Editorial: In Cutting Aid to IS, a Deadly Balancing Act

MARCH 20, 2015

With a reported 500 Indonesians and counting having joined the ranks of the Islamic State militant group, there’s an urgent need to stop the flow of would-be jihadists flocking to Syria and Iraq.

The problem is that it’s difficult to prohibit people from traveling to the region without infringing on the civil liberties of law-abiding citizens. How can an immigration officer at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, for instance, be expected to tell whom among the travelers passing his desk with tickets to Turkey is a potential IS recruit and which an innocent vacationer?

President JokoWidodo is said to be close to issuing an emergency regulation in lieu of law (perppu) to address what he says are gaps in the law, but it’s hard to conceive of how he will do this. His predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, famously declared last August that his government had prohibited Indonesians from joining IS and blocked Internet sites that promoted the group and its ideals.

As we all know by now, those moves have not been effective. Propaganda videos continue to proliferate on social media, and the fact that large groups of Indonesians continue trying to enter Syria through Turkey belie any notion that the security forces have a handle on things.

This problem must be contained, not least because of the risk to domestic security that these jihadists pose, should they return to Indonesia, hardened by combat experience and emboldened by hard-line ideology.

At the same time, Joko faces a tricky task in ensuring that any new security measures imposed do not curtail the freedoms of regular Indonesians. It is going to be a fine balancing act, for which the president deserves the nation’s support.