March 10, 2004
Bashir Release A Crushing Blow To Public View of Terror War
There's no positive spin that the West can put on the impending release of Abu Bak'r Bashir. Accused of being the spiritual head of Jemaah Islamiah, Bashir is widely considered an Islamic extremist idealogue on the scale of Osama bin Laden.
The Indonesian government's inability to convict Bashir of any terrorism-related crimes highlights significant legalistic obstacles that lie ahead. Its political inability to hold him even for the full sentence of his term on lesser offenses highlights how the Western point of view is losing the hearts and minds of moderate Muslims in Southeast Asia.
While there is little doubt the U.S. will ensure a conviction for Osama bin Laden in the event of his capture, Bashir's acquittal serves to legitimize the role of clerics and theologians as adjuncts to operational terrorists. There was little danger of an OBL conviction being considered legitimate by fundamentalist Muslim states in the first place; the Bashir release provides a legal precedent which can only serve to bolster a pro-bin Laden viewpoint overseas.
Bashir's release is likely to revitalize JI, which had been signficantly impacted by the arrests of both Bashir and JI's former operational mastermind, Hambali. Complicating matters further, Indonesia and Malaysia have been pressing the U.S. to extradite Hambali to Southeast Asia for prosecution there. In light of how the Bashir case has been handled, the U.S. can't be enthusiastic about that course of action. But refusing to extradite Hambali runs its own risk of alienating governments whose cooperation the U.S. badly needs.
No matter how one looks at it, the Bashir precedent represents nothing short of a disaster for the West in its War on Terror, one with far-reaching implications in the practical short-term as well as the ideological long view.
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