The world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, Indonesia, has long had a problem in some parts of the archipelago with religious extremism, intolerance and the sort of terrorism that can flow from both. The country has had a good deal of success in combating Islamist terrorism since the bombings on the island of Bali in 2002, which killed 202 people. But continuing suicide-bomb attacks and the discovery of terrorist training-camps suggest that Indonesia remains in danger. Judging by recent events, however, the country has yet to develop a clear strategy to deal with the threat. Too often, different bits of the state give out different, even contradictory, signals. The result is a dangerous muddle.
Thus on October 12th lawmakers at last passed a new security bill, the Law on State Intelligence. This was the culmination of years of debate, in many ways a tribute to Indonesia’s vibrant new democracy. Legislators wanted to produce a bill that sharpened the effectiveness of the country’s multitude of intelligence and anti-terrorist agencies without encroaching too much on hard-won civil rights. In the end, the law redefined the roles of those agencies, strengthening their powers to intervene against “opponents” working against the “national interest”. A tough new stance from the state, it might seem. Indeed, just the sort of law that might have made it easier to gather evidence against people such as Abu Bakar Basyir, a notorious radical cleric. At the conclusion of the latest case against him in June, Mr Basyir was sentenced to 15 years in prison by a district court for inciting terrorism and funding terrorist cells.