Human Rights

Could an Obama Presidency Dampen Enthusiasm for Jihad?

If Obama upholds democratic values abroad without double standards, jihadi ideologues will have a much harder time recruiting.
Following a tradition that dates back to the revolution that birthed the nation, Indonesia executed the three convicted Bali bombers on the prison island Nusakambangan on Sunday, November 9, at 00'15 hours. Amrozi, Ali Gufron (Mukhlas) and Abdul Aziz alias Imam Samudra, were shot dead after a long legal process that ended after a judge ruled that the three bombers could be executed by firing squad, a method contested by lawyers acting for the convicts, as being inhumane.

The suicide backpack bomb and the car bomb that devastated two clubs in a tourist area of Bali killed 202 people and injured many others. The only apology ever to come from the convicted bombers was for not killing more Americans, their intended victims. At every opportunity the bombers manipulated the media to further their jihad against the U.S. and its allies.

Supporters of the bombers ideology donated a hectare of land for a cemetery for martyrs of jihad and were hoping for the Bali bombers to be their first celebrity residents, but the government ruled that the corpses would be returned to their families to be buried in their home villages. All the visible players in the Indonesian jihadi network have expressed their belief that the bombers will die as martyrs and the Indonesian government and nation will pay for executing these Islamic warriors. Some have even gone as far as issuing threats against the life of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The Australian federal government has issued an updated travel warning for Bali, warning of reprisal attacks following the executions.

Although the support for the bombers' jihad is disturbing, the fact that the vast majority of Indonesian Muslims condemned the bombings should not be ignored. With the help of some jihadi defectors the Indonesian police have continued to crack down on terror groups and it is estimated that their strength has been severely undermined by scores of arrests and convictions. The mainstream Islamic groups in Indonesia such as the Nahdlatul Ulama and the Muhammadiyah who together have over 70 million supporters have also made an effort to curb the growth of Islamist jihad. Recently even the usually right wing Indonesian Council of Ulamas issued a statement declaring that the bombings were terror attacks and cannot be defined as true jihad.

Because the jihad ideology in part is a reaction to the perceived injustice of America's foreign policy, the election of Barack Obama as President of the USA is widely hoped to further dampen the enthusiasm for jihad all over the world. Indonesian jihadi publications have been quick to opine that as an infidel Obama will continue the "global crusade against Islam", but now they sound more desperate than threatening, as most Indonesian Muslims seem to have welcomed Obama as a promise of change for the better.

How Obama pulls out of Iraq, pursues Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban in Afghanistan, and deals with Israel and Palestine, will determine whether or not the "war against terror" will succeed. If Obama can present America to the world as a country that upholds the values of democracy and freedom without double standards, the jihadi ideologues will have a much harder time recruiting and might eventually disappear into the mist of the past. However, if Obama continues to ignore and aggravate the grievances of the Islamic world, he will, like George W. Bush before him, be the most powerful recruiting agent for the global jihad.

The execution of the Bali bombers has made them martyrs for their followers, but the numbers of those following the jihad ideology that they promote in Indonesia is being drastically reduced by the growth of democracy. In Indonesia, hardliner Islamists tend to soften their positions when and if they enter the democratic system. While Islamists denounce democracy as a system that comes from Satan, the election of Obama proves that democracy can work. This positive image of democracy in itself is a powerful antidote to the poison of Islamist jihad and terror.
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