In Indonesia, anti-Christian terrorist attacks will remain part of the landscape

ALERT, BUT RELAXED—DESPITE THE DANGER OF TERRORISM. This is the two-fold attitude of Christians, as described by two Catholic priests after the most recent suicide attack on the Catholic cathedral of Makassar, the capital of the Indonesian province of South Sulawesi. They were speaking with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

“I am grateful for the fact that no one from our community lost their lives or was seriously injured,” said Father Wilhelminus Tulak, who is based at Sacred Heart Cathedral parish in Makassar. Because of pandemic restrictions the size of the congregation was smaller than usual—which was likely one of the reasons why nobody was killed, apart from the two suicide bombers themselves. According to media reports, however, at least 20 people sustained injuries.

The security guards, who watch the doors at every Holy Mass, managed to prevent a worse disaster, according to Father Tulak. “One of the security men noticed two individuals on a motorcycle, attempting to drive onto the church grounds. The female passenger was dressed in black, her face covered by a full veil. This struck the security man as suspicious, and he managed to prevent the two from entering the cathedral precincts. Shortly afterward there was an explosion.”

Damage at the cathedral

According to an announcement by the Indonesian police, made very shortly after the attack, the two assailants belonged to the Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) terrorist group, a local offshoot of ISIS The group was described by German-born Jesuit Father Franz Magnis-Suseno, SJ, as “a small marginal group, which in my view is not going to be exterminated, even though the Indonesian anti-terror police are hunting them everywhere.” Aged 84, Father Suseno has taught at various universities in Indonesia and is recognized as a highly knowledgeable expert on the country and its religious make-up. “My first impression after the attack was, what, not again? But I was not surprised,” he continued.

In Indonesia, the most populous Muslim nation in the world, the coexistence between the religions has been largely peaceful, with many Muslims following more moderate Sunni tendencies. But according to ACN’s 2021 Religious Freedom in the World report, conservative and sometimes violent Islamist tendencies have been on the rise in recent years, especially since the military defeat of ISIS in Syria and Iraq. However, according to Father Magnis-Suseno, this does not represent a general trend overall. “The mainstream of the Muslim hardliners in Indonesia do not support terrorism,” he said. Moreover, the major Muslim organizations in the country, as well as the minister for religious affairs and Indonesian President Joko Widodo have all condemned the most recent attack “quickly and sharply,” he added.

In many parts of Indonesia, the militias of the Islamic organization Nadlatul Ulama actually provide protection for Christian Easter liturgies. This will undoubtedly happen this year, Jesuit Father Suseno said: “the reaction after the attack has been a moderate one—no panic.”