rather than undert= ake extensive field work. No action -- only talk.
Well, then, why don't I get some more rest and wait for the last da= ys of Gus Dur!
Oh, my. Our poor president.
Andreas Harsono is a Jakarta-based writer and 1999-2000 Nieman Internati= onal Fellow. He has written about Indonesia for AR since 1995.