Asked about ISIS and how he’d assess the current terrorist threat in Indonesia, he responded, “I think [the threat is] more or less declining.” (Jokowi is more alarmist and hardline about other criminal activities in the country, such as drug trafficking.)
U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks detail Jokowi’s efforts to put this theory into practice when he served as mayor of Surakarta (also known as Solo). One 2006 cable noted that the Javanese city had become a haven for radical Islamic groups and a potential destination for Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, the suspected leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, who was due to be released from jail. But the new mayor, who had come to politics from the furniture business, was planning to do something about it:
He was upbeat about the Solo economy, touting good employment prospects in local furniture and textile factories and a high per capita income in the region. He sees his greatest challenge as encouraging investment in Solo. “I do not want Solo to be defined by Ba’asyir,” he stated firmly. “Only two or three percent of the population can be defined as hardliners, the rest are moderates.” He noted that several foreign companies have recently invested in Solo, including the Makro and Carrefour supermarket chains. Widodo also formed an inter-faith discussion group shortly after his election, and meets regularly with local Christian and Muslim leaders to discuss community issues and improve communication between these groups.
A 2009 cable suggested that Jokowi’s campaign had proven successful (though it was not successful enough to root out Islamic extremism from the area; according to Indonesian authorities, those behind Thursday’s attack in Jakarta belonged to a group based in Solo):
Mayor Joko Widodo told us that he continues to work on efforts to deradicalize militants and others in Solo. Widodo said he holds constant meetings with the Solo public to educate them on the threat posed by terrorists and extremists. (Note … Mayor Widodo has had great success in returning law and order to Solo. Just several years ago, violent Islamic extremists patrolled the streets, meting out beatings and threats. Working with the police and placing a focus on economic opportunities, Widodo was able to stop the violence and dramatically improve day-to-day life in the city.)
Jokowi’s approach isn’t necessarily the “right” one, or the one he’d adopt if Indonesia were to experience an attack on the scale of Paris’s. But it serves as a reminder that there’s more than one way to respond to terrorism—that societal resilience can be emphasized just as much as military resolve, that the threat of terrorism can be scoped and contextualized alongside the various other threats a country faces.
Barack Obama invoked this notion in his State of the Union address on Tuesday. ISIS, the U.S. president argued, does not pose an existential, civilizational threat to the United States, as some of his Republican critics suggest:
[A]s we focus on destroying ISIL, over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands. Masses of fighters on the back of pickup trucks and twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages pose an enormous danger to civilians and must be stopped. But they do not threaten our national existence. That’s the story ISIL wants to tell; that’s the kind of propaganda they use to recruit. We don’t need to build them up to show that we’re serious, nor do we need to push away vital allies in this fight by echoing the lie that ISIL is representative of one of the world’s largest religions. We just need to call them what they are — killers and fanatics who have to be rooted out, hunted down, and destroyed.
The lines could be read as a defense of Obama’s counterterrorism policies. But they could also be read as a meditation on terrorism itself—a challenge to weigh the threat of terrorism against the threat of fear of terrorism, and decide which one is truly greater.