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.

  • Aboeprijadi Santoso
    Posted at 06:54h, 19 January Reply

    What a different of frame. Islam per se – not what sort of Islam-as-experienced or how diverse Islam could be – is the central theme in Dutch media, I presume the European as well. In Indonesia – as I, in Jakarta, watched the television and papers – the terror is seen as a challenge that should be faced head on by the nation. Thus the central theme is ‘KamiTidakTakut’ (We Are Not Afraid). Of course there are some fear, certainly among the elite, the middle classes, big and small business. For men on the street who never made headline, soon after the event, it’s business as usual. True, some people seem sort of ‘enjoying’ a rare public spectacle – the satay seller keep selling satay, some made recording, even selfie. Yet as happened, the events were also confusing, and as shock and confusion reigned for hours, it provoked solidarity and claim. ‘KamiTidakTakut’ is the nation’s political claim – just as ‘Je suis Parisien’ was for France last November – despite some panic as some media were too happy to speculate and sent wrong reports. Given their experinece with the New Order, and as new details of the event became public, speculations on complot theories arose leading to contoversy on how could the police be so quickly on the spot, etc. Thus Indonesian media frame is changing: from the imperative of KamiTidakTakut to speculation on what-behind-the-events.

    The event may also be a blessing in disguise. When the ISIS and going jihad to Syria issue rose mid last year, few took it seriously. But some moslem hardliners of political party PKS publicly shout why, what’s the problem with ISIS (“it’s only a few hundreds anyway”) when police proposed a bylaw (Perppu) to prevent jihad to Mid-East. Now after the Jan.14 event, no one would dare to defend ISIS discourse openly. Meanwhile it becomes clear: the terrorists’ targets are the police, in particular the anti-terror unit Densus88, and foreigners. May be not even the Starbucks cafe itself, certainly not the Sarinah mall. As one Dutch friend told me, as I went home (from the bom spot) suddenly I realize I’am a bule (white man).

    Groeten uit Jakarta

  • Cor van der Kruk
    Posted at 11:08h, 19 January Reply

    Already living on Java for more than 25 years and never got the feeling that I’m living in a country with a growing expansion of Wahabism or other extreme movements within Islam. Of course there will be but apparently not so excessively present as is often suggested. I’m feeling quite comfortable over here with a majority of Muslims around me although my family is not muslim.

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