Indonesia now bears the heavy shadow of child suicide bombers — just as Muslims are about to enter the holy fasting month of Ramadhan. They used to be part of horrific, distant news stories involving Palestine, Boko Haram, the Islamic State (IS). Now they are here.
Reports so far say four children survived the recent terror acts in East Java that were led by their parents. They include a badly wounded 8-year-old girl who was thrown off a motorcycle driven by her father, who had with her mother and brother detonated explosives at the Surabaya Police headquarters on Monday; and three boys whose parents and older sister were killed in an explosion at a low-cost apartment near the provincial capital.
The other children who were killed, after they were directed or brought along by parents on a suicide mission to three churches on Sunday, were two girls and their two older brothers.
Surabaya Mayor Tri Rismaharini reacted the way many of us did: “I cannot fathom this.”
We cannot fathom how a mother who had given birth, breastfed and raised her children would have them in tow as she bombed a church during Sunday Mass. One family in the congregation lost two sons.
The only comforting news may be that the state Witness and Victims Protection Agency (LPSK) and Child Protection Commission (KPAI) will guard the safety of the above orphans and screen anyone claiming to be their family members. The fear is that the survivors, reportedly aged 8 to 15, could be pulled back into a terrorist network.
Yet the involvement of entire families, including children, in terrorism should not come as a shock. At least 500 Indonesians, including their offspring, are known to have returned from Syria, where they had joined the IS. Not all, however, were combatants.
While many question the efficacy of the government’s deradicalization program to rehabilitate terror convicts, Syria returnees have not even been placed under close surveillance .
The three families involved in the latest attacks were likely inspired by the IS’ method of using children, regardless of whether they had been to Syria.
Our laws of the post-authoritarian era would not allow such intense spying on families to prevent indoctrination of children into terrorism — although President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has threatened to issue a presidential regulation in lieu of law if lawmakers cannot pass the revised Terrorism Law by the end of the month.
Still, children without such extreme parents are not entirely safe. Surveys have revealed that intolerant outlooks condoning violence in the name of religion is widespread in schools, universities and even government institutions, exposing Indonesia’s youth to the ugly possibility of becoming willing murderers, as the teenagers involved in the Surabaya attacks showed us.
We have hosted many international interfaith gatherings, including the latest meeting of renowned Islamic leaders, issuing strong messages of peace. But they will remain futile as long as notions of a violent jihad are more appealing.