August 17th is Indonesian Independence Day. This Monday marked its 64th year of Freedom. Here in Jakarta, Independence Day is an important holiday. The streets are festooned with Red and White banners and flags. Neighborhoods host block parties with food, games and competitions for the children. It’s like Fourth of July in the U.S.—minus the fireworks and potato salad—but with plenty of watermelon.
Jakarta definitely didn’t need fireworks or bombs bursting this year. We have had our share. Exactly one month ago, on July 17th, suicide bombers wreaked havoc in two Jakarta hotels, the Ritz and the Marriott. Employees and guest died in the blast, many others were injured and are still struggling to recover. We are all suffering and who knows when or how our world will recover?
On August 11th, it was officially announced that Noordin Top: Terrorist, martyr recruiter, horror organizing, terrorist, believed to have masterminded the Black Friday bombings, was not killed in the 18 hour-long shoot-out with police last weekend. Rather, the dead man-who does not deserve to be named here-was a florist at the Ritz Carlton Hotel. “It was ironic,” stated the What’s New Jakarta Newsletter of Aug 12th, “that someone who is capable of attempting mass murder was considered a funny and talented flower arranger by his colleagues.” I call it frightening.
As for the suicide bombers themselves: One has been identified as an “18 year old from a complex in Bogor” (a city near Jakarta). According to neighbors, this boy—a victim of Top’s particular brand of brainwashing—which includes the promise of heaven with virgins for the using and monetary payment and glory for the bomber’s families—was “described by neighbors as quiet and polite even though he came from a troubled home with his father imprisoned a year ago for robbery and his mother living in Kalimantan after a messy divorce.”
Who can celebrate freedom and independence when boys and girls are so trapped and hopeless they can be conned into believing in Top’s “ticket to heaven”? That their salvation comes in the form of explosives strapped to their backs?