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Scribbles from the Ivory Tower

Le’ Notes #30: The hard and soft of counter-terrorism efforts

This post briefly discusses the two major approaches to addressing terrorism, the “hard” and “soft” approaches.

“We could do this the easy way or the hard way,” said the CIA officer, preparing the standard operating kit for waterboarding.

If you’re a fan of the 24 TV-series or Zero Dark Thirty and the many other terrorism-related movies out there, you’d pretty much have a glimpse of how the United States handles terrorism: showing the terrorists who’s boss. The Bush administration was notorious for launching the War on Terror, a move which did kill Osama Bin Laden, but gave us ISIS with a vengeance and a century’s worth of problems in the Middle East.

Despite some of the successes of the War on Terror, it has often been criticised as being “counter-terrorist” rather than “counter-terrorism”. The former suggests a focused obsession on killing terrorists as opposed to addressing the larger, structural issues that gave rise to the “illness” in the first place. Thus, in the recent years, we’ve seen a “softer” approach to counter-terrorism. As opposed to invading Iraq and ordering drone strikes, the soft approach attempts to address terrorism as an issue that stems from extremist ideology. What needs to be attacked is the ideology, rather than the terrorists themselves.

Both approaches have their own merits and shortcomings, and that’s what I attempt to briefly discuss.

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Le’ Notes #29: Networks and social groups in radicalisation

This post discusses the role of networks and social groups in the radicalisation process.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege to attend a screening of Noor Huda Ismail’s latest documentary, Jihad Selfie. He documented the life of 17-year old Aceh boy, Akbar, who got a scholarship to study in Turkey and was inspired to join ISIS, highlighting the role of the internet and social media in expediting the recruitment process. It did open my eyes to the infinite potential of social networks as a pathway towards radicalisation.

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Le’ Notes #28: Why is it so hard to buy military transformation?

This post discusses the factors that make buying military transformation so difficult.

Why doesn’t the military get with the program? Why does the government seem so reluctant to buy those shiny new Gen-5 planes and ships? These are some of the questions I had when I was a snot-nosed undergrad aspiring to solve all of the country’s defence problems. I thought we could buy our way out of being a big country with a meagre defence force. I thought the government was stupid because it didn’t (or was too slow) to embrace the technological marvels that were on sale. The truth is, defence acquisition may be one of the most convoluted processes within the government, aside from implementing neoliberal macroeconomic policies.

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THOUGHTS AND COFFEE #9: Managing Communist-phobia in Indonesia

A specter is haunting Indonesia – the specter of communism. Everyone’s freaking out about it, despite the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) having been banned for almost 50 years now.

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THOUGHTS AND COFFEE #8: A rant on emerging Sinophobia

Unity in diversity. Unless you’re ethnic Chinese and non-Muslim.

A sobering quote written by a colleague of mine, Rocky, in a commentary regarding the recent rise of Sinophobia in Indonesia.

While 2016 was indeed a horrible year (which reached peak horribleness with the death of Harambe and President-elect Trump), for me, Sinophobia was a top highlight for Indonesia. Somehow, a select group of extreme Indonesians suddenly decided that Sinophobia was cool again. How did that happen and why should we care? To answer the latter part of my self-imposed question, unbridled Sinophobia will only serve to undo decades of progress.

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THOUGHTS AND COFFEE #7: A hopeless case for curbing fake news

What moves faster than light?

A hoax on social media.

A recent piece in the Jakarta Globe titled “Online Black Campaigns — the New ‘Divide et Impera‘” highlights a greater need to curb fake news sites aimed at spreading hoaxes and lies that could potentially divide the nation. In a country where (as of 2015) around 70 million people have social media accounts and are constantly plugged into the network, the dissemination of fake news and misinformation is a phenomenon that’s already snowballed into one tremendous problem. Add in charged and polarizing political tensions, and you’ve got yourself a problematic cocktail.

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THOUGHTS AND COFFEE #6: A case against the military’s newfound ‘proxy war’ obsession

This article was originally published in The Jakarta Post, 22 December 2016.

The Indonesian Military (TNI) has become increasingly obsessed with selling the idea that Indonesia is in the midst of a “proxy war”. Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo has led this charge since 2014, when he traveled around the country to speak about how Indonesia was in the middle of a proxy war. In 2015, Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu joined the bandwagon, claiming that the LGBT movement is a form of proxy warfare that is even worse than a nuclear bomb. Recently, Gatot devised a media proxy war defense pact, signed by Nahdatul Ulama, the Teachers Union and the Association of Publishers.

Is a proxy war truly happening in Indonesia? Or is it just an attempt for the military – especially the Army – to regain its political relevance? With such fierce campaigning from the military and government officials, it pays to step back and revisit the concept of proxy wars and how they are waged.

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THOUGHTS AND COFFEE #5: Indonesia’s Global Maritime Fulcrum: An Updated Archipelagic Outlook?

This article was originally published in The Diplomat, 17 December 2016.

Download the PDF here.


The previous Archipelagic Outlook strategy was inward focused; the new policy looks beyond Indonesia’s borders.

A recently published document titled Buku Putih Poros Maritim Dunia [Global Maritime Fulcrum White Paper] finally brings an authoritative voice to Indonesia’s Global Maritime Fulcrum (GMF) vision. The objective-oriented, 53-page publication constructs a narrative on the importance of the seas to Indonesia, the future trajectory of the GMF as Indonesia’s maritime vision, and the possible ways to achieve those ambitious ends.

Although the concept of the GMF was christened by President Joko Widodo, the policy objectives stated in the GMF White Paper are still largely rooted in the Archipelagic Outlook (Wawasan Nusantara). The GMF White Paper lists the Archipelagic Outlook as one of six fundamental principles on which the GMF is supposed to be founded. Is the GMF just really the Archipelagic Outlook with a new coat of paint? Or is it a shift from its predecessor?

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Le’ Notes #27: Culture as an enabler of radicalisation

This post discusses how cultural exposure can enable radicalization.

In the last post, I discussed how our basic human nature can be prone to manipulation through ideology. Now, let’s see how cultural influences can enable radicalization. Of course, this is not to say in a deterministic way that “culture causes radicalization”, but rather, several cultural traits enable certain ideologies to take root easier than in other circumstances. Another caveat would be cultural influences may vary depending on the individual; otherwise, everyone sharing the same cultural traits would be a terrorist by now.

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