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Downer says radicalism in Indonesia has no qu -

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Downer says radicalism in Indonesia has no quick fix

Peter Cave reported this story on Wednesday, July 22, 2009 12:30:00

PETER CAVE: Indonesian police have revealed that they believe one of the suicide bombers who
carried out last week's attacks on the Marriott and Ritz Carlton hotels was Nur Said also known Nur
Hasbi.

He is a former student at the Madrasah, or religious school run by the notorious cleric Abu Bakar
Bashir at Solo in Central Java. Bashir has been described as the spiritual advisor of the Bali
Bombers and the alumni of the school where Bashir still lives include three of the Bali Bombers,
the man who drove the truck which exploded at the Australian embassy in 2004, and several others
linked to terrorist incidents in Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines.

The former Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer has long urged Indonesia to act against
Bashir. I spoke to him this morning.

Mr Downer, I was in Jakarta a few years ago when you announced at a conference what then was
regarded as a fairly radical proposal to pour money into the Madrasahs in order to modernise them
and de-radicalise them; has that program been bearing fruit do you think?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: I think it's too early for it to bear fruit; I think eventually it will, there's
no question of that. This is really to build new religious schools, not to put money into the
existing Madrasahs, and so AusAID, I don't know how many they've built now, but AusAID have built
several of these schools coming under the auspices of the ministry of religious affairs and also
education, so that it has a core mainstream curriculum but also some religious teaching as well.

So it's a way of maintaining, if you like, an element of religious education but mainstreaming it
and keeping radicalism out of that sort of education.

PETER CAVE: When do you think it will start working?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well I don't think it's going to, if you like, bear fruit for several years until
children have really gone through these schools and you get a new generation of people who've had
some religious education but have had proper education as well and that they're able to go out and
get proper jobs.

The problem with the Madrasahs is that they teach them nothing except religion, which OK that's
fine, although it's a very extremist form of religion they teach them, but they have no capacity to
get jobs on the back of that. I mean they're not taught arithmetic and literature and all the
normal things people are taught in schools, they're just taught about the Qur'an and other sort of,
religious derivations of the Qur'an and nothing much else.

PETER CAVE: Do you think that Indonesia under Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is serious about ending the
role of these religious schools as breeding grounds for suicide bombers?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well I think they have been but this just takes a lot of time. I mean one of the
questions is whether they've done enough about the likes of Abu Bakar Bashir, and one or two other
religious leaders of that kind.

The trouble is that the laws are a bit lax in terms of dealing with extremism, and the reason for
that is that the Government has been nervous about inflaming the situation by being too radical.
For example we had discussions with them, it must be four or five years ago now, about banning
Jemaah Islamiah.

They've always been nervous about that because they say if you do that sort of thing, you take that
sort of action, it will make the situation worse not better. In general I think there's, their
judgement has been pretty much right, and you know, I would have said until last week they've done
a really exceptional job in fighting terrorism and in particular reducing political support for
terrorist organisations.

And for, if you like, radical Islam, they've done very, very well in that respect. But of course
we've seen what we've seen last week, and that's perhaps much more to do with somebody like Noordin
Top is still on the loose, than a failure of overall Indonesian policy.

PETER CAVE: Well let's look, as you've mentioned Abu Bakir Bashir, his school in Solo is still
operating, why is a place like that allowed to operate?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well I mean, I think that is a fair question and the answer to that is that
they're worried that if they just close down those sorts of places that it will lead to an
incitement of radical feeling and in particular would build up support for those sorts of groups
out of sympathy.

It's a hard judgement to make, I mean I would have thought after what we've seen last week there'd
be a strong case for closing a school like that, and there'd be a strong case for taking more
radical action against Abu Bakir Bashir. But that's been the explanation they've given.

PETER CAVE: What is Australia doing in Indonesia to combat terrorism? We know that the Federal
Police are there, we know that we're offering money for these Madrasahs, what else is it doing?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well I think the greatest contribution Australia has made is one we don't boast
about very much, it's the contribution we've made to tracking down and finding the people who've
been involved in terrorist organisations and breaking up their linkages into the Middle East and to
other parts of the region.

Obviously that hasn't been 100 per cent successful, but it has been pretty successful and a large
number of the detentions, arrests of extremists have been with the assistance of Australian
authorities over some years now.

So we've been able to provide a lot of help behind the scenes in that sort of a way, and yes it's
true, we've tried to put money into, if you like, moderate education institutions -or moderate
religious educational institutions - to try to divert people from the more extremist Madrasahs into
those institutions.

And as I've said that sort of work is a long term-project, that's not a short-term project.

PETER CAVE: Mr Downer, without landing us both in jail, who's carrying out these sort of
operations?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, the Australian Federal Police have been doing an excellent job as is well
known.

PETER CAVE: And some other agencies as well, is that what you're saying?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well I mean, you know, particularly here focus on the Australian Federal Police,
obviously it's important that all of the resources of the Australian Government are brought to
bear, and they are.

PETER CAVE: Could we do more without getting the Indonesians offside do you think?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well I'm not sure that we so much can do more, I mean I think unfortunately this
is just a long and grinding campaign, there is no, if you don't mind the metaphor in this context,
silver bullet. There's no one single thing you can do just to wipe out this problem, I mean there
are people who hold these beliefs.

And more than that, and I think this is something people understand, don't understand - they're
prepared to die for their beliefs, and they're prepared to die as martyrs, they know that they're
martyrs. And so consequently it's very hard to put a stop to it, and it's only through patience and
time that you will eventually do that.

PETER CAVE: The former foreign affairs minister Alexander Downer.