Choosing Forgiveness

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Indonesian officials are considering granting early release to Hisyam bin Alizein, also known as Umar Patek, the leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, an al-Qaida-linked terrorist group that killed 202 people in a bombing at a tourist spot in Bali in 2002.

The officials felt that the murderer has been rehabilitated and could serve as an example to other would-be terrorists of the folly of their ways. Bin Alizein has served two-thirds of his 20-year prison term. He has participated in a flag ceremony that suggests he has converted to a more moderate form of Islam and sworn allegiance to the Indonesian state, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

“In terms of his participation in the deradicalization program, he has been loyal to the Republic of Indonesia for a long time,” Indonesia’s Minister of Law and Human Rights Yasonna Laoly told the Associated Press.

Eighty-eight Australian citizens were among those killed. Australian officials quickly registered their displeasure at the thought of bin Alizein walking free. The terrorist was on the run from authorities for nine years as investigators searched for him to claim a $1 million reward, Sky News explained. He was eventually captured in January 2011 in Abbottabad, Pakistan, the same town where US forces would kill Osama bin Laden four months later.

Survivors described the psychological anguish they were experiencing at the thought of his release, added Agence France-Presse.

The background to these developments suggests that Indonesian officials should think long and hard about setting the bombmaker free. Islamic militantism is rife in the Southeast Asian country, the largest Muslim country in the world, analysts say. A few months ago, for example, Reuters wrote, Indonesian security forces arrested dozens of extremists who had pledged loyalty to Islamic State via an instant messaging service.

In East Nusa Tenggara, the southernmost province in the sprawling archipelago nation and where Christianity is the majority religion, lawmakers have alerted the central government of the threat posed by the Khilafatul Muslimin terrorist group, which wants to impose an Islamic caliphate on Indonesians, reported Union of Catholic Asia News.

But, as San Diego State University political science professor Ahmet Kuru noted, Indonesia is also home to groups like the Nahdlatul Ulama, an Islamic organization founded in 1926 to counter the rigid Saudi interpretation of Islam. It has 90 million followers.

Indonesia’s National Counter-Terrorism Agency (BNPT) is also launching a new effort to promote “Pancasila,” the foundational philosophy of Indonesia that calls for tolerance, justice, democracy and other progressive notions, according to Antara News, the state-run Indonesian news agency.

Time will tell if Pancasila can melt the hearts of those who choose hate.

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