Friday, January 28, 2011

Allah's Torch

That's the title the author chose after sounding out Ruhaini Dzuhayatin, a lecturer in sociology and director of the Center for Women's Studies at the State Institutute of Islam Studies in Jogjakarta - for fear its meaning might be misinterpreted. What did she think?
"I think it's great, "she said enthusiatically. She caught the gist immediately - the torch of Islam was meant to bring enlightenment, but in the wrong hands, could also be put to destructive ends.

In May 2000, acclaimed journalist and filmmaker Tracy Dahlby unwittingly sailed with Laskar Jihad warriors into troubled Moluccas. When the Muslim-Christian fracas boiled over at Ambon, he narrowly escaped, initial attempt by crashed Navy plane, and finally by the same transportation of choice of terrorists, M.V. Bukit Siguntang. That didn't stop him for heading back to Indonesia in 2002, for an abortive effort to interview Abu Bakar Bashir, whom he ascribes as "the wolfish grandpa who took his orders straight from Osam's board of directors". That's a tasting portion of Dahly's wicked humour. Those who have travelled to populous Indonesia will recognise the friendliness and hospitality he experienced along the way. So how did the Bali bombers like Imam Samudra fit in the scheme of things?

One of his interpreter-guides, Reza, offered one variant in his tale of being fixed by Suharto's' military goons and thrown into the local equivalent of Abu Ghraib, complete with a "electric stick" which made his limbs jump crazily and sucked the air from his lungs. All he wanted was a Cory Aquino inspired people's power revolution to address the abuses of the Smiling General. Does poverty gap, skewed education or jaundiced judiciaries ring a bell? "I don't agree at all with the Bali bombers and what they did. But I know exactly how people like them feel. I know how angry they are. They're reacting to the same atmosphere of injustice in this society."

The author's encounters with a firebrand and a prince, the rhetoric of the Lesser Jihad and the high symbolism of the Javanese Islam culminated in an information overload, the ramifications of which made Dahlby cognizant of the fog of war, the confusion that overcomes observers on an active battlefield.

"We were hit on 9/11 by people who believed in hateful ideas. We cannot win a war of ideas against such people by ourselves," the author quoted Tom Friedman of the New York Times, "only fellow Muslims could do that." In other words, it requires jihad, in the best and broadest meaning of the word. For those unfamiliar with the concept, let prudence be their guide in commentary. As for loud mouthed politicians, just shut up!


  1. "As for loud mouthed politicians, just shut up!"

    that sums it up succinctly.

  2. a thoughtful piece. i like it.

  3. good review to make me go look out for it..

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