18 Jan Blog: Attack, media, Islam, and framing
Thursday morning January 14, a terrorist attack in downtown Jakarta was on the news. Media contacted KITLV for comments. How did Dutch media react? Observations by Henk Schulte Nordholt and Fridus Steijlen.
The target of the terrorist attack was not clear – a UN building, a nearby Starbucks, a (closed!) movie theatre, a nearby police office? Whatever the intentions of the attackers may have been – a remake of the Paris massacre, a follow up to the Istanbul bombing? – an immediate and massive intervention by Indonesian security forces soon ended the incident. Eight people were killed, four of whom were young terrorists. What stood out was the clumsiness of the attack, the overkill of policemen coordinating other policemen, and a crowd of bystanders making photos and selfies. Welcome to Jakarta.
Later that morning the press called KITLV. Commercial radio station BRN, a Dutch and a Belgium newspaper – and later on even a South Korean radio station – were interested to know whether the Islamic State was gaining ground in Indonesia. The answer was: IS has very limited support in Indonesia. There are more IS fighters from France (1.700) than from Indonesia (approx. 500) in Syria. Meanwhile the main Dutch Radio1 News station interviewed terrorist experts about IS for whom Indonesia was only a sort of distant background.
Then came a phone call from the main prime time Dutch TV news show, News Hour. They wanted to focus on the attack in the context of an ongoing spread of radical Wahabi Islam in Indonesia. Schulte Nordholt objected by saying that we just witnessed an ill-prepared and failed attack while there is no evidence of strong IS support in Indonesia. A following phone call cancelled the interview for that evening. On the website News Hour announce an interview with Herman Beck from Tilburg University who seemed to argue that Wahabism aimed to disrupt Indonesian society.
That evening News Hour started the item on the Jakarta attack with a documentary by the local correspondent who suggested causal connections between the attack in Jakarta, attacks on churches by the Front Pembela Islam (Defenders of Islam), and an aggressive expansion of Wahabism illustrated by violent scenes from an anti-Wahabi propaganda film from Nahdlatul Ulama (the largest Muslim organization). It is apparently very tempting for TV news shows to confirm public anxieties about the aggressive nature of ‘’Islam’’, by using headlines like ‘’Has IS taken root in Indonesia?’’ without bothering much about the question mark.
But then came the interview with Herman Beck in News Hour, who did not confirm the alarming image of an imminent and violent clash between ‘’moderate’’ and ‘’fundamentalist’’ Islam in Indonesia. Instead, he observed a decrease of radicalism in Indonesia, and in doing so brought the clumsy attack in Jakarta that morning back to its proper proportions. Thanks Herman.