Posted Wednesday, January 8, 2020 6:00 am
By KRISTEN GELINEAU
TENGGULUN, Indonesia – The young Balinese widow stared across the courthouse at the man who had murdered her husband and 201 others, and longed to see him suffer.
Ever since that horrible night, when she realized amid the blackened body parts and smoldering debris that the father of her two little boys was dead, Ni Luh Erniati’s rage at the men behind the bombing had remained locked deep inside. But now, it came roaring out.
She tried to scramble over a table blocking her path to hit Amrozi Nurhasyim, whose unrepentant grin throughout the trial over Indonesia’s worst terrorist attack had earned him the nickname “The Smiling Assassin.” And then she felt hands pulling her back, halting her bid for vengeance.
What would happen a decade later between her and Amrozi’s brother – the man who had taught Amrozi how to make bombs – was unthinkable in that moment. Unthinkable that they would come face to face in a delicate attempt at reconciliation. Unthinkable that they would try to find the humanity in each other.
But inside that courthouse, and for years to come, Erniati wanted everyone associated with the 2002 bombings on the Indonesian island of Bali to be executed by firing squad. And she wanted to be the one to pull the trigger.
Her words to a reporter in 2012 were blunt: “I hate them,” she said.
“I always will.”
ATTEMPTING TO HEAL
The practice of reconciling former terrorists and victims is rare and, to some, abhorrent. Yet it is gaining attention in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation. While Islam in Indonesia is largely moderate, the country has battled Islamic militants since the Bali attacks. Last year, two families carried out suicide bombings at churches, and in October, a militant stabbed Indonesia’s top security minister.
The attacks have left Indonesia hunting for ways to prevent terrorism – and to heal from it.
Indonesia embraces a so-called soft approach to counterterrorism, where officials recruit former militants to try to change extremist attitudes in their communities, and jailed terrorists go through deradicalization programs. Last year, Indonesia’s government brought together dozens of former Islamic militants and victims for what was billed as a reconciliation conference. The results were mixed.
More quietly, over the past several years, there has been a growing alliance of former terrorists and victims brought together under the guidance of a group founded by the victim of a terrorist attack. Since 2013, 49 victims and six former extremists have reconciled through the Alliance for a Peaceful Indonesia, or AIDA. They have visited about 150 schools in parts of Indonesia known as hotbeds for extremist recruiters, sharing their stories with more than 8,000 students.
The hope is that if former terrorists and victims can learn to see each other as human, they can stop the cycle of vengeance. While reconciliation efforts have been launched after several large-scale conflicts – such as South Africa’s post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission – few attempts have been made in cases of terrorism.
“It’s difficult for everyone to go through this,” says Gema Varona, a Spanish researcher who studied reconciliation meetings between militants from the Basque separatist group ETA and their victims. “But it makes sense, because in terrorism, victims have been objectified. So we need that empathy.”
Victims and perpetrators can learn to understand each other without legitimizing the violence, says Brunilda Pali, a board member of the European Forum for Restorative Justice.
“Understanding can help a lot,” she says. “But it doesn’t mean forgiving.”
For Erniati, there was nothing at first to understand. How could she possibly understand something so horrific?
And why would she want to?
Erniati doesn’t remember the first time she spotted the handsome, quiet waiter with the wavy black hair. But she remembers how much she and her fellow waitresses at the Sari Club idolized him.
Unlike the other men who worked at the popular nightclub, Gede Badrawan didn’t flirt with customers. He only had eyes for Erniati.
Gede never asked her on a proper first date. They just fell into a relationship, and then into love, and a year later, into marriage. Two sons followed.