Turning Murderers Into Martyrs: Why Executing the Bali Bomber Will Not End the ‘War on Terror’

Turning Murderers into Martyrs:
Why Executing the Bali Bomber will not end the ?War on Terror?

By Farish A. Noor.

Radicalism ? be it of the religious or secular variety ? thrives on one thing: the discourse of persecution and the cult of martyrdom. The departed spiritual leader of Iran Ayatollah Khomeini once said that the Iranian revolution was built on the gravestones of fallen heroes, and by now most of us have come to understand that the most radical and militant causes have been won not through the force of argument, or even the more nebulous call of reason and objectivity, but rather fought on the path of bloodshed,
violence and force.

In the wake of the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, the whole world has been brought into an spurious ?war against terror?, orchestrated with the prodding of the world?s only superpower, the United States of America. Even the most independent and recalcitrant states have been bought over or forced into submission by the warmongers of the US, who seem hell-bent on achieving their objectives at whatever human or political cost.

At the heart of this global crusade is the nebulous concept of ?terror? itself, surely one of the most elusive, slippery and over-determined concepts that has ever slipped into the vocabulary of international relations and global politics. Yet this world-wide campaign against ?terror?, which has thus far marshalled the military, economic and political might and clout of practically every developed nation in the world, has led only to the unilateral invasion of two countries ? Afghanistan and Iraq (neither of which were even able to govern themselves, much less pose a threat to the world order as a whole) ? and the projection of American military power and strategic capabilities further afield than it has even dared to go before, even during the height of the Cold War.

Two years after September 11th, have we grown any wiser, and has the world become a safer place for humanity as a whole? The answer has to be in the negative.

By antagonizing the Muslim world and abusing the sensitivities of Muslims from all walks of life, America and, by extension, the rest of the Western world has only managed to alienate itself even further. The net result has been the steady radicalization of Muslim militant groups and radical movements all over the globe, and the results are too real, too close to be avoided. In Pakistan, we have seen the rise of conservative Islamist parties that are even more determined to rid the Muslim world of American influence.

In Afghanistan and Central Asia, the dreaded Taliban and their cohorts have hardly disappeared from the scene: if anything, they seem poised to stage a dramatic comeback as the mounting figures of Western troops in Afghanistan shows. In Iraq, the situation is about to come to the boil as anti-Americanism enters into a marriage of convenience with religious radicalism and conservative orthodoxy. In the Arab states ? most notably Saudi Arabia ? Islamist militants are preparing for the next putsch that is meant to not only kick out the US troops stationed there, but also to bring down the crony puppet regimes that have been on Washington?s payroll for so long.

In Southeast Asia, Washington?s heavy-handed approach has managed to turn what was once a relatively peaceful and tolerant Muslim community into a mass of angry young men wearing Osama bin Laden T-shirts and shouting slogans calling for the death of kafirs. In the troubled hot spots of Indonesia like the Moluccas, Islamist militant groups find a ready and appreciative audience that are prepared to buy into their rhetoric of jihad against the West. The bombing in Bali last year and the recent bombing of the American-owned Marriott Hotel in Jakarta shows clearly that the lumbering giant that is the US has tread on too many toes.

How could millions of ordinary Muslims in Asia have converted to this new line of thinking, which years ago was thought of as alien and decidedly foreign in the region? How could the centre of gravity of Islamist discourse shift to such a radically different register in so short a space of time?

And why has the United States, in particular, come to occupy such a pivotal position as the primary enemy and root of all evil within the discourse of the radicals and conservatives?

The answer lies in the manifold contradictions of American foreign policy itself, and the ways in which Washington has blundered spectacularly in its over-ambitious attempts to impress its vision of the world on the rest of humanity. Lopsided and self-interested at best, American foreign policy has always been a cause of irritation for the other countries that have fallen within its sphere of interests. Today, Washington wishes to project American power abroad, and particularly deep into Asia, in order to safeguard its own
national security interests. But America?s return to Southeast Asia is not without precedent- this is, after all, the same country that was responsible for the murder of millions of civilians during the Vietnam war and it was also the same country that propped up a string of authoritarian puppet dictators in the Philippines and Indonesia for more than three decades.

Hardly a surprise, then, if the Islamist radicals find it so easy to demonize the US today. Much less a surprise that the radicals find a receptive audience who accept what they say.

Faced with growing hostility and anti-American sentiment, the American government has done precious little to improve its own image or correct the contradictions in its own foreign policy. Far from being a source of positive change and genuine reform, Washington today is seen as the principle backer and benefactor to a host of new authoritarian leaders and governments who have lapped up its discourse of ?war against terror? with relish. While in the not-too-distant past the American government paid at least some lip service to hallowed notions such as democracy and human rights, the US government today has paid scant notice to the abuse of human rights taking place all over the world as it ups the stakes in its ?war against terror?. How can the American government preach human rights to its allies, considering the fact that this is the country that has detained hundreds of people without recourse to an open trial or legal representation at Guantanamo Bay? How can the United States convince the world of the need to control the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, when it is the same country that is now seriously considering the use of nuclear weapons against so-called ?rogue states??

These contradictions, in turn, add fuel to the fire of militancy and religious radicalism, and the terrorists who were responsible for the bombing of the tourist resort in Bali (and the Marriott Hotel in Jakarta) can only rejoice as the United States assumes its role as universal bully and ?Big Brother? state, pushing its agenda through by force if necessary. As hundreds if not thousands of innocent ordinary Muslims are persecuted, imprisoned, tortured or made to ?disappear? by their own governments that are following Washington?s line, the ranks of the militants and extremists can only swell.

The contemporary history of the Muslim world shows that it is the experience
of such persecution and abuse that has radicalised many a moderate Muslim and turned him/her into an anti-Western fanatic and militant. The ideologue of the Muslim Brotherhood, Sayyed Qutb, was radicalized only as a result of his imprisonment and torture at the hands of Egyptian authorities, who were, in turn, only serving the interests of Washington and its allies then.

That is why the death sentence meted out to the Bali bomber Amrozi Nurhasyim will not put an end to the so-called ?War on Terror?. Throughout his trial, Amrozi was dubbed the ?smiling bomber? because of his complacent, even insouciant air. The enigmatic smile of Amrozi was seen as something fundamentally alien and incomprehensible by Western commentators and journalists who did not understand why he showed no remorse of his act of killing innocents. But in the world of the Amrozis of today, there is one greater evil that has to be confronted, opposed and defeated at all costs: The United States and its foreign policy.

Amrozi?s trial merely confirmed his beliefs in his own convictions and worldview, and his execution will be read by him and his supporters as vindication of their beliefs. The man was right to say that ?If I die, there will be thousands more of me who will take up my struggle.? Therein lies the diagnosis of the ills of American unilateralism in a nutshell. Amrozi may have been a simple Indonesian village mechanic before the Bali bombing, but it was his indignation and anger over US foreign policy abroad that attracted him to militancy and radicalism in the first place. The death sentence passed on him will turn the murderer into a martyr, and for him and his followers, it will confirm that his choice of taking up arms against the West was the right one.


Dr. Farish A. Noor (Badrol Hisham Ahmad-Noor), Centre for Modern Orient Studies,
33 Kirchweg, 14129 Berlin, Germany