Battling Terrorism Graphically

By Tasa Nugraza Barley

The mere mention of the word “terrorism” is enough to strike fear in the hearts of people all over the world. It reminds us that the threat of radicalism is alive and well and no matter how many terrorists are arrested, there always seem to be new ones to take their place.

Perhaps this is because no other segment of society is more susceptible to being radicalised than the youth. Their impressionable minds are easily swayed, ensuring that there will always be new terrorists no matter how many are captured or killed.

But a group in Indonesia called Lazuardi Birru is trying to break this negative cycle by finding creative ways to take the fight directly to the root of the problem. Established two years ago, Lazuardi Birru got its start as a Jakarta-based non-profit organisation dedicated to advocating non-violence and pluralism.

For the past year, its writers, illustrators and designers have been creating a 130-page graphic novel aimed at young Indonesians seen as potential targets for being radicalised. Last Friday, the group launched the graphic novel Ketika Nurani Bicara (When Conscience Speaks).

“This comic book was made to emphasise the importance of peace, the correct understanding of jihad (struggle) and the awareness of movements that promote violence in the name of religion to the youth of Indonesia,” said Dhyah Madya, head of Lazuardi Birru.

The graphic novel tells the story of the 2002 Bali bombing that occurred in the tourist district of Kuta. The attack was the deadliest act of terrorism in the history of Indonesia, killing 202 people, including 88 Australians and 38 Indonesians.

The book’s story is told from the perspectives of three main characters: Ali Imron, one of the terrorists involved in the attack; Haji Agus Bambang Priyanto, a man who helped rescue people after the bombing; and Hayati Eka Laksmi, whose husband was killed in the attack.

Each of the stories portrayed in the book is true and was compiled through detailed interviews with these people.

Dhyah said the team had to wade through a lot of bureaucratic red tape before they could finally interview Ali in prison. Ali has become known as the brains behind the attack, but due to his remorse and cooperation with the police, he received a life sentence in prison. The story starts with the bombing. Later, readers learn how Ali was recruited, how he planned the attack and, finally, about his life after his arrest.

Dhyah said the graphic novel was meticulously researched and based on real life. “Everything in the book is accurate and based on the real experiences of the characters,” she said. She added that the team spent an entire year doing interviews and acquiring the information needed to put the book together.

In one scene, Ali breaks down during the court proceedings and cries after Hayati’s court testimony about how difficult her life had become since the death of her husband: “I’m truly sorry for being involved in the bombing,” he sobs. “I have realised that the attack wasn’t jihad, because true jihad in Islam is something so sacred and holy.”

Lazuardi Birru has printed more than 10,000 copies of the graphic novel and plans to distribute the bulk of them for free to mosques, Islamic boarding schools, universities and public libraries in all of Indonesia’s 33 provinces. The remainder will be available in local bookstores. People will also be able to download an e-book version from the organisation’s website (www.lazuardibirru.org) in several languages, including Sundanese, Javanese, Malay and Arabic.

Bambang said he hoped his involvement in the graphic novel would set a good example for other young Indonesians, and help them “understand and learn an important part of our country’s history.” He said young people “also have to be careful when studying religion, because there are many hardliner religious groups that think they’re always right and know God best.”

Hayati, who was at the release event for the book, also had advice for young Indonesians: “If you want to defend Islam, do it correctly, not trough harmful ways like the Bali attacks because Islam is grace for all. So we can’t hurt others like that.”

Elga S., a high school student, said, “When Conscience Speaks is a good read for teens, especially for those who don’t fully understand Islam. This comic tells us about real jihad.”

Ali appeared in a video that was played at the launch. In it, he said he didn’t want to see other young Indonesians follow his path. “I hope young people are not easily influenced by jihad requests that have incomplete meanings,” he said from the jail cell where he will spend the rest of his life.

Tasa Nugraza Barley is a blogger and journalist.

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