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Should Indonesia Execute the Bali Bombers?

New America Media, News analysis, Bramantyo Prijosusilo Posted: Jul 24, 2008

Editor's note: Indonesia is poised to execute the three bombers responsible for the blast that killed almost 200 people in Bali in October 2002. But this may backfire. The bombers are looking forward to martyrdom and the death penalty would be a betrayal to the teachings of Islam, according to NAM contributing writer Bramantyo Prijosusilo.

YOGYAKARTA, Indonesia -- Indonesia announced recently that the three Bali bombers, Imam Samudra, Ali Gufron alias Mukhlas and his younger brother, the "smiling terrorist" Amrozi Nurhasyim, will probably be executed before the month of Ramadan this year, which begins on September 2. The three are likely to face a firing squad in the high security prison island Nusakambangan where they are being held, just off the south coast of Central Java. The bombers have been on the death row since being convicted in 2003 for the October 2002 bombings that claimed more than 200 lives.

The news comes after the rejection of their third appeal, but lawyers of the condemned say that they are now pursuing a judicial review of the case, because the anti-terror law used to convict them was passed after the bombings. Analysts say that it is unlikely they will succeed because they have already lodged three appeals using the same argument. The last move open to them to escape the firing squad under Indonesian law is to plead for a presidential pardon.

Seeking a presidential pardon requires that they admit guilt, but all three maintain that their actions were justified. Imam Samudra, the most eloquent of the three condemned bombers, has published a best selling book titled "Me against the terrorists" in which he argues that he is a defender of Islam and not a terrorist. Recently interviewed by Jihadmagz, a glossy jihadi magazine published in Jakarta, he explains that he and the other Bali bombers are holy Islamic wali (friends of God). Their execution will inevitably bring God's wrath upon the country.

The families of the bombers have been informed about the imminent executions and have prepared plain white clothes for the prisoners to wear when they face the firing squad. They have also booked cars to take them to the prison island as soon as they are summoned to a farewell meeting with their condemned relatives.

The Bali bombers bring a new twist to the death penalty debate in Indonesia. The question is, should the state assist terrorists by executing those who seek death? Death to the terrorists is victory, not defeat.

Islamist terrorists repeatedly declare that they love death more than life. In the Bali attacks, they encouraged and assisted a colleague to blow himself up with a suicide backpack. They define suicide attacks as "martyrdom operations."

Although the mechanics of Indonesian law make it impossible for the Bali bombers to escape the death penalty without begging for a pardon, sparing the Bali bombers from the firing squad would be prudent anti-terror strategy. As soon as the state kills the bombers, they will become martyrs. The executioner's bullet will be their crowning glory.
bali bombers
The availability of media sympathetic to terror acts, like the monthly Risalah Mujahidin magazine or the new glossy Jihadmagz, prove that some groups are working hard to widen the support base of terrorist ideology. Jihadi videos are easy to obtain through mail order in Indonesia. The networks of sympathizers will undoubtedly seize the news of the executions as an opportunity to glorify the terrorists.

The bombers have also mentioned in interviews that their execution might serve as a cue for sleeper cells to get into action. The recent foiling of a massive terror plot in Sumatra proves that terrorists here are still active.

As supporters of the death penalty in Indonesia point out, texts in the Qur'an and in the Hadith traditions explicitly prescribe the death penalty. However, some Islamic scholars, like Tariq Ramadan, argue that the death penalty is a social and cultural construction, and not necessarily a universal Islamic value. A literal application of the death penalty texts would be a betrayal to the teachings of Islam, if according to the context the execution would produce injustice.

Ramadan cites the historic Umar bin Khattab, who as a rightly guided Caliph suspended the application of amputation for thieves in the time of famine even though the Qur'an is very explicit about the punishment of theft. Because of the famine, keeping to a literal interpretation of the explicit text would mean betraying the message of universal justice promoted by the Qur'an.

In this light, a long life in a damp prison and not the firing squad would be the more fitting punishment for the bombers.

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