Jakarta – The Indonesian government is once again under foreign pressure to ban the Jemaah Islamiah (JI) following the Oct 1 suicide bombings in the resort island ofBali. Australian Prime Minister John Howard is sending his Foreign Minister, Mr Alexander Downer, to Indonesia next week to lobby the government to ban JI. However, experts are divided as to whether an Indonesian ban on JI will have any impact.
The JI, which in on the United Nations' and the United States' lists of terrorist organisations, continues to be a legal organisation in Indonesia. Its legal status means that JI can continue with its propaganda work and recruit members because these activities are not banned under existing laws. It is also not an offence for an Indonesian to join JI.
Some analysts believe that declaring JI as illegal would make it easier for Indonesia to make arrests and stem funding for the organisation. The Indonesian government has refused to outlaw JI on the grounds that there is no such formal organisation.
"So far we see JI as non-existent, it is an underground movement. We can only ban an established organisation, one that has an office or something like that," said an Indonesian presidential spokesman.
The government is also reluctant to declare a formal ban on JI - which literally means the Muslim community – since it could lead to backlash from Muslim groups and political parties in Indonesia and eventually bring down the government itself.
Analysts such as Dr Sidney Jones, a JI expert from the International Crisis Group, believes that banning JI now is likely to achieve little.
"Because the way the group has evolved, it will make no difference because they can just find a new name and those who have active membership can just change and become part of the other organisation," Dr Jones said. "Banning it may help a little but it is not going to make a major dent on the problem."
However, Australian Foreign Minister Downer said Canberra still wanted Jakarta to ban JI even though it might have little effect.
*Ban JI even if effect is limited, says Canberra (The Straits Times, Oct 6)
*Blast after blast…yet JI is not banned (The Straits Times, Oct 4)