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Indonesia: Jemaah Islamiyah's Publishing Industry
Asia Report N°147
28 February 2008
A handful of members and persons close to Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), Indonesia's most prominent extremist organisation, have developed a profitable publishing consortium in and around the pesantren (religious school) founded by Abu Bakar Ba'asyir and Abdullah Sungkar in Solo, Central Java. The consortium has become an important vehicle for the dissemination of jihadi thought, getting cheap and attractively printed books into mosques, bookstores and discussion groups. The publishing venture demonstrates JI's resilience and the extent to which radical ideology has developed roots in Indonesia. The Indonesian government should monitor these enterprises more closely, but they may be playing a useful role by channelling JI energies into waging jihad through the printed page rather than acts of violence.
Examining the titles printed permits tracking of a lively internal debate within JI over the desirability of al-Qaeda tactics. That debate seems to be taking place spontaneously, without any assistance from the government "deradicalisation" program, and it is important that it continue. Banning the publishers or their books would be counterproductive. But more scrutiny of the publishing activities would be desirable for several reasons:
- Publishing has increased as JI has weakened, likely reflecting a decision from the top to focus on religious outreach and recruitment as a way of rebuilding the organisation. The books produced may be part of that effort.
- From translator to distributor, the publishing web is an example of the social network that holds JI together, particularly at a time of weakness. JI has proven itself extraordinarily able to rebound from setbacks, and the networks underpinning it may help explain why.
- Although the publishing houses are owned by individuals, not JI per se, some revenues are almost certainly being ploughed back into JI activities.
- Individual members close to Noordin Mohammed Top, perhaps the region's most dangerous at-large terrorist, may be working as translators for JI publishers, despite the ideological gulf between Noordin and the JI mainstream.
The best way to ensure adequate scrutiny would be for the Indonesian government to enforce its own laws with respect to publishing, labour, corporate registration and taxation. Such enforcement would not only offer a means of monitoring these enterprises, but it could also yield valuable information about the size and status of the JI organisation.
Jakarta/Brussels, 28 February 2008